Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Rambings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: "Make Tracks"
9/08/00

Make all the World's Worst jokes you want... this is a pretty good episode.

The story opens with ominous music playing over a dark New York City night. In a nasty part of town, two punks find a familiar blue car that they rather like: "Those wheels are rude!" They pop the lock and drive off; one of them notices a radio in the back: "Hey, look what I found. A funky boom box!" They drive to garage, where a hood named Winston pays them off. As he's ticking off the dough, the car abruptly transforms into Tracks, who orders them to freeze. When they run, Blaster (still in one of their hands) also transforms: "You punks are sunk, and that's no bunk." Winston heads in a different direction, only to run smack into Optimus Prime. The cops are close behind, and thank the Autobots for their assistance with their crime buster program. The 'bots head back to Sparkplug's Garage.

At the garage, Sparkplug reports no news from Teletran One; the 'bots roll into an inner complex that's a dead ringer for Autobot HQ. "I find this city exhilerating, Prime!" Tracks comments as they enter the control room. "We could remain here forever as far as I'm concerned. Pardon the cliche, but I love New York." "Tracks certainly seems to enjoy investigative work, mmm, Huffer?" Hoist comments. "Yeah, he'd rather hang out with humans than us any day!" "For obvious reasons. At least humans aren't stick-in-the-muds spinning their treads all day."

Prime sends Powerglide, Cosmos, and Seaspray out on patrol; Tracks also heads "Out for some invigorating city air. It's too stuffy in here for me." Tracks hasn't been out five seconds, though, when some armed crooks attempt to carjack him: "The Geddis brothers'll pay primo for that baby!" Tracks tries to drive off; the crooks fire after him, puncturing his tire and sending him out of control. Tracks runs head-on into a lamppost.

His front end wrecked, Tracks can barely drive and can't transform. "Wow," a young Hispanic dude (Raul, we'll learn a bit later) mutters, wandering onto the scene. "It's a mess, but, it's still a sports car! Well, nobody seems to want you, so that makes you mine! We gonna fix you up, good." "This is a most disturbing development," Tracks mutters, as Raul runs off.

After pushing Tracks to some out-of-the-way spot, Raul makes an assessment: "Lessee... two new tires, carb's probably shot, and I can hammer that hood into shape no sweat." Raul slides underneath to start work. "I don't know who used to own you, but you're mine now." Tracks has had enough: "Nobody owned me! I'm *mine*." "Yeeiii!" Raul jumps, wacking his head.

"Cat got your tounge? C'mon, chum, wake up," Tracks tells him a moment later. "Look, I've been shot at, smashed up, and stolen three times tonight, and I'm in a most foul humor. So if you will be so kind, please repair me!" "That car... talks!" "You've got a mind like a steel trap." "I'll fix you up alright, but then I'm selling you to the Gettis brothers. I promised them a car by midnight, and they'll pay through the nose for you." "You're not serious!" "Hey. You don't make promises to the Gettis brothers you can't keep. Anyway, I need the bread more than I need a set of wheels." "More than you need a friend?"

Later, Raul comes back with a pair of tires: "First time in my life I try to steal a car, and I get one with a big mouth." "Where did you procure auto parts at this time of night?!" "You wanna get fixed up, or you wanna ask dumb questions? I could always go off and do a couple of burners instead of working on you," Raul says, dropping the tires and briefly pulling out a spray paint can. "Graffitti!" Tracks exclaims, shocked. "Hey. I'm not in the mood to be lectured by a car, okay?" Raul pops the hood to start work, and inexplicably cuts a particular cable, causing Tracks to shut down. "That's the main cable to my computer!" Tracks explains after Raul reconnects it. Raul sets to work.

