Between Mister Rogers and Transformers is Precure

I had the opportunity to watch the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and one of the topics it discusses is the origins of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kind of counter-programming to the fast-paced “bombardment” that was (and continues to be) a staple of children’s television. Mister Rogers was meant to slow things down, and give kids a quieter and more contemplative half hour for them to learn and grow. Fred Rogers’ decades-long show took on an important challenge, but there’s the seed of doubt about its efficacy on people like myself, who remember their young childhood TV experience more along the lines of action-packed cartoons like Transformers or GI Joe. How do you reconcile the allure of such shows with the noble cause of trying to help kids learn to be better people? 

Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a trend of including public service messages in those merchandise-shilling action shows—”Knowing is half the battle!” as GI Joe would say—but they would often come across as unbelievably hokey or even disingenuous. Going from watching GI Joe’s forces blow up an enemy Cobra base, to seeing kids learn how to install a smoke detector—it never felt right.

I began to think about if there were any children’s series out there that integrates a nice balance between satisfying action and good advice to children, and one answer popped into my head immediately: Precure. More than a few magical girl shows carry a strong sense of positivity and wonder—in fact, I once referred to 2001’s Princess Comet as being distinctly Mister Rogers-esque—but they often don’t hit that pleasure zone that comes with watching heroes vanquish villains the way Precure does. After all, its origins are built on “a magical girl show from the director of Dragon Ball Z, and while its staff has changed numerous times, it still more or less maintains that legacy. But when you also look at the various heroines throughout Precure, they serve as confident and inspiring role models for young viewers in ways that almost betray the heavy consumerism that it also engenders.

Consider Cure Yell in Hugtto! Precure, who’s all about giving support to those both looking for their dreams and those pursuing them. Or how Cure Flora in Go! Princess Precure overcomes a major problem by realizing that the power to change and improve comes from within. Or how Cure Heart in Doki Doki Precure! reaches for the stars in everything she attempts. These heroines are only the tip of the iceberg, as many individual episodes also try to speak to the concerns and worries of children, and how to deal with the complicated and confusing emotions they experience growing up.

I think this is why I am, and likely always will be, a fan of Precure. Its creators know the power of being a GI Joe, but it also knows the value of being a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Striking that middle ground can come at a price—a muddled message, perhaps—but attempting that alchemy is valuable in a world where ideals and cynicism alike clash with each other on a daily basis.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen is a Really Good GI Joe Movie

Is Transformers Japanese or American? Is it anime or not? The answer to these questions is “yes.” While the toys came from Japan, the original plot of Autobots vs Decepticons came from American writers, so it should come as no surprise that an American director was assigned to helm not one but two movis based on the franchise. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen is the sequel to the previous live-action Transformers movie, and once again directed by Michael Bay.

I enjoyed the first movie overall, but I had my own complaints about it. It was, to no one’s surprise, a flawed movie with a lot of action and a lot of juvenile humor. I was okay with that. My main issue with the movie however, was that so little time was spent on the actual robots themselves that one had to ask if it was really a TRANSFORMERS movie or not. Focusing too much on the kid, Sam Witwicky, was also a problem as I felt that within the Transformers franchise you had perfectly good main characters in the robots themselves, and to have to see it through the lens of High School Kid was pointless. If not Optimus Prime, at least make the main character Bumblebee so you could have a young character who is ALSO a Transformer. But again, I enjoyed it more or less.

Transformers 2 manages to solve at least one of the major problems with its predecessor, and that is to include the Transformers in the movie from the very beginning. There is no waiting an hour for Optimus to arrive, and that’s the way I like it. Also, they were given more time to talk and show their personalities. Sadly, while this issue was resolved a number of other ones cropped up.

Many characters felt useless or extraneous, and I was left scratching my head and wondering just what purpose these characters served. I’m mainly talking about the twins, who also act as sort of racial stereotypes without actually being any human race. I wouldn’t mind that aspect so much if only these characters actually DID something.

The action was often-times not well-suited for the presence of giant robots, even if the majority of the action involved them. It was often difficult to differentiate the Transformers, especially at a distance. Because so much gray metal was exposed, the defining colors of the Transformers was barely noticeable, and often times it was easy to confuse one robot for another and be unable to tell just who was fighting who. On top of that, it was often difficult to even tell just what was going on in a battle because the camera refused to be located where it actually mattered. This is an action movie first and foremost, and I expect the action to actually be visible. That said, there were actually a few instances where this was not the case and naturally they were the best fight scenes in the movie.

And now, the big complaint.

Transformers 2 has this very overt, unsubtle pro-military, pro-Iraq, America is #1 forever and ever stance that is extremely difficult to ignore. It was present in the first movie to an extent, but here it was so in-your-face that it made me kind of angry.

The most annoying character in the movie was an assistant for President Obama who acted as a strawman so that his intention to withdraw the Autobots from Earth in light of the Decepticon threat would be compared to the intention to withdraw American troops from Iraq. He is the typical guy-in-a-suit who the humble but patriotic military boys get to contrast with to seem that much more American.

Then there were all the scenes designed to glorify the American military, such as planes launching from hangars and soldiers jumping out of planes, and these wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t look like they were ripped straight from a US Air Force commercial on TV. The quality of the video, the camera angles, everything is set up to glorify the military.

The American soldiers even manage to score some successful hits on the Decepticons. And while I’m not against the idea of humans being actually useful in the face of a giant sentient robot menace, too much time is still spent on the American military dishing out the damage. It sometimes ends up feeling like an idealized war movie which happens to have giant robots in it.

Pro-America ultra militaristic patriotism. Lots of action scenes with soldiers running around coordinating attacks and using cool vehicles to fight an enemy. Hilariously awful racial stereotypes. These are all the ingredients for a fantastic GI Joe movie, but when you’re making a Transformers movie it just ends up being inappropriate. Transformers supports capitalism and American values already by being about the right to freedom and the right to sell millions of action figure toys to kids; it does not need such a divisive and time-specific message tainting it.

So in conclusion, why is Michael Bay NOT the director for the GI Joe movie anyway? I mean seriously, whoever was in charge of adapting Hasbro/Sunbow franchises for film seriously should have thought this over better.