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REVIEW:
TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE 25th ANNIVERSARY CHEETOR
By Thomas Wheeler

2009 is the 25th Anniversary of Transformers, and part of that celebration is the expansion of the Transformers Universe line of toys from Hasbro. Although known as Transformers Universe Classics, essentially a carryover of the Transformers Classics line which presented very effective (and certainly more articulated) remakes of popular Generation One Transformers characters, the Transformers Universe line, while not abandoning the Generation One universe by any means, is expanding its horizons for the 25th Anniversary to include other popular incarnations of the Transformers.

Given my firm belief that this Universe line is the best representation of Transformers on the market today, it is certainly my sincere hope that it continues, and doesn't get derailed by the movie line or anything else. With the Universe line expanding into other Transformers concepts, there's way too much potential for it to fade from the toy shelves.

One other extremely popular concept that the Universe line is bringing into its midst is TRANSFORMERS: BEAST WARS. When Beast Wars first came on the scene in 1996, longtime Transformers fans were not certain what to make of it. I mean -- robots that turned into semi-realistic animals, not vehicles? Okay, robotic animals like the Dinobots were one thing, but this was something else entirely. Gone were the Autobots and Decepticons, replaced by Maximals and Predacons. Megatron was now a dinosaur, and wasn't even the original Megatron, and instead of Optimus Prime, we had someone named Optimus Primal. He turned into a gorilla.

Fortunately, the concept was backed up by one of the most amazing CGI animated series ever produced. The writing, characterization, and continuity was as good as anything on live-action television produced for adults. This was fairly serious science-fiction that managed to have some fun, but there was a serious undertone to it all that longtime fans appreciated.

Although seemingly having no initial connection to the original Transformers, it was eventually revealed that the Maximals and Predacons were the descendants of the original Autobots and Decepticons, and they had found themselves stranded on ancient Earth, a time well before the Transformers we had known had their adventures.

All of this, not to mention some incredibly cool toys, helped propel the Beast Wars to a level of popularity that the Transformers hadn't known in years. In my opinion, it helped a whole lot that these new Transformers toys were extremely well articulated in both beast and robot mode. If one thing drive me crazy about the original Generation One Transformers, it's that most of them weren't articulated worth a darn in their robot modes. About all most of them could do was stand around and wave their arms.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy the Transformers Universe Classics so much. And I'm not sorry to see the Beast Wars making an entry into the line, and the first entry is an entirely logical one -- CHEETOR! If one name has come to represent the Beast Wars above all others, it is certainly this character. We saw Cheetor develop from a headstrong kid to a capable warrior to even a decent leader in Optimus' absence in the sequel Beast Machines series. This was the sort of character development the concept provided, and it's little wonder that Cheetor has become as legendary among many Trans-Fans as he has.

As one might expect, Cheetor didn't start out as a robot that could transform himself into a cheetah. Taking into consideration the amazing Official Transformers Collectors' Club Convention Set, "Dawn of Future Past", which presented toys of the Beast Wars characters in their pre-animal modes, Cheetor was initially a high-speed sports car, essentially a race car. Although he was still yellow, and had spots.

Now, let's consider the character: Cheetor is a speed freak and has a penchant for childishness. Everyone treats him like the rookie, which is appropriate, since he has been known to make brash decisions, like risking his life in an energon storm against Optimus' orders.

For the first half of the series, Cheetor idolizes Optimus Primal. He tries, with little success, to model himself after Optimus and gain his approval. He also commonly referred to Optimus as "Big Bot" (Optimus at one point calls Cheetor "little buddy").

Cheetor's character was similar to that of a teenager in the early series, and that of a young adult in Beast Machines. He matures into one of the more competent and dependable Maximals outside of Optimus, becoming second-in-command and leading the team during Optimus Primal's bouts of weakness, instability and over-reliance on the Oracle during the middle run of Beast Machines.

