To tap into a younger demographic, Hasbro decided to release a new line of Transformers figures through their Playskool Heroes toyline. Called Rescue Bots, the figures featured a bulkier design and an automatic transforming mechanic.
Debuting in 2011, the initial lineup included the established bots of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, as well as introduced the line-specific bots of Heatwave the Fire-Bot, Chase the Police-Bot, Blades the Copter-Bot, Boulder the Construction-Bot, Hoist the Tow-Bot and Medix the Doc-Bot, with variants of several of them released later. Their base of operations was the high-tech Fire Station Prime, which was a building with Optimus’ likeness and voice informing them of emergencies. A series of soft plastic human characters with cartoonish proportions were released with their own rescue tools to compliment the bots. Amongst them were Chief Charlie Burns, firefighter Cody Burns, Axel Frazier, Sawyer Storm and Walker Cleveland. A line of tie-in storybooks were also created for inclusion with the fire station and the electronic versions of Heatwave and Chase (the first was given out at BotCon2011).
|Promotional art of the main characters.|
To promote the toys, Hasbro commissioned the creation of an animated series that would air on the network they owned: The Hub. The show was developed by Nicole Dubuc, Brian Hohlfeld and Jeff Kline, who served as story editor, supervising producer and executive producer, respectively. Under no instruction from Hasbro, it was decided that since the show was going to air on the same network as the already-airing Transformers: Prime that the two shows should share a mythology. That connection carried over to the Prime sequel series, Robots in Disguise, that aired on Cartoon Network beginning in 2015 (not to be confused with the 2001 anime of the same name). As the toys and thus the show were meant for a younger audience, the setting and premise was devised to keep the show largely insulated from the larger conflict between Autobots and Decepticons. It was also decided to focus on the new bots introduced in the line, with some revisions made to their overall appearance and to their human friends.
|Blades, Boulder, Heatwave and Chase.|
Transformers: Rescue Bots centered on Rescue Force Sigma-17, the last known Rescue Bot regiment from Cybertron. Their ship brought them to Earth after receiving the message Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, reprising the role he originated and from Prime) broadcast as a beacon to all lost Autobots. Determining their skillsets weren’t suited for combat, Optimus assigned them the task of pairing up with human partners to learn about the Earth and how best to engage in the protection of the populace. However, they had to pretend to be actual robots so as not to alarm humans and expose the presence of aliens on Earth.
|Griffin Rock, a sleepy little hamlet.|
The Rescue Bots were sent to the island town of Griffin Rock, Maine (named because of Dubuc’s love of griffins) with Chief Charlie Burns (Maurice LaMarche); an ally of Optimus’ and initially the only one privy to their secret. As Griffin Rock was a proving ground for new technologies and a producer of many great scientific minds, the idea of transforming robots wasn’t that hard of a sell. As part of their cover, the Rescue Bots assumed new vehicle forms: Heatwave (Steve Blum), the short-tempered and impatient leader, was a fire engine (and fire boat); Chase (D.C. Douglas), the most robotic of the bunch who loved rules and regulations, became a police car; Boulder (Imari Williams), whose great strength was contrasted by his intelligence and gentle spirit, took the form of a bulldozer; and Blades (Parvesh Cheena), the fun-loving and most child-like, was left with a helicopter (despite his fear of heights). As a play on Optimus’ battle call of “Autobots, roll out!”, the Rescue Bots mobilized with the call “Rescue Bots, roll to the rescue!”
|The Burns family of heroes: Graham, Charlie, Dani, Cody and Kade.|
To serve as their pilots were the rest of the Burns family: firefighter Kade (Jason Marsden), a former star athlete with an ego to match, was paired with Heatwave; daredevil rescue pilot Dani (Lacey Chabert), who never met a machine she couldn’t fly or drive and didn’t hesitate to jump into a rescue, was given Blades; brilliant engineer Graham (Shannon McKain), who tended to live inside his own head a bit too much, was assigned Boulder; and Chief Burns took Chase for himself. The bots’ secret wasn’t kept too long as the youngest Burns, Cody (reimagined as a young boy from his figure, voiced by Elán Garfias), discovered the truth as soon did the rest of the family. After a period of adjustment, the humans and bots found a way to work together as true partners, with Cody serving as support from the firehouse where they all lived.
|Doc Greene with Anna Baranova and Frankie.|
Aiding the Burns family with research and quick inventions was the Greene family. Dr. Ezra “Doc” Greene (LeVar Burton) was Griffin Rock’s top inventor and scientist whose creations tended to go a bit haywire and often caused as much trouble as they help. His daughter, Frankie (Diamond White), was Cody’s best friend and shared in her father’s brilliance. Eventually, Doc met and married Professor Anna Baranova (Kath Soucie) and together they have their own brilliant daughter, CeCe (Soucie).
