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By Thomas Wheeler

With Transformers Cybertron having largely run its course, and the live- action Transformers movie not coming along until next summer, Hasbro needed a new Transformers product to bridge the gap in between these two concepts. What they have come out with is a very impressive product that is being called "TRANSFORMERS CLASSICS" among Transformers fans, even though this name doesn't entirely appear on the packaging.

Still, the intent is clear. Take well-known Transformers characters from the Generation One universe and update them. The package, a very nicely done card with the original Transformers logo, being used for the first time in quite a few years on this major a product line, only says "Classic" in a small mention on the side of the bubble, where it says "Classic Deluxe", for instance.

The card and bubble are angular and manage a very appropriate mechanical look, even if they don't have much resemblance to classic Transformers packaging. That's okay, though. It's still an impressive package design.

One of the ones I had to pick up at the outset was BUMBLEBEE. Apart from being one of the most popular original Transformers, he also hasn't been seen since the days of Generation One, and only briefly turned up in Generation Two. The name "Bumblebee" hasn't been used since, in any of the Transformers universes that have come along in recent years, from Robots in Disguise through Armada, Energon, and Cybertron.

The original Bumblebee was a squat little mini-car, with an undeniable resemblance to a Volkswagen Beetle, admittedly an exaggerated one. Barely two inches in length, he had a simple transformation. Pull out the hood to extend the legs, move the wheels out to the side to extend the arms, and pop the head out of the back of the car. Interestingly, the head design only bore a superficial resemblance to the character as he appeared in the animated series, which had a much more expressive face than the toy. Years later, the Action Masters Bumblebee would have a head that more closely resembled his animated counterpart.

The new Bumblebee is a very different Transformer in many respects. Far larger than his original incarnation, the new Bumblebee is roughly 4-1/2" long in automotive form. And it's clearly not a Volkswagen Beetle, or any other sort of Volkswagen. This tends to lend credence to the reported reason why Bumblebee has never turned up in the very popular Alternators line as a yellow Volkswagen, perhaps as the modern "New Beetle". Reportedly, Volkswagen doesn't want to have any sort of association with Transformers, and not in keeping with the image they want to project.

Gimme a break...

As a car, Bumblebee is a little indistinct. The back of the package calls him a "Cruiser", and he does look a bit like a PT Cruiser, but not enough to put the Ford logo in the package. Some people have said he looks more like a Mini Cooper, but he's not really boxy enough for that comparison to be entirely valid. He's clearly supposed to be a fairly small automobile, which is certainly in keeping with his image, but the car form is just indistinct enough to look cool, look smallish, and not upset any real-world automakers.

One cool feature is that the thermal logo stickers have made a comeback in this line. Bumblebee has a little silver sticker on the roof of his car form, with a black squareish shape in it. Touch your finger to it for a few seconds, in other words, expose it to heat, and the Autobot logo appears. This was a strategy that Hasbro originally used not long after the original Transformers came out and rocketed to stardom. Other toy companies, led by Tonka's Go-Bots, quickly started producing transforming robots as quickly as they could. These stickers were Hasbro's advertised way of ensuring that you had an authentic Transformer. It's kind of cool to see them back. Interestingly, it's the only logo on the toy. There is no other Autobot logo on the figure anywhere. That's somewhat unusual.

In car form, Bumblebee has limited functionality. His wheels are a little too high on the car's body to really allow the car to roll well, especially the front wheels. Don't get me wrong -- he DOES roll. But if you're expecting Hot Wheels speed out of this car, forget it.

Transforming Bumblebee is a fairly straightforward matter, and not particularly complicated. What's interesting is that the transformation follows, albeit in a more complicated way, the transformation particulars of the original Bumblebee from the 1980's. The legs extend from the hood, the head pops out of the back, the roof becomes the chest, and so forth. The end result is a robot that stands about 5" in height, and is undeniably Bumblebee. The headsculpt is a dead giveaway if nothing else is, and even has a bit of Bumblebee's usual grin.

Now, my one major complaint about original Transformers from the 1980's is that, in robot form, they generally weren't articulated worth a darn. The gimmick was the transformation, and once in robot form, they just stood there. If you were lucky, it could move its arms. This must have been a pretty major complaint, because ever since the days of Beast Wars, Transformers have been a lot more poseable in their robotic forms, and this new line is no exception. Bumblebee can do a lot more than just stand around. The head turns, the arms, elbows, legs, and knees are all independently articulated. This is a Bumblebee ready for the 21st century.

And, if you like, Bumblebee can even take to the skies! Bumblebee comes with a little jet-ski on a trailer. This is called Wave Crusher, a name that, to the best of my knowledge, was last used on the G.I. Joe vehicle, several years ago, although I suppose it's possible it's turned up in the Transformers universe since that time. Transformers has been such an extensive line of toys that unless you're extremely diligent, some names can really slip past you. Anyway, Wave Crusher transforms into this winged "backpack" that fits into an open slot behind Bumblebee's head.

Bumblebee's information, on the back of his package card, reads as
follows: "Data is power." Small compared to most other Transformers, Bumblebee more than makes up for it through his incredible bravery and willingness to go places larger robots won't. Capable of aerial and underwater missions, he is more versatile than many other Autobots. His eagerness to do his part leads him to go above and beyond the call of duty, often placing him in grave danger. It is a testament to his skill that he has never been captured.

Bumblebee's card lists him as an "Autobot Spy", and although most of the rankings on his technical data, numbered 1-10, are fairly low -- Strength - 3, Endurance - 4 -- it's interesting where the high numbers come up: Intelligence - 9, Courage - 10, Skill - 9.

Overall, Bumblebee is excellent. The paintwork, thankfully, is very neatly applied across the toy. Transformers is one toy line that has managed to avoid the sloppiness that has crept into others, and I pray it will continue to do so. But I do have one minor complaint. A fair number of the parts on Bumblebee have excess ridges of plastic where the part was obviously trimmed off of some sort of "tree" during the molding and manufacture process. These rough little protrusions are surprisingly prevalent, which is why I mention them. I've never seen this sort of thing to this degree or severity on a Transformer before. It's nothing that can't be trimmed down, unless the part in question has been painted (and a few are), but still, I call it a problem in need of being addressed.

On the whole, though, this is one cool toy. Bumblebee is one of the best known Autobots, and he has been long-absent from the toy line. I'd still like to see him turn up in the world of Alternators one of these days. However, it's great to see Bumblebee back in the Transformers line, and this new Bumblebee from the Transformers Classics line is a truly excellent upgrade of this classic character, and has my highest recommendation! If you're any sort of Transformers fan, then you will certainly want BUMBLEBEE!