Western Animation: Beast Wars aka: Transformers Beast Wars
The Maximals model their wide wardrobe of fur and leather coats.
"Megatron may be back, and there is still more Energon. If they ever get enough, they could conquer the galaxy. So for now, let the battle be here on this strange, primitive world. And let it be called Beast Wars!"
—Optimus Primal, "Beast Wars (Part 2)"
The series that revived the Transformers franchise after a years-long recession, Beast Wars premiered in 1996 and was animated in CGI. It was produced by the now bought-out Mainframe Entertainment, hot on the heels of its predecessor ReBoot. Hugely controversial among the Unpleasable Fanbase that are Transfans due to the wildly different direction it took from the original series, Beast Wars was not based around the familiar Autobots and Decepticons, but their descendants, the Maximals and Predacons, who now transform into Earth animals instead of vehicles or household items. Lumped with this series is the sequel, Beast Machines, although they are not considered a single story arc.Beast Wars treats the events of Transformers Generation 1 as a mixture of history and legend; it never gives enough details to figure out which Generation One (cartoon, comics or something else) it comes from or what happened to everyone.After stealing a precious MacGuffin from the Cybertronian archives, a small band of Predacon renegades (defying the peace that befell the planet after the Autobots won the "Great War" against the Decepticons) crash-land on a mysterious planet along with their Maximal pursuers. The planet, heavily seeded with a raw, crystalline version of the Transformers' fuel source Energon, proves so harmful to them that they need to convert into animal Alternate Modes to survive.The battle then begins, with Optimus Primal dubbing this conflict, "the Beast Wars". The reasons behind the Predacon's theft of the MacGuffin grew in importance, the inclusion of a third party (the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens known as the "Vok"), along with a mythology twist that really clinches the story.Despite the cries of "TRUKK NOT MUNKY!" from the purists, Beast Wars was actually quite innovative for its time; not only because of the aforementioned CGI, but also because of the tight, involving storyline, significant character development, and revolutionary ball joint technology that not only made the toys much easier to play with and pose, but also provided more complex transformations, realistic alt-modes and much more poseable figures. In addition the show made attempts to push the boundary of contemporary children's shows via witty word plays and the graphic violence that was let slip because flying robot partshave been permissible since time immemorial.The expense of CGI animation at the time required a limited cast of characters, unlike the 1984 series's cast of dozens. Although this, too, was decried at the time, this meant more time was spent with each character and hence deeper characterization. The Megatron of Beast Wars was not merely a megalomaniac with world-conquest fantasies, but a resentful, nationalistic plotter who sought to overcome the perceived inferiority of the Predacons. Beginning as a fairly standard femme fatale, Blackarachnia went on to become a Trope Codifier of Dark Action Girls, eventually joining the Maximals and besting some of the most powerful villains (Dinobot II and Rampage) in combat. One of the show's generally acknowledged high points is the character of Dinobot: an honourable Predacon who deserts his side, but still feels some fealty to Predacon ideals, he is constantly torn in his allegiances.Say what you will of the quality, this show set the standard for all other Transformers franchises from then on. Even now, it just won't die; a "10th Anniversary" release of the original toys was created (With new figures for Primal and Megatron), and fan favorites Blackarachnia and Waspinator were carried over into Transformers Animated. To some fans, Beast Wars is the best Transformers incarnation of all time due to its high quality and production values. It isn't uncommon for longtime Generation 1 fans to claim that the show is their favorite Transformers series.The Sequel Series, Beast Machines, was...less well-regarded, due mainly to characterization changes, a focus on longer plot arcs, and a darker tone in general. Despite this, it has its own fanbase. See its own page for more information.In Japan, two traditionally animated series were created to fill in the production gaps between seasons. Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo. They were never dubbed, as they don't fit in very well with the continuity of either the source material or each other. Both shows are much more light-hearted than their Western counterparts, and aimed at a much younger audience than Beast Wars (which could plausibly be called the first Transformers series aimed at teenagers, not just children). It's also worth noting that the Japanese release of the CGI Beast Wars cartoon also changed the dialog for a younger audience, almost to the point of being a Gag Dub.Transformers: Timelines has provided a few prequel stories to Beast Wars.Here's a Character sheet. Now updated with characters from the Expanded Universe. Please feel free to add to it.There is now also Recap in desperate need of assistance.