|Huxley interviews Mayor Luskey.|
Some of the colorful citizens of Griffin Rock included the blusterous and egotistical Mayor H.B. Luskey (Jeff Bennett), who sought to get tourists to the town often at the expense of safety; Huxley Prescott (Bennett), a nosy reporter often followed by a drone camera who believed from the start the bots weren’t just mere robots but couldn’t prove it; Mr. Harrison (Douglas), who often traveled via a heli-pack that tended to malfunction; Jerry (named for production coordinator and prop designer Jeremiah Regan, voiced by McKain), a hapless truck driver who often got into accidents or screwed up his deliveries; Deputy Barney (based on the character Barney Fife, voiced by Bennett doing a Don Knotts impression), the only other cop in town who was a bit slow-witted; Dr. McSwain (Ginny McSwain, the show’s voice director), the town doctor; Mr. Feiffer (Hohlfeld), the jolly town baker; Mr. and Mrs. Rubio (Bennet & Chabert), who often had mishaps with their car; and Milo (Marsden), an excitable young man who believed in conspiracies.
|Dr. Morocco and his MorBot.|
Primarily, the bots and Burns family dealt with a variety of natural and man-made emergencies all around Griffin Rock; such as landslides, traffic accidents, storm damage and more. But, even without the Decepticons (who were mentioned several times, if never seen) they managed to rack up their fair share of antagonists: Colonel Quint Quarry (Jim Cummings) was a big-game hunter who employed a variety of high-tech devices in his hunts; Lord Thurston Chumley (based on a character from the original series, also Cummings) was Quarry’s brother and chief rival who kept animals he captured frozen in stasis as trophies; Madeline Pynch (Katherine McNamara) was a rich businesswoman who would do anything to be even richer and get what she wanted; Chickadee (Kristen Schaal), a ruthless con artist who did whatever it took to get what she wanted; Skip Scobble (Eric Bauza), the underpaid agent and stunt double of actor Murray Dorfhauser (also Bauza) who stole rare books on the side; Evan and Myles (both Robbie Daymond), twins who were Griffin Rock’s main criminal element involved in crimes ranging from car theft to hacking; and the Velgrox (Bennett), a violent alien race that fed on other sentient beings. Their biggest foe, however, was Dr. Thaddeus Morocco (based on Basil Rathbone, initially voiced by Tim Curry until he was replaced by Jonny Rees after his stroke), a purely evil genius who could manipulate events behind the scenes as well as attack full-on with his variety of inventions and MorBots. Even being stranded in the future with no memory could stop him, as he returned as a sentient computer virus to further plague Griffin Rock.
|New recruits: Blurr and Salvage.|
Transformers: Rescue Bots had a preview of the first two episodes on December 17, 2011 before officially debuting on February 18, 2012 on The Hub; which would eventually become Discovery Family Channel during its run when Discovery Communications took back a controlling interest. Dubuc, Hohlfeld, Kline and Zac Atkinson served as the primary writers for the series, with additional scripts written by Greg Johnson, Dean Stefan, Mairghread Scott, Greg Weisman, Chris Wyatt, Kevin Burke, Gregory Bonsignore, Marty Isenberg, Jackson Grant, Cydne Clark, Kim Beyer-Johnson, Claire Yorita Lee and Steve Granat, amongst others. Show star McKain also contributed to scripts for three episodes. The series’ theme described the show’s premise with lyrics by Dubuc, music by Starr Parodi and Jeff Eden Fair, and performed by Josh Ramsay of Marianas Trench. Parodi and Fair also provided the incidental music for the first season, with Christopher Elves taking over for the remainder. The theme’s lyrics were shown on screen during the third season episode “I Have Heard the Robots Singing”, which was the franchise’s first-ever musical episode.
|Quickshadow: bot of action!|
Over the course of four seasons the show changed animation studios, resulting in slightly different character designs and overall looks to the series. For the first season, it was animated by Atomic Cartoons in Canada using Toon Boom Harmony. For the second season, animation was handled by Vision Animation in Malaysia, Moody Street Productions in Australia, and Kickstart Productions. Frequent Hasbro collaborator DHX Media took over the production of the final two seasons, outsourcing the bulk of the work to Philippine studio Top Draw Animation.
|Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.|
Optimus would make several appearances throughout the series, either giving the team new instructions via a comm link or the rare personal appearance for help with a mission. Other appearing established Autobots included Bumblebee (initially using sound effects by Dubuc, but later voiced by Will Friedle reprising the role from Prime and Robots in Disguise) who appeared in several episodes and was said to be good friends with Blades, and Sideswipe (Darren Criss, reprising the role from Prime) as he chased a Mini-Con named Bounce (Blum) to Griffin Rock. Veteran Autobot High Tide (Michael Bell, who starred in the original Transformers cartoon), who could combine with his rescue ship to form a giant Autobot, was created for the show as an old friend of Optimus and served as a trainer for the Rescue Bots. He also left them his Mini-Con dog, Servo, to watch over the team. Another new Autobot, Quickshadow (Alex Kingston), was a covert operations specialist also sent by Optimus to train the team and whose vehicle form was the high-tech spy car from the Maven Danger films (a play on James Bond).