During the first season of Beast Wars, the Maximals and Predacons crashed on prehistoric Earth, where high energon levels threatened to destroy the crew unless they adopted organic alternate modes. Cheetor was given the form of a cheetah.

Cheetor served as one of Primal's most trusted warriors for season one, battling against the Predacons on many occasions. However, his brashness and impulsiveness often made him a liability as well. On one notable occasion ("The Web") Cheetor lost a valuable communications device. Determined to redeem himself in Primal's eyes, Cheetor tried to spy on Megatron's new Megacannon, but was captured by Tarantulas and had to be rescued by Rattrap before he was eaten by the spider Predacon.

On another occasion, he was goaded into proving his bravery against the Predacons by Dinobot, by planting a series of spy probes. A freak accident with a bolt of lightning meant he was teleported into the Predacon base. Despite being hunted down, Cheetor managed to evade the entire Predacon team and stop the Maximal plan to destroy the Predacon base, realising that an Energon seam ran below both bases and would destroy the Axalon as well if the Predacon ship was detonated.

Cheetor would also form close relationships with the other Maximals, particularly with the tiger-like Maximal discovered during this time - Tigatron. Cheetor looked up to and respected the wiser Transformer- who he affectionately referred to as "Big Cat", being addressed as "Little Cat" in return.

Cheetor even became friends with Dinobot, a Predacon defector, being the only Maximal to express actual enthusiasm when Dinobot returned to the team after their apparent victory over the Predacons. (Note: Dinobot is also up for the Universe series. He was a cool character, as well, sort of the "Worf" of the Beast Wars series, the out-of-place "alien".)

In Season 2, the quantum surge of the Transwarp Wave altered Cheetor's structure into a Transmetal form, along with Rattrap. This, among other things, resulted in an entirely new series of toys within the Beast Wars framework in which the characters' animal modes were more robotic in appearance, and used color-chrome details. That was reason enough for me to think they were cool, but really, the Transmetals were a very interesting series of Beast Wars toys.

After adjusting to his new flight rockets, Cheetor and Rattrap battled a newly Transmetal Megatron, only surviving due to Rhinox's intervention. Along with Dinobot they defended the Axalon against overwhelming odds, until they were saved by Optimus Primal's return.

Cheetor continued to serve as one of the Maximals, witnessing Tigatron and Airrazor's capture by the alien Vok, helping to stop Megatron from returning to Cybertron with a Vok ship, helping to subdue Rampage during his initial appearance, and being present for Dinobot's last words.

In the three-part episode "The Agenda", the Maximals teamed up with the former Decepticon Ravage to apprehend Megatron. Sent to locate an Energon cache, Primal and Cheetor were ambushed by Inferno and barely escaped. After Ravage switched sides, the Maximals entered a desperate race to stop Megatron from entering The Ark - but they were too late. Megatron shot the stasis-locked body of Optimus Prime in the head - causing a timestorm that threatened all of history.

In Season 3, Cheetor continued to serve as a devoted Maximal soldier, being the first to spot Depth Charge's ship. Shot down by Rampage, he was rescued by the marine Maximal.

After inadvertently almost scrapping Optimus at one point, Cheetor disobeyed orders to help Depth Charge stop Megatron using the Transmetal Driver. Shot into the active unit's overload, Cheetor slowly mutated into a feral Transmetal II. Despite the need for repairs, Cheetor became somewhat fearful of the CR Chamber, as displayed in a dream sequence, mostly in fear that any attempts of repairing his structure with the underlying mutation may cause him to mutate further. Though he tried to suppress it, he transformed fully into his Transmetal II state in order to save Optimus from the Transmetal II clone of Dinobot, the two engaging in a ferocious struggle while in beast mode. Primal then helped him to gain control over his feral beast mode and Maximize at will. It is noticeable that Cheetor's voice became deeper after his change, and he lost the 'freckles' of his previous form. Cheetor also became less willing to listen to Optimus Primal, almost as though he was now an adult who no longer wished to be treated as a child, a state Rattrap referred to as "Cyber Puberty."