This show provides examples of:
Actually Pretty Funny: In "Bad Spark", when Blackarachnia accepts Silverbolt's presence and companionship under the excuse of self-preservation and protection from Tarantulus, the two come across Tarantulus's severed limb hanging from a tree. Silverbolt says that there's no cause for alarm, since he has been disarmed — both of them laugh after trying to hold in their snickers for several seconds.
Aerial Canyon Chase: Cheetor tries this in canyon containing several close pillars. While he manages to shake off the newly-awakened Silverbolt with this technique, Megatron simply ploughs through the pillars head-first to no ill effect.
A God Am I: Megatron has one hell of a God complex. In the series finale, he refers to his "imminent godhood" and quotes from the "Covenant of Primus" in reference to himself. This leads nicely into his view of himself all through Beast Machines as destined to ascend to godhood.
Ancient Astronauts: The Vok. Word of God says their seemingly nonsensical experiments were an attempt to accelerate humanity's evolution so they would be able to prevent the Vok's ancestors, Generation 2's The Swarm, from devastating Earth. The Maximals themselves later take on this role, opening a school for the cave people (complete with a blackboard) so they'll be ready for the Decepticons when they wake up.
Anyone Can Die: Out of a total named cast of twenty, only eight, not counting one-shot characters, make it out alive. This was largely due to Executive Meddling and software limitations. CGI was relatively new at the time, and only a handful of characters could appear at once; add in the Merchandise-Driven nature of the franchise and characters had to be removed to show off new toys. Luckily, the show ran with the punches and figured out how to swing the act properly each time someone had to bite it - save for Scorponok and Terrosaur and the infamous ret-conned death of Inferno in the second season finale.
The remaining stasis pods were never found and presumed destroyed. note Unless you read the IDW comics. The body count is quite high for a kid's show.
Autocannibalism: Dinobot disposes of a fully biological clone of himself by eating it.
Back for the Dead: Tigatron and Airazor. They both get abducted by the Vok halfway through the second season, then come back as Tigerhawk, a fusion of them as one, right before the series finale. And then Tigerhawk dies roughly ten minutes into the final episode.
Back from the Dead: Optimus Primal is reborn in a new body, complete with a Transmetal upgrade, because Rhinox retrieved his spark from the Matrix and re-inserted it into a blank protoform.
Blackarachnia also gets this in "Crossing the Rubicon." She tries to delete the Predacon reprogramming inside her with Maximal programming and a Transmetal driver. However, her attempts to re-program herself cause the Predacon programming to retaliate and nearly kill her, but the Transmetal driver fuses with her body and allows her to revert back to a Maximal with a Transmetal II body.
Bigger Bad: Unicron is behind Tarantulas's plan to destroy the Ark with the Decepticons and Autobots on it, as it would mean that he could destroy Cybertron without the Matrix to stop him.
There's also The original Megatron, who came up with a back-up plan to have any Decepticons go back in time and kill Optimus Prime in case the Decepticons lose the war, and he had the instructions coded on the Golden Disc. It's this plan that pretty much starts off the series once the current Megatron gets hold of the Golden Disc.
Big Creepy-Crawlies: Throughout the series, nearly all of the Predacons have insect or arachnid beast modes. At one point, every Predacon aside from Megatron is at least half-arthropod.
Bittersweet Ending: Out of all the Maximals that appear in the series, only six make it back to Cybertron alive. Pretty dark for a show that's geared towards selling toys to children.
Book Ends: In the premiere and finale, Megatron ignores tactical advice from Dinobot (or in the latter case, a clone thereof), in favor of toying with his enemy / satisfying petty grudges. In both cases, it costs him.
Bulletproof Human Shield: Megatron pulls a disturbingly dark gambit on Dinobot by threatening to using a primitive human as collateral.
Butt Monkey: Waspinator is by far the biggest example. His many deaths can be watched here. From the man himself:
Waspinator: "Why universe hate Waspinator?"
Scorponok and Terrorsaur almost had it as bad early on. Terrorsaur, in particular, initially rivalled Waspinator in being blown to pieces. Unlike the poor bug, he still managed to remain a genuine threat, if only due to having one of the biggest arsenals in show.
Brass Balls: The pilot episode features Dinobot challenging Optimus Primal for the leadership of the Maximals. Rhinox's response?
