When Hasbro bought Kenner, they put their new subsidary in charge of their boys' toys division. This was in the early '90s, when Transformers were at a low point - Generation 2 had generally failed to catch on, and Kenner was charged with reinvigorating the line. Their solution was a drastic change: no longer would the Transformers disguise themselves as vehicles; it was time for the Beast Wars.
Captain of the Maximal research vessel Axalon, Optimus Primal was forced into the role of a warrior in the Beast Wars. He rose up to become one of the greatest heroes in the history of Cybertron. His fate is tied in some fundamental way to that of the mad arch-villain Megatron. Optimus Primal knows this, and understands that it is he and he alone who must pursue Megatron across time and space in order to put a stop – once and for all – to his evil plans.
For the 10th anniversary of Beast Wars, Hasbro released a series of BW figures. Since it's a federal crime to not include an Optimus Prime in any given TF line, he - or more accurately, his BW equivalent - was in the second series. For the most part the anniversay figures had slight redecos, or maybe just a small retooling. Optimus Primal, however, was a 100% new mold.
The original plan for Beast Wars was that these were the same characters from G1, just in new forms. The bio specs on the original toys talk about Prime and Megatron upgrading via a "bio-genetic morphing process" to create the perfect fusion of organic musculature and Transformers technology. When the cartoon debuted, this entire angle was quietly swept under the rug.
Now the character was Optimus Primal, the captain of an exploration ship (sometime circa 2310) which happened to be in the right place at the right time to chase a ship full of criminals. The two ships engaged in battle, were drawn through a spacewarp, and crashed on a remote planet teeming with Energon and biological life. There was so much raw Energon drifting around, in fact, that the bots all had to adopt semi-biological alternate forms. Luckily, everyone on board was able to find a native animal species that fit with their pre-existing name: in Optimus' case, a primate.
In true gorilla fashion, Optimus Primal is walking on his feet and his knuckles. Since he's hunched over, he's only 4" tall. The articulation is really good, with balljoints for the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips and knees. In fact, the only articulation points that aren't balljoints are the hinges for his ankles and toes.
In short, Optimus Primal's transformation flips everything around: the ape's arms become legs, his legs become arms and his back becomes his chest. Also, hamburgers eat people and hot snow falls up. It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. Due to the way his elbows and wrists are designed, this is the only Optimus who can't get into that classic "Prime pose."
In both forms, he suffers from Beast Wars' biggest and most consistent flaw: he fails to pass the "disguise" portion of "robots in disguise." In beast form, he looks like a gorilla with robot parts. In bot form, he looks like a robot with gorilla parts. Everything is sculpted nicely, but there's just too much kibble in both forms. For a brand-new mold, at least they got that much right.
According to TF head honcho Aaron Archer, the reason Optimus Primal is a new sculpt is that they weren't sure the Beast Wars 10th Anniversary line would actually see release. To that end, both Primal and Beast Wars Megatron were redesigned to look like they belonged on the Jungle Planet from Transformers: Cybertron (including, sadly, the stupid visible mouth). That way, if the line fell through, fans would still get a neat little easter egg. Since the BW10 line did come out, though, both figures were redeco'ed and released as Cybertron figures.
Temporarily mutated by the wild energies of the Jungle Planet Cyber Planet Key,
Optimus Prime continues his battle to defend the universe from Megatron among the giant trees of the Jungle Planet's rainforest. Swinging from tree to tree, he moves silently through the dim half-light of the dense mid-canopy foliage. He knows that his enemy lurks somewhere in the humid valleys of this chaotic world, and will stop at nothing to find Megatron and stop him once and for all.
The original reason that Prime and Megatron turned into a gorilla and a T-rex? To duplicate the famous fight from King Kong. Neat!
Both versions come with a hoverboard accessory, witch is 6" long and detailed very nicely. There are two pegs that fit his feet, but only in robot form - surf monkey! There's tons of techno detailing all over,
and two turbines on the bottom. When a Cyber Planet Key is inserted in the back, an assault blade (or "ass lt" blade, if you read the instructions) pops off to the side and you can fire a missile. The BW10 version also includes a 3" plastic version of the Maximals' ship, the Axalon.
The change to Beast Wars came in 1996, which coincided with the rising popularity of the internet. Due to that, word spread faster than ever before, and there was a huge and immediate negative reaction among fandom. Those who gave the new property a chance grew to love it, but not everyone gave it a chance.
A whole faction grew up (one of which I admit to have been a member) that thought the idea of animal-based Transformers was stupid. Optimus Prime is a tractor trailer, not a gorilla! Or, as put more succinctly, "TRUKK NOT MUNKY!"
"TRUKK NOT MUNKY" (properly [mis]spelt in all caps) doesn't refer to everyone who dislikes Beast Wars, but rather to those who have a knee-jerk reaction to something they know nothing about. "TNM" is saying something sucks just to say it sucks. "TNM" is the equivalent of OAFE's own "quitcher bitchin'" - an admonishment to give things a chance and think them through before firing off your half-baked opinions.
The reworked Optimus Primal is a fun little toy. If you're absolutely married to the idea that Prime has to be a truck, then this obviously isn't for you. But if you're willing to give a monkey a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised. The BW10 version is $15, but the Cybertron version is five bucks cheaper - plus, it has a better color scheme. Save some money, and buy the brown version.
Trukk or munky? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.