The look of Transmetals II Cheetor, both in the show and the toy, was a strange one. It was a sort of haphazard mishmash of animal and robot, and personally I was never that impressed with it, or how the character was portrayed during this time, although eventually he got his head screwed on a little straighter.

After Megatron was captured, Cheetor returned with the other surviving Maximals to Cybertron on board the Autobot shuttle Omega Delta. This led to the sequel Beast Machines series, Cheetor was one of the four Maximals to escape having their sparks extracted by Megatron's new Vehicon army, although he was initially trapped in his original beast mode. Reformatted by the Oracle into a techno-organic body, Cheetor's new weapons included enhanced super speed and a pair of sabers, which could be used to deflect incoming energy blasts, thrown as boomerangs, and attached at the hilt to form a glider.

Cheetor continued to mature and grow during the series, to the extent that he was even appointed second-in-command, Optimus recognising that Cheetor's instincts were correct when the rest of the team made a bad decision. No longer the 'child' of the team, Cheetor was known to argue with Optimus when the team's original leader disagreed with his decisions, with Cheetor soon becoming the team's military leader while Optimus's link with the Oracle made him a spiritual figurehead.

Cheetor's significance in the Beast Wars/Machines concept was probably best evidenced toywise at this time by the production of one of the biggest Transformers in years, called "Supreme Cheetor", which was a huge likeness of the popular character, with built-in electronic lights, sound, and everything else.

Toywise, the original Cheetor was re-released three years ago as part of the 10th Anniversary of Beast Wars, which produced special remakes of some of the most popular characters from the show in more cartoon-accurate colors. However, the new 25th Anniversary Universe Cheetor is an all-new cat. Let's consider the toy, shall we?

The first thing one notices is that this Cheetor, packaged in his cat form, is far more slender and sleeker than the original Cheetor, which almost looked like a cheetah in need of a diet. The proportions are moderately similar to the Beast Machines Cheetor, which was far more slender and sleek, but also had a robotic look to it.

In animal mode, this new Cheetor isn't supposed to look especially robotic, and he gets away with it pretty well. The body is designed to look like sculpted fur, the head is an effective rendition of a cheetah, the body is molded in yellow plastic with a smattering of spots, and the paws have a measure of white on them.

Articulation in beast mode is remarkable. The head is somewhat limited, although it can open its mouth to reveal a nasty set of teeth, but the tail is on a nice hinge, and the four legs are very well articulated, even better than the original Cheetor, and can be posed at the shoulders, hips, knees, and paws. The rear legs have an additional point of articulation, sort of a double knee.

There's a switch on Cheetor's back that lets you move the head back. This also allows for a change in the figure's eye color, from green to an orange-red. This is sort of an inside joke from a toy standpoint. When Cheetor was first introduced, there were several eye colors over the course of his initial run, including green, red, and I think blue, as well. There was quite a bit of talk among collectors at the time along the lines of "What color are your Cheetor's eyes?" So this is a little nod to that.

In beast mode, Cheetor is about 6-1/2" in length, not counting the tail. This makes him a good fit within the original Beast Wars line, although he's a little big in beast mode to work alongside the Universe Classics. I mean, when's the last time you saw a cheetah as big as a car? Still, it's a good size for the figure, no complaints at all.

Let's consider the actual transformation process. You start by raising Cheetor's front legs backwards over his back, and then out to the side. Strange as it sounds, you then fold them back down, and the diagram doesn't show this as well as it should but you've actually extended them well away from the main body at this point.

Next, you move the rear legs out to the side along their hinges, which in all honestly leave you with something that looks like a cheetah trying to cope with a serious digestive problem.

The next part was difficult for me to figure out from the diagram. It would have been really helpful if the illustrator had left the head in the picture. Transforming cars is tricky enough. Transforming a cheetah into a robot is no easy feat. But ultimately, what you do next is rotate the entire rear leg assembly (except for the tail) around so that it swings up in front of the front legs and head, and then fold the legs down. Then you straighten out the legs, and fold the front paws down to comprise the feet. This creates the legs of Cheetor's robot form.