Broad Strokes: In regards to G1. This is justified in two ways in-universe; 1. the fact that the show is set hundreds of years after G1 and 2. the Maximal leaders purposely obfuscating facts about the Great War to hide certain things (such as Starscream's immortality).
By the Power of Grayskull!: Maximals and Predacons shouting out their activation codes ("Maximize" and "Terrorize" respectively). At first, it seems like this was a requirement to transform to robot mode, but the trope wound up being subverted as the series wore on. After the first season, activation codes were said less often. Lampshaded at one point where Dinobot tried to infiltrate the Predacons and had to prove his allegiance by changing his activation code. Tarantulas noted that simply changing his activation code meant nothing.
Characterization Marches On: A lot of the characterization is quite different in early Season 1 before the writers really worked out who the characters were. Scorponok being the smart guy of the Preds and not Tarantulas, Tarantulas's focus seeming to be entirely based on eating things, Rhinox being the type of guy to say "Yo, ease up" - none of it jives very well with the characters as they eventually became.
Chekhov's Gun: The first episode opens with the mention that Megatron had stolen the Golden Disk, one of Cybertrons most ancient and sacred relics. Once it is determined that it could not lead them to Earth, as Megatron had believed, the disk was quickly forgotten. It becomes a crucial plot point in season two and beyond.
Chekhov's Skill: In "Gorilla Warfare." On a exploration mission, an Earth plant launches one of it's seeds on Dinobot's back. Optimus later throws the bug virus attached to him at Megatron.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Comes with the package of being a Predacon. At one point or another, all of Megatron's forces try to betray him, with varying degrees of succes, except for Scorponok (who was not too bright) and Inferno (who was insane). Even Rhinox during his temporary Face-Heel Turn does this to Megatron as well. To top it all off, the original Starscream makes an appearance, and does what he does best. Megs is happy to put up with all of this as long as he can use it to his advantage.
Megatron: (to Tarantulas) I can suffer your treachery, lieutenant, but not your incompetence! Treachery requires no mistakes.
Circle of Standing Stones: Some are found in the first episode, indicating the Maximals and Predecons are not the first advanced races to visit this world. The aliens in question are eventually identified as the Vokk.
Closed Circle: Both ships were totaled during the initial crash and rescue was next to impossible considering that they traveled through both space and time.
Comic Trio: Inferno (schemer), Quickstrike (follower), and Waspinator (complainer) form one.
Complexity Addiction: In the first scene of the pilot, Megatron has the Maximals ship cornered and damaged but opts for a lateral shot instead of destroying them outright so they will suffer. It ends up causing both ships to crashland on Earth and in consequence the whole cartoon series.
Convection Schmonvection: The characters themselves get very close to lava without any adverse effect, but they are alien robots and can survive in environments that living beings can not. All other combustible materials burst into flames at a proper distance.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: The cast refers to Primus as their creator and the Covenant of Primus seems to be some sort of Bible analogue. Once Megatron goes right off the deep end towards the end of the series, the Covenant goes from a cultural footnote into something that outright predicts things. The idea of Primus was actually nabbed from the Marvel Transformers comics, so this was actually a long-distance Continuity Nod.
Deus ex Machina: In the finale, the Maximals, holed up in the Ark, are getting pummeled by the Decepticon warship Megatron just found. Thanks to a tip from Dinobot II, they find a working shuttle in one of the bays. They take that shuttle, kamikaze it into the enemy ship, and then fly home on it, creating a Stable Time Loop.
Blackarachnia: The history tracks never mentioned this!
Silverbolt:Are you damaged? Blackarachnia:Just enough to make me...interesting.
Blackarachnia:Are you damaged? Silverbolt:Just enough to make me...interesting.
Diminishing Villain Threat: Waspinator. While rarely a victor, he's initially portrayed as quite a competent fighter, as evidenced by his battle with Cheetor in the premiere. However, the writers soon made Waspinator comic relief, leading him to "getting blown to scrap all the time!" This led to Waspinator becoming one of the most popular characters on the series.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The transformations are treated with much more gravitas. Each member shouts his name and transformation code out loud, and being seen to transform by themselves. This is not limited to just the first transformation either, as almost all of them in the first two episodes are this way. Similarly, a big case is made out of Optimus's inexperience at commanding. This is never referred to again once the pilot two-parter is over.
Earth All Along: Somewhat subverted in that Megatron knew it was Earth the whole time.
