In 2018 the Transformers brand launched a sub-line dedicated to a line of robots in disguise who transformed into everyday objects including plants, electronics, food, sports equipment and more. Separate from other continuities, BotBots featured some of the most original and creative characters and alt-forms featured in a Transformers line in years. They were warmly received by fans, but retailers were not as happy and by the end of 2020, the line had largely been relegated to the realm of discount stores. Given this, it was a very pleasant surprise when it was announced Netflix would be producing a BotBots cartoon! Check out the trailer below:
Ben's World of Transformers extends its thanks to Netflix for providing episode screeners so that I could prepare this review ahead of time. All images below are screen captures from the official Netflix trailer above. The show itself debuted on Netflix on March 25, 2022. Netflix was kind enough to provide the entire season for viewing so this review will cover the entire season as a whole with minimal spoilers.
Wait, spoilers? You may be wondering how a show about cute little robots transforming into household products and food could possibly have spoilers. The biggest surprise of BotBots season one is that the entire season actually has a story arc! My original expectation for the show was a Looney Tunes style series where each episode was just a self contained comedy skit. Instead, BotBots focuses on the Lost Bots, a group of displaced BotBots made up of Bonz-Eye, Clogstopper, Dimlit and Kikmee meeting Burgertron, who himself is separated, then banished from the his squad known as the Hunger Hubs. Burgertron seeks to rejoin his squad while the other Lost Bots want to join up with the squads that seem to make the most sense for each individual (for example, Kikmee the soccer ball wants to join with the Jock Squad made up of sports equipment). To achieve this, the Lost Bots try to prove themselves to the other BotBots so that they will be accepted into their society. Unfortunately, they are often seen as strange outcasts who only cause trouble.
This high level story serves as the throughline for all the individual episodes which do have self-contained stories where their efforts to gain acceptance often result in funny hijinks.
Complicating the lives of the BotBots is the mall security guard named Dave. Dave is a down on his luck kind of figure who begins as one of the antagonists in the show but his role evolves as the series reaches the end of the season. I spent almost equal amounts of time laughing at and feeling sorry for Dave and I can honestly say if there is ever another season of BotBots I am very curious what they may do with the character going forward.
The individual episodes all have a theme that riffs of everything from geek culture to popular films. Some of the humor and charm in the show comes from the unique forms and punny names of the BotBots themselves (Frostferatu the vampire who transforms into a cupcake is hilarous). There are also fun references to popular films including Indiana Jones and The Fast and the Furious. There is also some very geeky humor including an episode where the Lost Bots get into LARPing and a gag involving Dave buying an action figure (that bears more than a passing resemblance to Grimlock from Age of Extinction). For me, the series hits its high when the humor touches on topics you may not always see in a kid's show. For example, in the episode "Phoning it in" there is a running series of gags about the Lost Bots getting addicted to apps on a phone. Some of the humor in this show is slapstick while other humor comes from rapid fire dialogue. In the episode "Spirit of Halloween" there is a running gag about seasonal stores such as Spirit Halloween and stores dedicated to selling Christmas products. These were among my favorite episodes of the season.
By the time the season reached its end, the story does reach a satisfying conclusion with openings for future stories. Some characters have evolved and some relationship dynamics have changed. Honestly this was a lot more than I expected when I began watching the show. As a huge fan of the BotBots toys, I found the season very fun.
The look of this show definitely skews towards a comedic and kid-friendly tone. The BotBots themselves all feature new character models. They do not use the artwork on BotBots packaging or even the BotBots commercial from 2019. Instead, the character models lean heavily into making the main characters look more humanoid than their action figure counterparts. For instance, the Kikmee action figure pretty much looks like a ball with tiny arms and legs while the animation model looks like a tall humanoid wearing armor with parts of a soccer ball as a helmet. Some of these redesigns work better than others. I tend to prefer designs that still retain elements of the alt-modes (Burgertron is a perfect example with bits of his cheeseburger mode forming parts of his torso and back) while others go a bit too far into humanoid shapes such as Spud Muffin who barely retains any of his french fries alt mode design cues.
It is no secret that the BotBots toy line did not prove to be a long term success. In 2022, the only place to really find BotBots are at discount stores such as Family Dollar. However, there were BotBots toys developed that were not (yet) released and I believe this show hints at what some of these may be. In "Live and Let LARP" the BotBot, Playgor is introduced. In robot mode he looks like a medieval king and his alt-mode is a deck of cards. All that said, it was announced on March 23, 2022 that new BotBots toys would be released in 2023. You can see the toys and pre-order links here. Among the notable additions to the line are two of the vehicles shown in "The Ruckus Rally", a new play pattern in the line!
BotBots is a fun show with heart and humor. There is a surprising story arc I had not expected and the animation is bright and kid-friendly. The humor works on multiple levels and references topics that adult fans will appreciate while still entertaining kids. I was very happy with the show and hope we can see the further adventures of the Lost Bots in the future!