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By Thomas Wheeler

Out of all the major summer blockbuster movies that had some measure of toy licensing tie-ins, the clear winner was Transformers. Granted, it also had the longest and most extensive track record in the toy aisles, so this was only logical.

One of the new movie toys was a "New" Bumblebee. And that requires a little clarification. First, however, let's consider the character of Bumblebee himself.

As first introduced in the 1980's, Bumblebee was a relatively small Autobot, looking a very great deal like a Volkswagen Beetle. This was never official, unlike the movie characters or the Alternators. Volkswagen has steadfastly refused to allow official likenesses of its vehicles.

Bumblebee's personality could easily have been described as "spunky", and he was the Autobot most inclined to seek out human company, generally speaking Spike Witwicky. Bumblebee was small in stature but large of heart and probably a little too courageous for his own good sometimes. He didn't flinch from a fight, even if the odds were impossibly against him.

Over the course of the original animated series, during the two-part "Return of Optimus Prime", Bumblebee was damaged, subsequently rebuilt and renamed Goldbug. This was in keeping with a new toy that was made available at the time. The character revision wasn't especially well received, however, and eventually, Bumblebee returned.

The character obviously didn't appear in Beast Wars or Beast Machines, but neither was Bumblebee part of any of the more recent Transformers incarnations, such as Energon, Armada, or Cybertron. And since Volkwagen refused to license their name to Transformers, he wasn't part of the Alternators, either. Finally, Bumblebee returned in the Classics line, in a car mode that looked a little bit like a Mini Cooper. Not inappropriate, really, and far enough removed to not precisely be a Mini Cooper.

The character has always been one of the most popular Autobots, and there was no way he was going to be left out of the live-action movie. And, indeed, he is arguably the most prominent Autobot in the entire film. He befriends the humans in the film, and turns up well before Optimus Prime or anyone else, and once he regains his voice, expresses at the end of the film that he wants to stay with the humans. In this, the movie Bumblebee is very much like his original counterpart.

Bumblebee has certainly become a prominent part of the movie line. Probably serves to make up for all those recent toy concepts he got left out of. There's even an "Ultimate" Bumblebee that stands over a foot in height, has full articulation, transforms into car mode, flashes its eyes, and has a wide range of sound and music effects. For most of the movie, Bumblebee's speaking voice is damaged, so he has to get his point across by scanning the radio dial and finding songs closest to what he's trying to say.

But, specifically what did I mean about the "New" Bumblebee toy? When Bumblebee first appears in the movie, his automotive form is that of a 70's Camaro that has clearly seen better days. It would've had to have worked its way up to "rattletrap" status. Comments such as these are echoed by Sam Witwicky, either annoying or embarrassing Bumblebee enough so that he scans a new car and takes on its form. Bumblebee's new mode is a Concept Camaro being considered for 2009.

In Camaro mode, Bumblebee is about 5-1/2" in length, and extremely sporty-looking. As such time as General Motors, whose "GM" logo appears on the package designating it as an officially licensed product, actually starts offering this Concept Camaro for sale, I'm sure it will be a big hit with people who can afford and are inclined to drive a car such as this.

Bumblebee is a very nice yellow-gold in color. Bright, but not intense. If they went for the same intense yellow as they did on the original Bumblebee, or even the more recent Classics, it would've been far too unrealistic. This shade works. Bumblebee HAS to be yellow. There's no way around that. But this particular shade helps keep it a bit more real.

Transforming Bumblebee isn't too difficult. The graphic instructions work well enough. The toy has a limited amount of what is called "Automorph Technology", which basically means that there's a few instances where transforming one part will cause another to follow suit. In Bumblebee's case it's a limited amount of the upper torso. You sort of have to watch where you hold the figure when you're transforming him, or you'll be hindering the procedure.

Another section that might be a sort of unintentional "Automorph" is the legs. These fold out from the back of the car, and are surprisingly complex in design. I was even concerned looking at the instructions. Fortunately, the legs pretty much just fold right out and into place. Just grab a foot and gently pull.

The end result is a superb likeness of Bumblebee that stands about 5-3/4" in height, well within the scale designated for the basic cars within the Transformers movie line.

Bumblebee is superbly well articulated in robot form. I've said this on many occasions, but one of the things that was always just a bit of a turnoff with the original Generation One Transformers was how limited their articulation was in robot mode. That particular matter is long in the past, and certainly Bumblebee is evidence of this. In robot mode, Bumblebee is poseable at the head, arms, upper swivel arm, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and feet. I would never want to be responsible for designing how one of these toys works, so all credit due to the people at Takara/Tomy and Hasbro that make it happen.

The back of Bumblebee's head has been molded in a very dark blue translucent plastic, resulting in the frequently used but very cool effect of his eyes appearing to glow blue when there's a sufficient light source behind him.

The character profile for Bumblebee on the package reads as follows:

"Before he came to Earth, Bumblebee could have cared less about his appearance. As long as his alternate mode kept him hidden, and protected his plasma cannon from the weather, he was content. But now, on Earth, he has found friendship for the very first time in as long as he can remember, in the person of Sam Witwicky. At Sam's urging, he scans a sweet new vehicle form. Now, he's still ready to fight to the end against the Decepticons, but he sure hopes nothing too bad happens to his paint job."

As good a way of explaining his change without giving away the precise event in the movie as possible. His "plasma cannon", by the way, detaches from him during transformation and can be easily transformed into his weapon.

This is very definitely the version of Bumblebee that I would encourage any Transformers fan who enjoyed the movie to purchase for their collection. Assuming, of course, that you can find it. Patience and diligence are clearly called for with this line. But, as such time as you find him, the TRANSFORMERS MOVIE "NEW" BUMBLEBEE definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation! It's a superb rendition of this very popular and prominent Autobot!