There's really no way around it; if you were looking for cartoon leadership in the 1980s, you found it in one place - the die-cast chest of Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Thirty years later, Optimus has undergone a Michael Bay makeover but remains as cool as ever.
The original Transformers movie was a tour de force - look it up and you'll see that names likes Orson Wells and Leonard Nimoy were attached to the project, along with a man named Peter Cullen. Peter Cullen, you say? Who's that? That, friends, is the voice of the greatest Autobot ever to walk the earth: Optimus Prime. Tapped for work in the original series, movie and the new series of movies, Cullen's voice and Optimus' style of no-nonsense, selfless leadership are unmistakable even thirty years from the moment they first came on the air.
Sure, he was a cartoon robot that turned into a truck but dammit, he was awesome! Anyone who watched the original series couldn't help but be moved to tears when he passed away in the first movie and was adamant that they would never return to theatres should he die in the "live" action Michael Bay extravaganza.
Thought it's been three decades, the toy side of the transformers franchise (and what it was built for in the first place) is still going strong, as are sales of Optimus Prime. Let's take a look at the differences.
First, enjoy this commercial for the original, generation one (G1) Optimus Prime.
Now, take a look at this circa 1984 photo of the Prime toy. Note the awesome plastic trailer (command center) and pay special attention to the fact that the front - the actual "Optimus" himself - is almost entirely die-cast metal. Sure, he had plastic hands and a plastic head, but the rest of him was awesome, posable metal.
Original Optimus Prinme: totally awesome.
Compare that to today's souped-up version below, and you can easily spot the difference.
New Optimus: still cool, but not quite the same.
The flames are great - don't get us wrong - and the for $50 at Amazon the price is still not bad for a fully-transformable plastic figure with light and sound. This, much the like modern update to GI Joe, is something that is great to see kids get on board with, but can be hard for those of us old enough to remember to really deal with properly. To us, this plastic Optimus will always be an imposter, albeit a really excellent one.
But no matter his form or his material, we're just pleased to see this prince of Autobots still getting the respect he deserves and the adoration of kids everywhere.
"Roll out, Autobots!" You tell it, Optimus, you tell it.
New Optimus: Amazon