'Transformers': Making Us Feel Like Kids Again

Thompson says it's nostalgia. "The Transformers" bring out "the warm feeling of footy pajamas and staying home from school on a snow day" he says about those who grew up with the franchise.

"But that may be the last generation that really feels that because Saturday morning got kind of deconstructed. "And not only has TV changed, Saturday itself has changed ? between soccer practice and ballet and all of these planned things kids have to do these days."

At some point, almost simultaneous to the end of the "Transformers" craze, action figures and other toys began another epic battle that's still raging, the fight to recapture kids' imagination from the expanding reach of video games.

While "Transformers" has continued to change and evolve to attract young people over the years -- there have been many incarnations of the characters and various story lines since 1984 -- they were always fighting an uphill battle against the growing ubiquity of home game systems like 1985's Nintendo Entertainment System.

"After 'Transformers' started to die down, 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' started to spring up and that was a huge franchise and that sort of segued into the 'Power Rangers,'" Oat points out. "But the toy industry has steadily been losing ground and it seems like all the toy companies are looking for the next great electronic toy to try and compete."

As what may be a sign of the times and maybe a little bit of irony, the new live-action "Transformers" movie is also a console video game made by Activision in which players fight and explore as "Transformers" following an altered version of the movie's events.

Rock Em' Sock Em' Robots

Unbeknownst to many, "Transformers" didn't start out as a television show. At the time "transforming" toys were all the rage in Japan and Hasbro wisely bought up a few of those toy lines and unified them into the "Transformers" brand for the U.S.

From their, the company wisely launched one of the most successful toy lines and intellectual properties of all time.

"Back in 1984, Hasbro, in association with Sunbow Productions, produced 'The Transformer' TV series, which now is referred to as 'Generation 1,'" explained Samantha Lomow, global vice president of marketing at Hasbro for the "Transformers" brand.

But many "Transformers" fans may remember that they weren't the only transforming robots on the block.

The doomed "Gobots," a Tonka property at the time, made the bold but ultimately failed effort to dominate the space. As a result, school yards nationwide were split into two camps: "Gobot" fans and "Transformer" fans. You couldn't have it both ways.

"Before the 'Transforms' cartoon, 'Gobots' were out in stores, and I think there were some kids that committed to the 'Gobots,' and once you had 20 or 30 of them, you kind of had to stick to your guns," says Oat. "The 'Gobots' did eventually get their own cartoon, but it doesn't matter that you have a cartoon if it's bad."

Though the fickle appetites of elementary school kids and preteens could have made the battle a tossup, most think the "Transformers" won out simply because it was better.

"The tie-ins were better. It was a superior presentation, and to some extent, 'Gobots' were already referring to a stodgy and old idea: a robot," Thompson says. "The 'Transformer,' I think, were really more on the cutting edge of it's time."

In 1991 Hasbro bought the "Gobots" brand from Tonka and absorbed it into the "Transformer" line.

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