More than meets the eye, the Transformers have enjoyed a significant mainstream revival as of late due to last year's unbelievably sucktacular yet incredibly successful blockbuster, an all-new animated series, and a wealth of new toys spanning various Transformers franchises and universes. At this very moment (well, maybe not at this exact moment; you'll have to check your local stores' hours, product availability, and arrangement to confirm the accuracy of these statements), you can find modern reinterpretations of 1980s Generation 1 characters hanging on the pegs at your nearest Target, rows of Blackarachnia and other robots from the current cartoon on endcaps at Wal-Mart, and a ton of Fast Action Battlers that nobody wants still kicking around at Toys "R" Us. And now, thanks to the latest Happy Meal promotion at McDonald's, you can also get Transformers toys along with a child-sized portion of unhealthy fast food greasiness!
Or at least you could have last week. I'd hoped that Mickey D's TFA promotion would continue for another two weeks -- maybe it's just my faulty memory, it seemed like these things lasted for at least a month and a half when I was a kid -- but unfortunately it seems that I'm too late to urge you to rush to your nearest horrific clown hut in search of tiny transforming toys. Not that I was actually planning to do that, as these Happy Meal offerings are a little on the lame side, but still. There's always eBay if they catch your fancy.
Anyway, since I (initially) only got one of the toys, he will serve as the basis of this review. Meet Lugnut! Or rather, meet the pitiful Happy Meal toy masquerading as Lugnut. I almost feel bad for ripping on a kid's meal toy -- but really I don't, and you'll see why in a bit -- but this is pretty poor. Pros first: his alt mode is actually pretty good, as he effectively replicates the
robotic sky whale bomber jet seen on the cartoon not only in terms of shape and color, but also with lots of sculpted details like guns and intakes and whatnot. Granted, Lugnut could do with a bit more paint to actually highlight these details, but I'm not going to criticize a Happy Meal toy too severely for lacking involved paint applications. (Heck, considering that they actually bothered to paint his faction symbol, he's doing a lot better than the other figures in that respect!)
I will, however, dock Happy Meal Lugnut considerably for the robot mode, which differs radically from Lugnut's cartoon appearance. I could sort of forgive the arms if the rest of him were alright, but those legs -- if you can even call that dress legs -- are flipping awful. More visible blue-green might have helped Lugnut a little even with this abominable design, but they probably should have just sculpted actual legs on the underside of the jet and changed the transformation such that only the end of the rear fin swung around to form his feet. Yes, that wouldn't have been entirely show accurate either. It may not have been super attractive. Still, I'm willing to bet that it would have looked a whole lot better than the totem pole-wannabe Ronald dropped on the kiddies.
Now, it's tempting to once again point out that Lugnut is, in fact, a Happy Meal toy -- and in light of that fact, it's not surprising that he kinda sucks. But while it may be true that it's not surprising that he's decidedly less than stellar, it's definitely not true that all or even most Happy Meal toys are equally disappointing. When I was a kid, we would eat at McDonald's twice a week for four weeks in a row in desperate attempts to collect entire sets of Happy Meal toys -- and far from inhabiting their own little arched-box ghetto set aside for kids' meal offerings, they regularly joined our "real" toys on crossover adventures across the rooftops of Gotham and through the sewers of New York City. Yeah, the toys usually had some hit-or-miss gimmick (I rather liked the pullback racers -- I mostly played with my toys on carpeting, but that gravelly whine that they make when you rev them up and let the wheels run on open air delights me even to this day), and they were generally smaller than the stuff you'd find at retail, but they were still excellent ways to get characters who didn't have proper action figure counterparts or smaller-scale versions of ones that did. Heck, even though those fantastic Happy Meal boxes have gone the way of the thylacine, McDonald's still pops out pretty neat toys. Remember those TMNT movie figures? (If you don't, visit Crown Combo to refresh your memory.)
But my problem with Lugnut goes beyond his obvious inferiority when compared to other Happy Meal offerings. Yes, all except the very coolest and unique of kids' meal toys aren't going to be able to compete with the figures you'll find at Toys "R" Us -- and yet, despite the accepted limitations of a Happy Meal toy, Lugnut is the first to make me suspect that someone actively sabotaged the toy during the design process. Why would they do that?