Seaspray patrols one of the rivers, trying (and failing) to scoop a floating crate out of the river as he passes. "I wish the humans learn to keep their rivers clean!" He stops to help a tow truck pull a car out of the river, then reports in empty-handed to Prime. Optimus checks in with Powerglide next: "Negative, Prime. It's as quiet as New York ever gets on a Friday night." Cosmos has also come up with zilch, reporting "Just a little fender bender on the West Side." Huffer (with Hoist riding in his cab) is caught in it; Hoist gets out and sets about cleaning up the wreck. "If only we all had wings like Tracks. I bet he wouldn't be caught in a jam like this!" Huffer notes.

Raul's work on Tracks is done. "And now I suppose you wanna turn me over to those car theives!" "I dunno, man. I mean, you're a pretty cool guy! For a car." A voice calls out from nearby: "Hey kid! Ya there?" It's the Gettis brothers, who quite literally hold Raul up: "You promised us a car by midnight." "It is now one minute *after* midnight!" "You're late." "We're gonna go for a little ride to the river, kid."

Tracks roars into the scene just then: "Unhand him!" He transforms. "I *said* put him down!" The Gettis flee: "I thought dose robots were on our side!" Tracks transforms to car mode and pursues them with Raul. When a bus cuts them off, Tracks unfolds his flight wings and takes off. "You're -- you're flying!" "By way of introduction, my name's Tracks. What's yours?" "Raul." "Well, Raul, hang on to your body socks!" They spot the Gettis again, but the crooks escape undetected into a warehouse.

"So we lost 'em! I don't see why you're so mad about it." "Because those crooks thought I was one of the Decepticons. Therefore I assume they're *dealing* with the Decepticons for some reason!" "The Gettis brothers are trying to corner the hot car business." "But what would the Decepticons want with stolen cars?" "Hey man, you're a car! You tell me!" Tracks has Raul take him to the Gettis' depot: "Time to go undercover... as a stolen car!"

Tracks follows the stolen cars across the Hudson to Jersey; nearby, Powerglide has spotted Starscream and goes into pursuit. Cosmos joins the battle: "How do you do, Starscream! Not very well, I hope." The battle ends up in a mall, where Starscream blasts an elevator loose from its moorings; Cosmos catches it: "First floor, movie theaters, shoe stores and fast food restaurants!... I wish the directory could tell us where to find Starscream," he concludes. Screamer knocks them down and escapes. Prime later speculates that Starscream was heading for the Pine Barrens in New Jersey.

Tracks, meanwhile, is already there, concealed near a bizarre-looking building in the woods. The Gettis put their car drivers on a bus back to the city, then turn and tell Megatron that this is the last of the 500 cars. "Now, where's our million bucks?" "Right here," Megatron says, offering them the business end of his fusion canon. The humans flee; Hook tells Megs that "We are ready to reconvert this final batch of vehicles." Tracks tries to call for help, but his radio is damaged. Instead he opts to join the cars on the conversion line. Ahead, Scrapper is starting the procedure by slicing each car in half with a sword. "I have no desire to be carved up into Auto-sushi," Tracks thinks, but before he can escape, the severed cable from before works loose.

"Tracks, get out of there, man! What's wrong with you?" Raul says to himself. Finally he approaches the Decepticons: "This car's mine, man! And if you're trying to rip it up for spare parts, I've got a *nasty* surprise for you." "Explain yourself," Megatron demands. "I got an anti-stripping device on this baby -- called a BOMB." *** "Disconnect that bomb and maybe I'll let you live!" "Right on. Fair enough!" Raul instead re-connects the magic wire; Tracks transforms and attacks. "It is painfully apparent we are badly outnumbered!" he comments. "Let's split!" Raul agrees.

Tracks drives off, but he's low on power, and Rumble and Ravage soon catch up to him. "Out... I'll handle them in robot mode! Getting disturbingly low... on... power." Tracks can barely stand. Raul: "I'll draw their fire, man!" He distracts the 'cons long enough for Sideswipe, Jazz, and Bumblebee to show up and drive the 'cons away. "He's almost out of power!" Raul tells the three. "Who're you?" Sideswipe asks. "No Sideswipe... trust him. He's my friend," Tracks says.