Now you have to fold the front legs up against themselves. This more or less creates the robot arms. Once again, the diagram is a little vague, but it does work out. Ultimately, the front part of the body folds in -- and it was trial and error as much as anything at this point, and the robot head pops up from the neck of the cheetah, and the cheetah head becomes the robot's chest. The Maximal insignia also folds out.

The end result does look a good bit like Cheetor -- and I can make the comparison because I have the 10th Anniversary remake of the original here. The new Cheetor is taller and more slender. The Universe Cheetor stands 6" in height, which helps him work well with the other Universe Classics. This compared to the 5" of the original. Then again, the original has more spots. :)

There are some differences. The new Cheetor has legs that are very directly and apparently derived from the lower legs of the beast mode. The original Cheetor somewhat less so. Both have the cheetah head for their chest, but it takes up less room on the new version.

One similarity that both versions of Cheetor have -- and I was going to complain about it on the new one until I realized it was a carryover -- is that their lower arms are half-covered by "beast mode" elements. It doesn't restrict their articulation, but it does seem to take a little away from the full "robot mode" look.

The colors used are nearly identical, although I think the new Cheetor is a slightly brighter yellow, and the metallic steel blue of his robot components is more blue than grey. The faces between the two are very similar, although the new Cheetor has a more catlike muzzle around his mouth, which isn't inappropriate.

If I have one structural complaint about the new Cheetor, it's that his entire back half is hanging off of his back. This not only makes the figure somewhat top-heavy and back-heavy.

I certainly can't complain about the articulation. Mind you, it was with the advent of the Beast Wars that the Transformers really started to ramp up the articulation, especially in robot mode. That's become "standard issue" now, but it's always nice to observe, and Cheetor is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, legs, knees, and ankles.

Accessory-wise, his tail can be detached and used as a club, but the thing is so skinny it looks more like a furry yellow stick. Far more effective in appearance and I would suspect function are two discs with retractable blades, three each, that are remarkably-designed little weapons, essentially throwing stars of a sort, that in retracted mode can be carried on Cheetor's lower legs. These are called "Triple-Bladed Battle Discs" on the package.

Cheetor's profile on the package reads as follows:

"Cheetor has always been fast. Other robots move at speeds that seem agonizingly slow to him, as if they were trapped in tar. Unfortunately, a lot of the time he moves faster than he thinks, and finds himself in situations that, in retrospect, could have been avoided. Still, his speed has gotten him out of a lot more jams than it's gotten him into, and when speed isn't enough he can always break out his blades."

His various Power Levels give him a 10 in Speed, a 9 in Courage, 8 in Endurance, 7 in Fireblast and Skill, 6 in Strength, and 5 in Intelligence, which I think is a little insulting. He's smarter than that. He just doesn't act like it sometimes.

Interestingly, the package bears the Autobot logo on it, but also has the Maximal logo and the word "Maximal" on the front. Nice to see the combination. There's also a new feature on these packages, another nod to the 25th Anniversary, a sort of "Timeline" as to where the figure and the series he's from fits into the scope of things. It's a graph that runs from 1984-2009, and shows Beast Wars in its spot at '96-'99.

So, what's my final word here? I'm sincerely pleased to see other Transformers concepts bring brought into Transformers Universe, although I hope it doesn't lose its Generation One emphasis. There's still plenty to do there (anybody else want to see Sunstorm?!), and if one group of robots from this line needs a modern overhaul more than any other, it's certainly Generation One.

Nevertheless, there are also popular and well-regarded characters from other Transformers concepts that certainly deserve a modern appearance in the Universe line, and as part of the 25th Anniversary. It is called "Universe", after all, and that sort of implies everybody. And Cheetor is certainly one of those well-regarded characters.