As the show progressed, several things were introduced. Boulder and Doc Greene created new Energon-powered tools that the bots could use on rescues. Activated with the phrase “Power up and energize!”, Heatwave could gain an axe, Chase a grappling claw, Boulder a gun that shot multi-purpose foam, and Blades a hook and winch. To rescue Professor Baranova from Quint Quarry, the bots adopted alternate dinobot forms to impersonate the ones Quarry wanted Doc Greene to build for him. Heatwave became an apatosaurus, Chase a stegosaurus, Boulder a triceratops, Blades a pterodactyl, and even Optimus became a tyrannosaurus rex. New Rescue Bots Salvage (Marsden) and Blurr (Max Mittelman) were introduced, having been found in stasis for thousands of years of Earth. Quiet and thoughtful Salvage adopted the form of a garbage truck and utilized objects others regarded as useless to create useful items. Blurr was Salvage’s complete opposite, adopting a race car form that matched his lack of patience and desire to always move fast, and had trouble finding how a racer could be a Rescue Bot.
|The training center.|
For the fourth season, the series time-jumped three years both to catch up to events transpiring in Prime (such as Optimus’ death and resurrection—this happens often) and to account for the kids’ voice actors aging and their voices changing. Both Cody and Frankie received new aged-up character models as a result. In the interim, Doc Greene and Professor Baranova had CeCe. The entire fourth season focused on a subplot that would change the entire status quo of the Rescue Bots series. Optimus finally allowed the bots to reveal themselves to the townspeople of Griffin Rock, who, despite fears of the contrary, were welcoming and receptive to them. The reason for the reveal was to enlist their help in building a new training center on the mainland where the bots would usher in the next generation of Rescue Bots. The center could transform like the bots and was hidden from view by a series of holographic projectors. It was also controlled by a hologram of Griffin Rock’s first female scientist, Elma Hendrickson (Soucie). Travel between the center and Griffin Rock, and later around the world, was made instantaneous by the development of a teleporting GroundBridge. At the conclusion of the season, Optimus gave the bots their new assignments: Chase would remain on Griffin Rock with Chief Burns; Boulder and Graham would build a community for Autobots and humans in the northwest; Blades and Dani would command Quickshadow and High Tide in China; and Heatwave and Kade would oversee the training of the recruits at the academy.
|Some of the cast of Rescue Bots Academy: Wedge, Whirl, Hoist, Hotshot and Bad Luck Chuck.|
The entire season set-up the possibility of a spin-off, however fans, the cast and crew were left wondering about the future of the series for months afterward. Eventually, it was revealed that a spin-off, Rescue Bots Academy, would be going forward, but with significant changes. Animation duties were handed off to Boulder Media Studio, which was purchased by Hasbro in 2016 and became their official animation arm. Likewise, the cast for returning characters was completely replaced by a New York-based talent pool.
|Uncle Woody comes to visit.|
Rescue Bots became the longest-running Transformers cartoon, surpassing the original by 6 episodes. During the show’s run, it was nominated for an Annie Award, two Australian Screen Sound Guild Awards, five Behind the Voice Actors Awards, two Daytime Emmy Awards and a Cynopsis Kids !magination Award. Cummings won the Voice Actor award for his portrayal of Quint Quarry, Bennett won the Emmy for his portrayal of Mayor Luskey, and Mark Hamill the Cynopsis for guest-starring as Woodrow Burns; Chief Burns’ younger brother who was an inventor and adventurer with an interest in the paranormal.
To better tie into the show, the Rescue Bots toyline was completely retooled to bring the designs of both the bots and humans closer to their animated appearances. Little Brown and Company, through their LB Kids imprint, published a series of easy-reader books that adapted episodes of the show beginning in 2013. Bendon Publishing International, Inc. published four jumbo coloring and activity books that contained nearly-identical content, but different covers. They also released Welcome to Griffin Rock, which was essentially provided profiles for each character for a very young audience. In 2013, Reader’s Digest published Roll to the Rescue!, which was a “lift-the-flap” book. In 2013, Leap Frog published Race to the Rescue, a video game in which the bots had to stop Morocco’s Disaster Bots from destroying Griffin Rock. In 2017, Hasbro published a Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactive video on their official YouTube account called My Transformers: Rescue Bots Adventure. The video utilized some new limited footage of Heatwave and Cody along with repurposed clips from the show.
The first DVD release of the show came in 2012 as a Toys ‘R’ Us exclusive with the first two episodes that could either be purchased on its own or given for free with the purchase of a Rescue Bots toy. Shout! Factory released 13 collections between 2012 and 2018. The first three contained episodes in release order, but each one after pulled episodes from various seasons that fit a particular theme; sometimes with repeated selections based on their ability to fit into multiple themes. EDEL released the German version of the show across six volumes between 2013 and 2014. Beyond Home Entertainment handled the Australian and New Zealand releases which featured the first three seasons broken up into volumes and a complete season 1 set. The first season was made available to stream on Netflix and Apple TV, two seasons on Roku and three on Direct TV while the entire series could be seen on Amazon Prime and Google Play.