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SDCC 2018: Hasbro Bumblebee Senior Design Manager John Warden Speaks on Changes for New Film, the Loss of Toys R Us, and the Power Rangers Acquisition

July 27, 2018 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Bumblebee Transformers

During this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, 411mania was able to speak with Hasbro Senior Design manager, John Warden. Warden is currently working on the Transformers brand for Hasbro, specifically the Bumblebee movie toyline, that’s set to launch in stores later this year. The Transformers movie franchise appears to be going in a new direction with the upcoming film, which is set in the 1980s and looks very different than the previous installments directed by Michael Bay. Additionally, there were a lot of new toys from the film that were also on display at Comic-Con, which Warden was happy to speak about with 411.

Jeffrey Harris: What would you say are the hot ticket items from Hasbro for the brand at Comic-Con?

John Warden: I think here at Comic-Con 2018, we couldn’t be more exciting about Bumblebee the movie release. We’ve got great Studio Series items. We’ve got reveals of the new Bumblebee from the film — screen-accurate Bumblebee who’s able to convert from vehicle to robot — a licensed VW Bug. For the first time, fans are going to be able to see the other vehicle mode of Dropkick, which is one of the adversaries for the film. This is actually a licensed SuperCobra helicopter, which has been really fun to work on. We’ve also got a bunch of other toys for Bumblebee the movie, including a Studio Series Bumblebee Bluetooth, and you can actually hear with your phone and stream music as well as the “Bee Vision” helmet. The Bee Vision helmet is a mixed reality experience. It’s really, really awesome. There’s things for adults. There’s things for kids, and there are things for people in the middle.

Jeffrey Harris: I notice that Bumblebee for the movie is back in his classic VW Beetle form?

John Warden: Oh yeah. It’s so exciting. We all love the 2007 Bumblebee. It was really an earth-shattering moment, but I think for us G1 fans, it was really, really exciting. It’s a softer, gentler Bumblebee that Yoko-san described as a “sweet boy.” He has a level of innocence and relatability. It’s going to be neat to see him come alive onscreen.

Jeffrey Harris: I want to know if you can debunk an urban legend. There was a story going around that Volkswagen was not on board with the franchise using the Beetle for Bumblebee in the 2007 movie because it was too violent and didn’t want to be associated with the violence of Transformers. Is that myth or fact?

John Warden: I really don’t know for sure. I hate to give you the political answer, but I can say Volkswagen has been an incredible partner this time around. They have been so excited to be able to work with [us]. We actually have licensed Bumblebee vehicles in almost every assortment, including the rerelease of the original G1 toy from back in the day.

Jeffrey Harris: So, you have had no problem working with them for the new film?

John Warden: Not at all. They’ve been an awesome partner.

Jeffrey Harris: What would you say is the key theme of the Bumblebee film?

John Warden: The key theme is I think love and kindness and wanting to belong and feeling like you can make a difference.

Jeffrey Harris: It’s a separate brand, but Hasbro also made a big move by purchasing the Power Rangers franchise. What do you think that means for the future of Hasbro?

John Warden: I can’t speak directly to what’s happening with Power Rangers, but I can say that more and more when I come here to San Diego Comic-Con, I’m meeting more fans that are from that age bracket. These are guys that grew up with Beast Wars and Power Rangers. I know that there’s a lot of really exciting things on the horizon for Power Rangers. Fans will have to stay tuned for what’s coming, but I know from working there and friends that work on that part of the business, there’s some really, really cool stuff coming their way.

Jeffrey Harris: How is work going on the Transformers and Power Rangers crossover movie going?

John Warden: *Laughs* I did not ever say that.

Jeffrey Harris: I didn’t say you did. I just asked how work is going on that?

John Warden: I don’t know. There’s no such movie *Laughs*.

Jeffrey Harris: It was very sad this year that the industry lost Toys R Us. How has that affected Hasbro, and is that an adjustment going forward?

John Warden: Well, I mean, Toys R Us — it was always a very special thing for my family and I to be able to go there. My kids grew up in the aisles of Toys R Us. I think when you think about something like that, I cherish those memories. It was a very special experience, but I stay positive and think about the future. Hasbro is doing so many creative things with our great partners around the world, whether they’re brick-and-mortar retailers or online — places like — if you look at some of the Generations items we just put out, we had some really kind of cool excitement happen with the pre-orders. It’s all about, how do you satisfy that hunt? How do collectors hunt Transformers? Are they driving to stores? Are they searching around for the greatest deal online or on eBay? I think how do you give fans the hunt in ways they’ve never done before? In lieu of that, I try to stay positive about all the good things in the future. And certainly, the future is very bright for Hasbro.

Jeffrey Harris: Can you clarify if the new Bumblebee movie is a prequel to the 2007 film, or is it a soft reset that can go its own way in the future?

John Warden: It’s hard to say. From what we understand in the movie right now, it’s set in 1987. Although there are cues from the original G1 series, as evidenced in the panel yesterday, I think that there’s also elements from the 2007 franchise as well like how Bumblebee loses his voice. I think it’s important to remember that for a lot of Transformers fans, even one of our designers who works on the brand right now, Bumblebee is embodied in that 2007 film. So, I think that there’s something in this new film for everybody.

Jeffrey Harris: Do you know the name of John Cena’s character in the film?

John Warden: I do not, but I’m sure it’s going to be awesome because John Cena is awesome.

Jeffrey Harris: From what I’ve seen of the movie, the Transformers don’t look radically different from the previous films, but they do look different. Can you speak at all of the design changes for the film?

John Warden: Absolutely. The new Bumblebee movie characters have kind of a softness to them in a lot of ways. I think they do borrow cues from G1 in a lot of respects.

Jeffrey Harris: The Michael Bay movies aren’t very soft.

John Warden: Sometimes — yeah — there was an aggressive feeling to some of those. I understand why he did it. But I think Travis [Knight] is really trying to tell a different kind of story. He wants someone to feel like they can get close to Bumblebee, and he can hold somebody without hurting them. I think the softness of Bumblebee does speak to the softness of his character, his vulnerability. He can still kick butt when he needs to, but he plays a very different role in this movie. He’s scared. He’s trying to understand what’s going on. He’s being hunted down by bad guys like Blitzwing.

Thank you to John Warden for taking the time to speak with us. Fans will start seeing toys for the Bumblebee movie hitting shelves this fall. The Bumblebee movie arrives in theaters on December 21.