Everybody Laughs Ending: Several episodes in Season 1. It would often be followed by an image of a butterfly flying by just so you know how great life is.
Evil Is Burning Hot: While the Maximal base is located near a river, the base of the Predicons is at a lava flow.
Expanded Universe: The IDW Beast Wars comics, which shoehorn characters from Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo, along with most of the toy-only characters, into the series—although they are all either chronally displaced or on Cybertron, so it does not clash with the series.
Family-Unfriendly Death: This is a very violent show, exploiting the Mecha-Mooks loophole as far as it can. Characters are bashed up, blown apart, shot, stabbed... And usually alive in the next episode. When someone actually dies, it tends to go even further: Tarantulas was vaporized by one of his own mad science devices, leaving nothing but his feet with smoke rising from them. The last we see of Terrorsaur is his desperately outstretched hand slowly descending into the lava. And we'll spare you the details of Depth Charge, Rampage, and Tigerhawk's deaths..
Beast Wars Megatron popping a cap in Optimus Prime's head. He got better, but still, giant gaping hole in the head of one of the biggest adored heroes of a generation.
To say nothing of Dinobot's and Transmutate's heart-wrenching deaths.
Fartillery: After being poisoned by one of Tarantulas' creations, Rhinox is forced to eat a large amount of beans to keep his energy up. During the final showdown, the cumulative effect of those beans hits all at once, leading to an explosion so powerful that it destroys Tarantulas' lab, sends the Predacons flying, and creates a mushroom cloud that can be seen from orbit.
Rhinox makes a comment in the first episode that they do not even know when they are, because their FTL engines can move through time given certain circumstances. The fact the planet was prehistoric Earth did not come up until the beginning of the second season, mainly because the planet has two moons instead of one.
Halfway through the first season, Rhinox makes a comment that "one of the moons is lighter than it should be, almost as if it were... hollow." At the end of the first season, it is revealed that it is a planet-buster weapon.
In "Call Of The Wild" the cheetah in Cheetor's dream falls into a lava pit. The fact that the Predacon base crashed on top of a volcanic area suggested at least one character was likely to die that way. In the second season premiere, Scorponok and Terrorsaur bit the dust...
Throughout the first season, Tarantulas was hinted to know more of what was going on than any of the other characters. Among other things, he desired to recover a stasis pod to get off the planet alone as soon as possible before the above mentioned Planet Buster hit. He also harnessed dark science and technology that was beyond any of the other Predacons' knowledge, even Megatron's, and had a scary obsession with the Vok. He's actually a descendant of Unicron who wanted the power of the Vok to alter the timeline so that the Autobots and Decepticons could be erased and the Tripedacus Council would rise to unchallenged supremacy.
In the episode "Other Victories", a rotating picture of the Nemesis is clearly visible on one of Tarantulas's monitors. What he was up to is revealed one episode later, ushering in the Final Battle: he had finished repairing the ship for his own use.
In the first season finale, Megatron, Blackarachnia and the Maximals all had their own individual plans for dealing with the destruction of the planet by the alien Vok and almost all of their plans hinged on the different known factors of everyone else's plans.
Tarantulas was originally planning on escaping the planet in a stasis pod, Blackarachnia secretly planned to steal his stasis pod for herself and use it to escape, Megatron purposefully allowed the two of them to go about stealing said pod with the plan of forcing that pod (with the escapee still inside) to become a makeshift bomb used to destroy the alien Planet Buster. Optimus and the Maximals planned to use the pod for the same purpose, but with the idea that Optimus would escape the pod at the last second (Megatron's version, which ultimately won out, involved Optimus not escaping and dying in the explosion.)
Interestingly, after Optimus died in the explosion (which Megatron had originally meant for one or both of the spiders), Tarantulas's reaction was that of smug laughter, the kind he only ever does when he's just pulled something deceitful off. This leaves the implication that Tarantulas was well aware of Megatron's schemes too, and that his plan was to ready the pod and assume that either Blackarachnia, Inferno (on Megatron's orders) or Optimus would intercede (all tried to) and would die in Megatron's scheme, rather than him.
Considering that his ultimate scheme is to destroy the Ark and both Autobots and Decepticons to negate the existence of all Cybertronians which, it turns out, Tarantulas is not one of, it wouldn't have made sense for him to be willing to leave the planet anyway. Claims that he wanted to were likely for Blackarachnia and Waspinator's benefit, so that it would get back to Megatron. Thus, ultimately, it's Tarantulas pulling all the strings.