The text printed on the TFA Happy Meal toys provides a potential answer: © 2008 Hasbro... Made for McDonald's. Now, it's possible that this is separately referring to the facts that the characters are copyrighted to Hasbro and that the toy was made for McDonald's... but one can also read this as suggesting that the toy was made by Hasbro for Mickey D's. And suddenly things make sense! Hasbro has a bunch of retail Transformers that are little more than glorified Happy Meal toys themselves -- mostly Legends class toys, but also Spychangers provided to various discount stores -- so if Hasbro made good Happy Meal toys it would effectively be competing with itself. This is why I suspect that, despite the numerous examples of awesome transforming Happy Meal offerings (scroll up to see the transforming food items or click here), the toys based on specific Transformers franchises almost invariably suck (though some of them look very cool when repainted). Yes, actual Transformers characters are more complex and thus tougher to represent in a simplistic toy than an ice cream cone with a dinosaur head and arms, but still. When Hasbro routinely slaps kids' meal toys into attractive card-and-bubble packaging and sells them for $5 each, it's not surprising that they make sure their real Happy Meal toys aren't worth the plastic from which they're formed.
And I was all set to end the article right here until, during a visit to Wal-Mart last week that obviously preceded the publication of this review, I decided to stop into the McDonald's inside the store and see if I could buy one of the toys separately instead of getting another Happy Meal. (Am I the only person who isn't a fan of these all white meat Chicken McNuggets? The lumpy old school white-and-dark meat hybrids were so much better.) Now, I know that you can order the toys solo, but until that day I'd never had any luck with it -- in the past, my every attempt had been thwarted by non-English-speaking employees who had no idea what the hell I was trying to do. But since they apparently do speak English at the Wal-Mart McDonald's, I not only was able to communicate my intentions to the employee successfully, but also was so surprised by the smoothness of the process that I ended up snagging three of the toys. And there they are below!
So now I find that I'm forced to revise my statements a bit. Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Bumblebee aren't the greatest Happy Meal toys ever, and I still think it's possible that Hasbro intentionally tried to make them markedly worse than Spychangers and legends class toys. I mean, in addition to some fairly obvious flaws that could easily have been avoided (and yes, certain deluxe toys exhibit these shortcomings as well, but I think Hasbro sabotaged them too), leaving details like the faction symbols (they didn't show up in my photos, but Optimus actually has an Autobot symbol on each shoulder!) and Bumblebee's beacon light unpainted seriously hurts the toys' appearances. That said, they're all at least four times better than Lugnut. Optimus features an adequate robot mode, a decent transformation for a Happy Meal toy, and actually manages to one-up some of his deluxe class molds by having his head covered in truck mode. Megatron's helicopter mode is little more than him lying prone with a cockpit hoodie, but his robot mode is definitely on point -- and that's what counts. And then there's Bumblebee! I really, really like Bumblebee. He naturally doesn't come close to competing with his G1-inspired Classics toy, but it's worth noting that the original G1 Bumblebee was kinda crappy... so somehow this little guy seems just short of perfection. Until Hasbro releases its legends class TFA Bumblebee later this year, Happy Meal BB will be the one keeping my TFA deluxe Prime company.
So at the end of the day, I'm forced to conclude that Lugnut is a poor representative of the TFA Happy Meal gang. He's probably not the worst of them -- from what I can tell based on these pictures, that honor goes to Starscream -- but he's certainly no Bumblebee... even though Bumblebee arguably suffers from the same fatal footless flaw. Funny how that works! The Happy Meal Autobots also roll circles around their Decepticon counterparts, which is interesting. Are the Autobots' designs simply easier to translate into decent Happy Meal toys, or is something more clever afoot? Did Hasbro make the Autobots better based on the notion that kids will want the retail versions of them anyway -- them being the stars of the show and all -- but may be less inclined to want the larger Decepticons unless the Happy Meal versions totally suck? I'm not sure, but that's entirely possible considering that whereas two out of three Autobots can be bought for only $9.99, Earth Mode Megatron, Starscream, and Lugnut all fall into the $19.99 and up price range (Activators versions aside). And look at that: all of the Happy Meal bags just happen to have $5 off coupons for TFA toy purchases of $19.99 or more! Oh, how cunning! Swing and a miss, Hasbro -- we're totally on to your evil marketing scheme. It's not going to stop us from using these coupons to buy Blitzwing and Shockwave, but... yeah. :P-- Wes --