"So, Megatron's re-converting the stolen cars into vehicles that can drive on their own... Somehow I suspect there's more to it than that," Prime says, back at Sparkplug's. The computer speaks up: "Aiee. Alert. Optimus Prime." "The Decepticon cars, they're here!" Tracks says. The 'bots split up and roll: "Ratchet, Blaster and I will hold them off at the bridge. The rest of you split up and take on the ones that have already gotten into teh city." Behind them, Raul calls out: "No, wait! I have something to tell you!" But the 'bots are gone.

At the George Washington Bridge (it *has* to be the GW -- it's the only bridge across the Hudson into Manhattan) Op and company unleash a barrage on the incoming cars. When the smoke clears, the cars transform to identical robot modes, raising guns. "So that's what this is all about," Op says. Blaster: "They don't look all that smart to me!" The drones fire. "Ha! They're aim's not too good, either!" "May be, but they've got us outnumbered. Fire!"

Tracks, Sideswipe, Inferno and Bumblebee take on a group of the cars in Midtown. Tracks: "Let us stomp out these cheap immitations!" Inferno goes to control collateral damage to a nearby skyscraper. Tracks: "I'll teach you to mess with a Chrystler building!" Ironhide, Huffer, and Windcharger handle another group elsewhere. "There must be hundreds of them!" Op says, unhappily. "At least the Constructicons skimped when it came to giving them brains!" "Skimped nothing. As far as I can tell they don't *have* any brains!" Ratchet says, examining the empty head of one of the robots. "Then they must be run by remote control. Blaster -- start broadcasting a jamming frequency!" The jammer does the trick; the car-bots fall inert.

The Decepticons mass before their odd building; some time later, the 'bots drive up. "Forget the Decepticons -- just aim for the building," Op orders. "We're putting your company into bankruptcy, Megatron!" As the 'bots attack, Raul sneaks into the building. He's about to smash a control panel when Megs snags him, and carries him out into the battle, telling the Autobots that "I can't guarentee this worthless human's safety, unless you surrender!" "If you harm one hair on his head, I'll personally carve you into scrap metal!" Tracks calls out. "Such a touching display of loyalty!" Megs smirks. But he doesn't smirk for long -- Raul pulls out his can of spray paint, opens a panel on Megatron's waist, and shoots him full of neon orange. Megs collapses in a mess of malfunctions; Soundwave and Rumble fly him out as the other Decepticons retreat. Tracks puts a shot through the building, destroying it.

Back in the city, the Autobots are collecting the converted cars. Sparkplug's garage is full: "This is all I could fit in here. There's about three hundred more parked out in the street!" Optimus: "We've got to convert them back to normal cars and return them to their owners." Sparkplug: "Even with Ratchet, Wheeljack and Hoist working with me it'll take weeks. I sure could use some extra help." Raul sees that as his cue: "Been great knowin' you man! If you're ever in town again, look me up." Tracks picks him up and sets him down before the nearest car. "Some friend you are!" "Relax, Raul. I'll help you!" Raul resigns himself. "One thing's for sure. I ain't never gonna steal a car again. You're more trouble than you're worth!" "What do you mean? I saved your life!" "And I saved yours! Twice." "Oh, pipe down, and hand me that socket wrench." Fade out.

*** I always thought this line was "called a bomb". Others maintain it's actually "called The Bomb." With Raul's city accent, it's hard to tell; it could go either way IMO.

G1 cartoon episodes generally fall into one of two categories: the Decepticons do something to gain energy, and the Decepticons do something bizarre, overly complicated, and inexplicable. This ep is an example of the latter.

The whole plot thread of the stolen cars is fed to us as a bread crumb trail, a mystery that Tracks finally unravels as the ep progresses. But I find if you look at it the other way around -- the Decepticons are having humans steal cars for them -- it doesn't make quite as much sense. Why go through such an elaborate scheme just to get hold of a few hundred cars? The Decepticons could just as easily steal the cars themselves. I guess the rationales are conservation of energy (why steal them ourselves if the humans will do it for us?) and stealth (how long before the Autobots would come and put a stop to blatant car theivery?)

