A full-out assault has arrived in my living room. Transformers movie tie-ins are being marketed non-stop through ads on Nickelodeon, selling everything from Burger King kids' meals to Pontiac cars. We only watch about a hour of commercial TV a day, but there are multiple ads featuring the Transformers being shown within a single commercial break. The contradiction of a violent action flick based on Hasbro toys is spelled out right in the Burger King commercial--hey kids, get your kids' meal with one of eight toys based on characters from the movie (PG-13, some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has turned a spotlight on this situation but has not yet received a lot of response. Transformers star Shia LaBoeuf has said that producer Steven Spielberg fought back against a proposed R-rating. Yet the movie is being marketed to kids all the way down to the toddler years. (Opti-mash prime Mr. Potato Head, anyone?)
Most parents understand that this movie is not suitable for young kids, but it sure is tiring to have to wage our own counter-war against this nearly irresistible marketing juggernaut. My 7-year old daughter is seeing at least a dozen ads a day that make the movie look really cool. My friends with boys this age have even more explaining to so. For many of us parents with kids under age ten, this is our first experience with a pop-culture wave that we don't have the choice to shut out. The Tranformers have gone viral. They are a part of boy culture whether or not we have TV or the toys in our own homes.
I was a teenage girl when the Transformers first came to America, so I don't have a stake in this nostalgia the way I did for the Star Wars re-releases. Wired Magazine's July issue features a reverential, 15-page cover-story on 25 Years of Butt-Kicking 'Bots! that shows just how much grown-up boys still love these 80's toys.
We've heard from cultural critics and Hasbro, who claims that the toys are separate from the movie. Now I want to hear from parent-fans themselves, after they've seen the movie with their kids. Was it better or worse, more or less violent than you expected? How much of it is fun, fantasy blow-it-up mindlessness? Where does that end and sensory overload begin? What about the militaristic overtones? Does the Iraq War tie-in make you uncomfortable?
I feel like I should really go see the movie for myself, but the idea of getting a babysitter to go subject myself to 144 minutes of Michael Bay-directed mayhem is not my idea of holiday fun. If you have seen the film, with or without kids, please share your reactions.