That said, Tarantulus's ultimate scheme would have been achieved if he got off the planet anyway - the planet was going to explode. That would have wiped out the Ark anyway. It's just as likely that Optimus piloting the pod was convenient rather than planned.
Genre Savvy: Megatron clearly knows his tropes and clichés. "The Agenda" reveals that his predecessor G1 Megatron was pretty Genre Savvy too; when he saw that he was losing the war, he left instructions for future Decepticons on how to get to prehistoric Earth on the Golden Disc so that they could go back in time and change history.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: All over the place. The writers cleverly used machine-based terminology such as slag, scrap, or "that guy has bearings of chrome steel" in place of actual foul language. Some of the byplay between Blackarachnia and Silverbolt is particularly clever, implying lots but saying little. Some examples:
After Silverbolt's illegal flirting with Blackarachnia in "The Agenda Pt. 1":
Rattrap: So, uh, where ya' been, bird-dog? Silverbolt: Uh, scout patrol... Rattrap: Oh, yeah, yeah, scoutin' the enemy, yeah. ...Find any new positions?
Upon hearing that they may be going home, Rattrap invites Silverbolt to a seedy bar where the waitresses do not have their chest plates on.
From the final episode, when Blackarachnia needs a cable and decides Rattrap's sword/tail will do:
Rattrap: Hey! You emasculatin' fembot! (Blackarachnia smirks and, with a flick of her claw, slices the tip off Rattrap's sword/tail) Silverbolt:(disturbed look on his face) Oooh....
Tigertron and Airrazor gasp at Rattrap's new look once he is turned into a Transmetal. Rattrap asks "What's with you two? Is my gearbox hanging out or somethin'?" As he says the last part he waves his hand over his crotch area.
Good Is Not Dumb: Optimus Primal is one of the most noble characters in the series, and one of the most cunning, to go with it.
Gray and Gray Morality: While the conflict on Prehistoric Earth has a clear good and bad side, glimpses of Cybertron show that this is in full effect. Megatron is a rogue revolutionary who wants to kickstart a new Great War, is widely viewed as a dangerous lunatic even by those who agree with his philosophy, and clearly doesn't represent the Predacons as whole, even if the Tripredacus Council are bad guys. Likewise the Maximal leadership doesn't exactly have the moral highground over the Predacons what with the horrifying genetic experiments that created Rampage, their subsequent cover-up of said experiments, and the fact that they've deliberately hidden and lied about events in the Great War.
The comics and supplementary materials take it even further with implications that Maximals tend to discriminate against Predacons due to the Great War. The many Predacons like Dinobot, Blackarachnia, and Waspinator make it clear that the scumbags like Megatron and Tarantulas are very much the minority.
Heel-Face Turn: Dinobot at the beginning switched to the Maximals due to his distrust in Megatron believing the plan has failed. But when it has succeeded, he switched back, only to return to the Maximals after realizing that Megatron's gone mad. He would remain with the Maximals till his Heroic Sacrifice
Silverbolt, though it's because of his dissatisfaction with being a Predacon.
Blackarachnia defects to the Maximals in Optimal Situation after realizing that Megatron's plan would wipe her from existences.
Dinobot's Transmetal 2 clone switches sides after the death of Rampage and the former's spark becomes whole. It was this moment that was the climax of the Beast Wars.
Megatron: What?! What possible reason do you have to disobey me?! I am your master! I am your creator! Dinobot 2: And I... have my honor!
In Their Own Image: According to G1's Megatron, this was the plan passed down to BW's Megatron. By going back to while the Autobots and Decepticons were in stasis lock and killing Optimus Prime, Megatron would create a time paradox that would remove Autobots, and thus Maximals from existence, causing the Decepticons to win the Great War and shape the future in their image.
Insane Equals Violent: When Inferno's stasis pod scans a fire ant for his alt mode, it also alters his logic, making him hell bent on protecting the stasis pod he came in, perceiving it as his "colony". After the pod is destroyed by Maximals, he goes extremely Trigger Happy, often incinerating everything in sight any time Maximals show up.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Though the plot itself is fairly straightforward, there's loads of subtle character moments, subplots, hints of larger forces at work, and background information that comes together to tell an even more complete story. Some of the subtle mysteries, ambiguities, and machinations of the show are still debated to this day, over 18 years after it first aired by the time of this writing.
