Optimus Prime's mouth - revealed!
A wacky tale of animation cels and really stupid titles.
As much as I like the Transformers cartoon and how much nostalgia surrounds it, it's hardly known for its consistent animation quality. Characters appear in the wrong places, appear with missing limbs or are coloured in the palettes of entirely different characters. Heck, simply watching the intro to the third season and comparing it to anything that came before is enough to demonstrate that the quality had dipped by that stage. One episode in particular is all you need to see to know how low the bar goes.
One particularly infamous scene occurs in The Search For Alpha Trion, an episode near the end of season 2. The Decepticons have captured Optimus Prime's lady friend, Elita-One, and Prime is naturally a bit miffed at this. One shot of his anger, however, features him missing his trademark mouthplate, revealing beneath... nothing! No mouth, no vents, no anything. Just a big flat slate. It's a scene that lasts for all of three seconds and isn't actually a new example of an animation layer missing, but if anything it adds a little bit of fodder to the mystery of what lies beneath Prime's mouthplate. People laughed, discussed, and forgot about it. It's no longer a discussion worth having anymore.
Metrodome DVD release even fixed the error, so we have more reason to let it
fall prey to the all-consuming maw of forgotten, insignificant memories.
Until now! A fellow who collects animation cels contacted me in December 2008, commending Galvatron and I for our work on Random Action Hour, stating he had used it as a reference for the origins of his cels. However, he was unable to find the source of one cel and asked me if I happened to know.
And this was the cel in question. Yowza. Since when did Optimus have a mouth? Since when did Optimus have a mouth in that scene??
Okay, history time. Optimus Prime in the cartoon was originally Orion Pax, some dorky little guy with giant lips. He got blown up by Megatron and was subsequently rebuilt by Alpha Trion into the figure we all know and love, with his mouthplate now in place. That is the only instance of Optimus having a mouth in the cartoon.
Even the original toy didn't have a mouth, and it wasn't until 1997 in the limited Machine Wars line did he receive one, but only because that toy was a recolour of some other dude. His original toy prototype had a mouth, along with a silly looking crash helmet, but that was never released, of course. No toy of the original Optimus Prime has ever had a mouth, disregarding ones that are just repaints of other characters. No mouths there! No mouths anywhere.
I basically told the collector about the Orion Pax episode, but stated that was an entirely different design and no episode had the modern Optimus with a mouth. I hazarded a guess that it was a frame from his stock animation transformation that was revised later to give him the mouthplate. I was pretty clueless, really, because it was a generic angle, it was a generic background... there was nothing really to identify it by.
Except for the fact that it's exactly the same as the shot before the mouthless shot from The Search For Alpha Trion; a fact the collector discovered himself. The background is positioned the same, what little shading there is is the same... it's a match!
This opens a whole new kettle of fish, though. I mean, two different scenes without mouthplates, not only in one episode, but in one scene? Was there going to be going some nonsense going on regarding Prime removing his mouthplate for Elita-One to recognise him? Was Prime just deciding to naked things up a bit before Megatron contacted him?
We may never know.
Food for thought, though.