Transformers Prime

There's nothing more than meets the eye here, but what does appear is plenty entertaining.

Optimus Prime - Peter Cullen Arcee - Sumalee Montano Ratchet - Jeffrey Combs Bulkhead - Kevin Michael Richardson Megatron - Frank Welker Jack - Josh Keaton Miko - Tania Gunadi Raf - Andy Pessoa Starscream - Steve Blum Agent Fowler - Ernie Hudson June Darby - Markie Post

As no-brainers go, a Transformers TV show on the Hub — welding Hasbro’s popular toy line into its cable co-venture with Discovery — ranks down there with making a sequel to the first movie. Yet the product of that assembly line, “Transformers Prime,” proves unexpectedly sharp — better than the movies (admittedly damnation with faint praise), thanks to the arresting CGI animation, which proves especially well-suited to rendering shiny robots and their vehicular alter egos. There’s nothing more than meets the eye here, but what does appear is a plenty entertaining addition to this well-oiled moneymaking machine.

Part of the advantage of TV animation — as “Star Wars” fans have discovered with Lucasfilm’s “The Clone Wars” series for Cartoon Network, which is essentially this show’s stepfather — is that the half-hour format deftly skates over thudding dialogue and limp plotting, while emphasizing peddle-to-the-metal (literally, in this case) action.

So this “Transformers” doesn’t pussyfoot around much with plot: The Autobots led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) encounter a trio of kids, fear the evil robots led by Megatron (Frank Welker) are going to overrun the Earth, and spend the remaining time racing around, battling and blowing stuff up.

The modest limits of CG animation, however, perfectly mesh with making these robots look way cool — “robotic,” after all, isn’t an insult in this particular venue. And the fact that the humans are stiff and boring was more of a pitfall in the movies — whose writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, share producer credits along with Jeff Kline here.

Like “Clone Wars,” moreover, the steady flow of mayhem (which includes “bleeding” oil), robot torture (think Gearhead Gitmo) and even snippets of dialogue (“Bite me.”) characterize this as aimed more toward older kids and teens than younger tykes, although if they happen to catch the bug too, one suspects Hasbro won’t be heartbroken. (Alas, there’s no animated Megan Fox for, er, considerably older kids.)

Any way you slice it, the series amounts to a qualitative quantum leap from the original animated adventures of a quarter-century ago. The Hub is premiering the first two parts early, in advance of a five-day stripping beginning Nov. 29 to launch the program.

Despite a distribution disadvantage, this is just the kind of programming likely to inspire more folks to find the Hub on their channel guides. And if they happen to rush out and buy some Transformers merchandise just in time for Christmas, that, kids, is what we call a “win-win.”

Popular on Variety

Transformers Prime

The Hub, Fri. Nov. 26, 4 p.m.

Production: Produced by K/O Paper Products and Darby Pop Prods. in association with Hasbro Studios. Executive producers, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Kline, Stephen Davis; supervising producer, Duane Capizzi; producers, Mandy Safavi, Steven Puri; animation producer, Therese Trujillo; supervising director-art director, David Hartman; writer.

Crew: Capizzi; voice director, Susan Blu; music, Brian Tyler. 30 MIN.

Cast: Optimus Prime - Peter Cullen Arcee - Sumalee Montano Ratchet - Jeffrey Combs Bulkhead - Kevin Michael Richardson Megatron - Frank Welker Jack - Josh Keaton Miko - Tania Gunadi Raf - Andy Pessoa Starscream - Steve Blum Agent Fowler - Ernie Hudson June Darby - Markie Post

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