Is it really time for ‘T’?
Well, in that case I’ll have an Earl Grey. Hot. Like Captain Picard used to have on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
And while I’m sipping on my Earl Grey, I’ll write today’s contribution to my catalogue of cartoon characters from a bygone age, as I head closer to the endgame of my A-Z Blogging Challenge. Because it really is time for ‘T’.
T is for T-Bot
One day, I imagine, two executives at Kenner, the toy company which made many of the toys I loved as a child, sat down for a conversation. In my head, it went something like this:
Exec 1: Those Transformers toys over at Hasbro are doing pretty well, we should totally do something like that.
Exec 2: But we can’t just copy them, that would be unethical and as a major corporation, operating in the nineteen-eighties, ethics are at the cornerstone of everything we do.
Exec 1: I completely agree. But we should do something similar.
Exec 2: But what would be like Transformers, but not actually be Transformers?
Exec 1: Well, as far as I can tell, the bit the kids like is the transforming bit. They aren’t too bothered about what the thing is transforming from or to.
Exec 2: You mean like how originally Transformers were robots who transformed into vehicles, and were quite literally ‘robots in disguise’ but later on they became robots who transformed into dinosaurs, which makes no sense at all, because a giant robotic dinosaur would stand out as much as, if not significantly more than, a giant robot.
Exec 1: Exactly, and the kids still love all that right?
Exec 2: Yes, kids are stupid.
Exec 1: Have we turned into Harry and Marv off of Home Alone?
Exec 2: What’s Home Alone?
Exec 1: I don’t know. I imagine it’s a film that will be really popular in the early nineties, but as it’s currently the early eighties, I couldn’t possibly know what it is.
Exec 2: Hmmm, this is all getting a bit strange. Have we turned into Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot?
Exec 1: What’s Waiting for Godot?
Exec 2. I don’t know. I imagine it’s a surrealist play by an Irish playwright who wrote a lot his plays in French and then translated them into English, and was an influential figure in the theatre of the absurd movement. I could feasibly have heard of this play given that it was first performed in 1953, but I haven’t because I’m an executive for a toy manufacturer, and it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I would be into. Anyway what were we talking about?
Exec 1: Well, as I was saying, it’s the ‘transformy-ness’ of the toy rather than the fact that it’s a robot that makes Transformers so popular.
Exec 2: I think it’s a bit to do with the robots.
Exec 1: No, it’s definitely not the robots that make the toy work. So I reckon if we just copy the transformy bit, but make it ‘not robots’ we could have a hit on our hands.
Exec 2: So what? We’d have dinosaurs transforming into vehicles then?
Exec 1: I love that idea, but no, I think dinosaurs and vehicles is still too close to Transformers. What we need is something else changing into something else.
Exec 2: What? Like a helicopter that changes into a plane?
Exec 1; I mean that does sound a bit stupid, but essentially yes, why not vehicles that turn into other vehicles? No-one would think we were copying Transformers if we did that.
Exec 2: And we could give all the people that drove those vehicles really boring names like Matt Tracker, or Alex Sector.
Exec 1: This is going to be huge!
Now I don’t know if that is exactly how the conversation went, I wasn’t there. But that is, I think, a reasonable summary of what M.A.S.K was (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, if you’re interested. Any yes, they did just change the spelling of the word ‘command’ to suit their needs).
And you might make the reasonable supposition that M.A.S.K was such a bad idea that it was one of the key contributing factors that eventually led to Kenner being taken over by Hasbro.
But you’d be wrong. M.A.S.K was huge, and for a period of time it was my favourite thing ever. Seriously, I loved it more than He-Man, ThunderCats, Transformers, even Star Wars. I had a T-Bob birthday cake one year and it made me insanely happy.
But my whereas my love for all those other franchises has endured, my love for M.A.S.K burned bright for a time and then disappeared.
Because, really, it wasn’t very good.
And T-Bob was totally a robot who changed into a vehicle. He changed into a scooter. A scooter that still looked like a bloody robot. So he was like the worst Transformer ever really.
But the helicopter that changed into a plane was pretty cool.