But anyway, humor the 'cons for a moment, and allow that the plan makes sense. I guess it's not *that* implausible, really. But after all that, and an obviously huge amount of work put into converting the cars... they're run by a remote signal that Blaster can nullify without even trying?? The hell? Sounds like the Constructions skimped when it came to giving *themselves* brains on this one.

And what were the cars going to *do* when they got to NYC? What would they have done if the Autobots had never bothered to attack? Would they just drive around all night?

Ah well. If you ignore the overall plot, this ep is a lot of fun. Tracks' conversations with Raul take the cake; several lines are IMO laugh-out-loud funny. Tracks as the sophisticated straight man (no gay jokes, please! :] plays perfectly off Raul's informal, irreverent street persona. Tracks generally plays as a sophisticate in this episode, rather than the plain old egotist he usually is. Huffer and Hoist are too blue-collar for him to deal with, apparently. Still, he has no problems mixing it up and operating on his own. He shows quite a bit of initiative... though he probably should've gone for help before heading to the Gettis' warehouse, rather than waiting till he was over in Jersey. Still, if he had, the Autobots would never have found the conversion factory (or maybe they would, since Jazz's group was in the vicinity anyway, presumably on Starscream's tail.)

Also, why did Tracks drive onto the conveyor belt, then *immediately* regret it? He didn't even see what was happening to the cars! And how did Raul, who could see even less, manage to have the same reaction? Tracks hasn't been there five seconds when Raul is urging him to "Get out of there, man!" I take this as one of those cartoon convention moments, when we can assume that Tracks *did* see or sense something to worry him, and that he *was* there for a longer time than we were shown, and it just wasn't animated well enough to actually convey this.

(And before anyone attacks this opinion and espouses the "literal interpretation" approach to cartoon viewing... I point you to the final minute of "Child's Play". Explain THAT as being "what actually happened", and THEN I will consider your 100% literal interpretation of the cartoon.)

The voice acting in most of the ep is superb; lines that look dead in print sound terrific coming from the characters' mouths. Raul and Blaster in particular stand out.

The short battle after Tracks' escape from the Decepticons *rocks*. Sideswipe tackles Ravage in mid-air; Jazz and Bumblebee make Rumble *dance*; then Sideswipe catches Ravage *again* and smashes him into the ground, *hard*. A fast sequence, and very nicely done.

Did this episode happen in the span of a single night? It does seem that way, but consider: it's already after dark when Tracks heads out and has his accident. Even if it's the middle of winter (and the characters' dress says it's not), when dark falls around 5 PM, you also have to allow time for Tracks and Blaster to get stolen earlier, and for them to drive back to Autobot HQ. So, after dark Tracks gets stolen, returns to HQ, gets wrecked, and then Raul fixes him *all before midnight*. Raul's one speedy mechanic. Second, after all this, Powerglide and Cosmos visit a mall, which is *still open*. Even NYC malls don't stay open *that* late. It'd make more sense to say that Raul worked through the next day and into the following night, but he clearly says "I promised them a car by midnight" *before* he starts the repairs. Ah well. This must be the special all-night mall.

Cosmos flies right over the heads of stranded drivers, literally only a few feet over them.... heh! And is it just me, or does Hoist drive onto the sidewalk as he tows away the wrecked car? Also, what the heck is up with Hoist riding in Huffer's cab?? The size difference is so wrong I can't begin to grasp it -- that would make Hoist maybe 8 feet tall at the most, which numerous episodes demonstrate is not the case. Ack. Apparently even the Autobots know that driving in downtown NYC is not worth the bother. :]

I like Cosmos, incidentally. He has this quiet, deadpan dry wit, also seen in "Quest for Survival", and a sort of down-to-earth likability.

