Throughout its history, the Transformers franchise has struggled with violence; toymaker Hasbro killed off Autobot leader Optimus Prime in 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie and were reportedly shocked at the uproar from parents and children. More recently, parents (and even some adult fans) expressed dismay at the level of brutality in Michael Bay’s live-action film series.
The current iteration of the franchise, Transformers: Prime, continues in this ambivalent tradition - in this clip, Autobot good-guy Cliffjumper is captured and executed within the first three minutes of the pilot episode. From a narrative standpoint, it is rather effective. It makes the consequences of the Transformers' conflict more serious, and it establishes Starscream as a legitimate threat. From a business standpoint, the death certainly surprised adult fans, as it seems nonsensical to kill off a character who has multiple action figures available for sale. What child would want play with the guy who died in the first act? (Adult fans seem to have no problem with that question - a “Rust in Peace” version of the character was sold as an exclusive at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con.)
Prime airs on The Hub, a cable channel co-owned by Hasbro. Hasbro seems intent on grabbing the adult fans who grew up with the original series, as well as the current crop of younger children. The voice actors who portrayed Optimus Prime and the evil Megatron in the original 1980s cartoon returned to reprise those roles, and the cast of characters includes re-imagined versions of classic heroes and villains. The stylized action of the live-action films is paired with a heroic aesthetic reminiscent of the fan-favorite Transformers: Animated series. Since Hasbro has a stake in the network, they have relatively free reign as to what to show in their own programming. They even seem to have covered their bases on the matter of violent content, as The Hub is simultaneously airing Transformers: Rescue Bots, a traditional cel-animated show specifically aimed at younger audiences - which also has its own independent toy line, itself aimed at younger children. This time, Hasbro may get to have its oil cake and eat it too.