WATCH: Bumblebee Trailer

Bumblebee, a Transformers movie that actually looks like Transformers.

Paramount released the newest trailer for Bumblebee, the Transformers prequel that finds the story of Bumblebee on Earth in the 1980’s. The trailer marks a sharp tonal difference between the five previous films by hearkening back to the time period, look, and characters that made the Transformers so beloved in the first place.

Bumblebee marks the directorial debut for Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings). The film features an impressive cast that includes Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Edge of Seventeen), John Cena (Blockers), John Lenderborg Jr. (Love, Simon), and Pamela Adlon (Better Things), with a voice cast that includes Angela Bassett (Mission: Impossible-Fallout, Black Panther) as Shatter and Justin Theroux (The Leftovers, The Spy Who Dumped Me) as Dropkick. The screenplay comes from Christina Hodson (the upcoming DC Birds of Prey film).

The film’s trailer is trying to bring the franchise back to its cartoon roots, even by setting it in the 1980’s when Transformers first aired and the franchise got its start. The plot hints at a reworking of the premise of the original film; a young kid (now a girl instead of a boy) buys a car only to discover it is the Transformer Bumblebee. The human forms a connection to the car and stands by it when the sinister government organization Sector 7 comes in to take Bumblebee captive. Whereas the first film featured that as one subplot in a film full of three others, this time it is the main focus. The first Transformers was a global picture in the vein of Independence Day, so the story of Bumblebee and Sam bonding was pushed to the sidelines. Here it is the main focus and looks to invoke the style of E.T. or The Iron Giant. Truly making Bumblebee, the first Transformers film based off a line of toys for kids, a kids film.

One thing that fans took immediate notice of was the designs of the Transformers. When audiences saw Bumblebee for the first time in the teaser trailer, it was obvious the film was going for a simpler design more in line with the original animated (G1) series, even down to returning Bumblebee to his original VW Bug mode. Yet now that the trailer displays more Transformers including Optimus Prime, Soundwave, Ravage and Shockwave, fans get to see many more characters rocking their classic looks. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean a better film, but it does speak positively to the creative mindset behind it. This is a film that doesn’t seem to be embarrassed by the Transformers as toys as the previous five films were.

Audiences have lived with the Michael Bay version of the Transformers for 11 years. They are very much products of his vision as a director. Overly complicated designs for the robots in an effort to make them realistic, making the Transformers minor characters in their own story so Bay could focus more on the humans and try his brand of humor in there, more focus on military action than Transformers action.

Now a new director has come onboard who has a history of working with the family-friendly material, and that playful stop-motion background seems to be translated to the movie here. A movie that actually seems to care about treating the Transformers (here Bumblebee) as an actual character instead of a tool to generate action. One that has a love and respect for the source material and brings those childhood dreams to the big screen proper.

Bumblebee right now is positioned in a weird place. It is technically a prequel (teaser used Bernie Mac’s narration from the first film, Hoover Dam Sector 7 is shown, and Bumblebee still doesn’t have his voice), but if received positively by critics and audiences it could mark a new chapter in the franchise. The film could be seen as a prequel/reboot of the status quo moving forward similar to X-Men: First Class, which relied heavily on the audience’s previous knowledge of the X-Men films but seemed to be taking the franchise in a new direction (which later got a clean slate with Days of Future Past). Imagine Transformers films that feature more classic looking robots, more respect, and love for the source material?

Bumblebee is facing a crowded holiday box office as it must compete with Mary Poppins Returns, Aquaman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Alita Battle Angel, and Mortal Engines. With the fate of Transformers: The Last Knight at the box office, the franchise is no longer the sure thing it once was. Is it too late to win back audiences’ hearts? Only time will tell but hopefully, the kid-friendly playful-looking film will be a must-see for kids at Christmas.