Pop references abound as the story wanders through the streets of Manhattan. An entire battle scene happens around the famous Chrystler Building; various signs and billboards refer to Abba, Casablanca, the "Istoria Hotel" (probably a psuedonymn for the fabled Waldorf-Astoria), and most well-known among fans, "Transformers: the Movie." A-heh. So the Movie exists within the world of Season 2. Heh heh. So... the Movie is just a story told by humans in the context of the pre-Movie episodes! It never actually happened! Heh heh heh!! >:] BRAWN LIVES, BABY!!! (In fact, I bet many other pre-movie episodes contain conclusive evidence that Brawn lives. I'm gonna start watching for it. ;]

The New York of this episode is a dark, gritty, and dangerous place. Okay, so it's not quite Batman's Gotham, but it's a far cry from the cheery-looking place we saw in "City of Steel". The color of the place is steel grey throughout; criminals are seemingly everywhere. Traffic jams and pollution abound. This is the stereotypical image of NYC fifteen years ago, when the city's reputation had reached some abysmal lows, not without good reason.

The design of Tracks' car form has always bothered me. The toy Tracks is a near-perfect Corvette Stingray, one of my favorite cars. The cartoon, for some reason, never seemed to get it right; this ep is worse than most. The characteristic flaring of the front hood over the front wheels is completely absent, for example, as is the little fin across the trunk. I wonder if Sunbow/Marvel just didn't have permission to animate an actual Corvette? Maybe that's also the same Raul just calls Tracks a "sports car".

Tracks' flight mode is truncated this ep. Normally his rear wheels disappear, his lower wings take their place, and he sprouts tail fins as well. Here the wings just rotate out from beneath his body, and it looks rather goofy.

Tracks is apparently supposed to be swerving off to the right when the bus cuts him off; however, the animation from his interior gives no indication of this. Only the next shots, of Raul being thrown back in the seat and Tracks backing off of a curb, tells us what happened.

The first shot of the mall is kind of... weird. First there's nobody there, yet the elevator is moving; then, when Screamer opens fire, there's humans fleeing all over the place. That long shot of the deserted mall is creepy, somehow.

The "alert" scene is awkward. Literally, it goes like this:

Teletran One: "Aiee. Alert. Optimus Prime." Tracks (voice muffled like Teletran's): "The Decepticon cars, they're here!"

It sounds like part of Teletran's line got edited out. And was that second line orginally supposed to be Tracks, or was it meant to be the computer? Then, a moment later, it almost seems like Teletran is the one that "has something to tell you", since Raul is nowhere on screen, and the voice sounds rather strained for him. Ah well, it's not as bad as the fire fighting scene in "Revenge of Bruticus"... though that episode is generally laden with all kinds of sloppy errors.

The converted cars come in a rainbow of colors... but they transform into robots with an identical yellow and dark green color scheme. How's THAT work?? Obviously the writers didn't want the animators to have to design dozens of robots made of car parts, but they could at least have at least colored them differently. As is, we're to believe that the outer skin of the car spontaneouly changes color when they transform. But, hey, Windcharger's back does it (in this very episode!), so why not?

Hook's one line in this ep bothers me. He sounds like he got his RPM set too slow. In other bad voicing news, the two punks at the beginning aren't very convincing. "Look what I found! A funky boom box!" It's as bad as it looks. Worse even. "Rude"? Was that *ever* a synonym for "cool" or "great"? Well, I guess if "stupid" can mean good, so can "rude"....

Musical notes: man, I totally forgot about the Generic Rock Song that Blaster plays at the beginning of this episode. Damn. It's the same one Jazz plays during "The Autobot Run", and I hereby dub it "Driving Music". I think there might even be a fourth Generic Rock Song floating around, heard during "Autobop".... I'll have to check. And... crud... is the music that shakes Tracks apart in that episode the same piece of music as the one that Jazz plays in "Transport to Oblivion" and "Attack of the Autobots"? I've always thought they were two different songs, but now I'm not so sure.

Overall: a bit dated, some odd animation conventions, a slightly silly and implausible plot... but boatloads of great lines and strong character interaction, along with generally solid artwork and a fun story.


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