Bumblebee, an off shoot of the Transformers universe, succeeds because it keeps the mechanisms to a minimum and the heart and soul to a maximum. It is at its best when it leaves the clang-bang Michael Bayness din of the franchise behind and just concentrates on the E.T.-ness of it all, the heartwarming story of a bereaved teenage girl with mechanical skills and the space alien that needs repairs, a tuneup and an adoration for his Tin Man’s heart.
Hailee Steinfeld in all out dive into the punk rebellion sweetness of misunderstood but redeemable teenage youth plays the Eliot part, and circus performer Chris Grabher provides the delicate mime movements along with a wonderful 80’s indie soundtrack (with an occasional squeaky assist from Dylan O’Brien) providing the voice software for Bumblebee.
A lot of 1980’s (the hip decade for cinema this year) nostalgia, hardware, relics and some good The Smith tunes give Bumblebee a parallel Spielbergian reality. For once it’s the human interaction that is interesting and not the rockem sockem CGI robotic bouts.
Bumblebee is the most watchable Transformers because all this pesky human interaction requires clear sight lines and cinematography that extends to the horizon, a running visible symbol of hope and not mechanical derangement.
Still, there is enough techno fights, splattered gears, hydraulic leakage and straight up robot torture and impaling to keep the most sadistic Hasbro dementor happy and parents scratching their heads as to why Bumblebee isn’t a soft R. If this were human on human it would be unwatchable and very NC-17.
It takes a great director of animation like Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) for the series to find its heart light, poetry and humanity. It takes two good human eyes to take it in and appreciate it.
All photos and videos courtesy of Paramount Pictures.