Kangaroo Court: Quickstrike is given a "trial" for treason after he tried to kill Megatron while taking part in one of Tarantulas's schemes. Megatron is the judge (complete with powdered wig), Waspinator is the defense, and Rampage and Dinobot II are the jury. After Waspinator's "brilliant" summation, Megatron asks for the verdict. Rampage and Dinobot II immediately point their weapons at Quickstrike.
Killed Off for Real: Quite common, as a result of the competing needs of introducing new characters and keeping the cast small. Terrorsaur and Scorponok are unceremoniously bumped off at the beginning of Season 2; Dinobot's death in "Code of Hero" counts, later developments notwithstanding. Then, of course, the last few episodes are spectacularly fatal, with Tarantulus offed by the Vok, Depth Charge sacrificing himself to kill Rampage, Tigerhawk, Inferno, and Quickstrike getting gunned down by a giant space battleship, and Dinobot's clone taking a leaf from his predecessor's book.
Klingon Promotion: Word of God says that Predacon leadership welcomes treachery under the rationale that leaders who cannot thwart a treacherous underling were probably not fit to be leaders.
Look What I Can Do Now: This technically happens any time a character receives an upgrade, which is quite often.
Magnetic Plot Device: The Vok were an alien race who had a vested interest in the planet and left all sorts of powerful technology that the characters fought over. While there is certainly some continuity with Megatron's schemes, the Vok episodes tended to be the ones where things really started to shake up.
Make Wrong What Once Went Right: As hinted in the first episode, the real reason the Predacons traveled to the past Earth was to destroy Optimus Prime within the Ark and establish the Predacons as the rulers of Cybertron.
Market-Based Title: Canadian regulations do not allow a show to have the word "War" in its title; thus the show is called "Beasties" in Canada. Don't tell the really sensitive walks of fandom this; we'll NEVER hear the end of it.
Meaningful Echo: In Code Of Hero, Rattrap confronts Dinobot for his defection back to the Predacons, "Oh yeah, he's a slag-spouting saurian, but at least you know where he stands! Guess we live and learn." Later, after Dinobot saved the valley at the cost of his life, Rattrap repeats himself, "Like I said, you're just a blasted slag-spouting saurian, but... it's nice to know where you stand."
Mind Rape: As makes sense given their robot nature, multiple plots involve hacking or messing with their minds/sparks; the screaming and struggling that accompanies it makes it clear that this is not a clean process.
Mugging the Monster: Sorta. In "Dark Designs," Megatron built a brainwashing machine and tested it on Rhinox. Optimus rather accurately predicted the result: evil!Rhinox was too much for the Predacons to handle and Megatron had to change him back to stand a chance.
Mythology Gag: Numerous to the original series, but also to the original line of toys (and a knock at Hasbro's change from die-cast metal components to all-plastic).
Nice Job Breaking It, Rivals: When Silverbolt and Rampage fight over Transmutate, she jumps into the crossfire and used her powers to make her friends stop. This leads to her getting destroyed as a result.
Painful Transformation: Every upgrade transformation was accompanied by screams, and the second upgrades of Optimus Primal and, to a far scarier extent, Cheetor, had their new body parts burst through their old ones.
Power Floats: The floating mountain of energon in the episode "Power Surge."
Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: Both teams start out like this, with the Predacons as a group of relatively hastily assembled renegades and the Maximals a group of scientists that happened to be the only ones in the area able to pursue them.
The Remnant: The Predacons. The same applies to Ravage, one of the few remaining original Decepticons, and also Starscream's ghost.
Ret Canon: Prior to the series premiere, the toyline painted the events as happening on present day Earth and instead of being Legacy Characters of Optimus Prime and the original Megatron, Optimus Primal and Beast Megatron were the same characters as their G1 namesakes, just with new forms. Once the cartoon debuted, the toyline's backstory was changed to match up with it.
The Reveal: The Golden Disc was not just a map to an energon goldmine, it was a backup plan left by G1's Megatron with instructions for the Decepticons' descendants to travel back in time, gain access to the Ark, and kill Optimus Prime and any other Autobots that would stop the Decepticons from winning the Great War. This data was hidden on the actual historical Golden Record launched into space during the 1970's
Right Man in the Wrong Place: Optimus's crew were mere scientists starting an exploration mission who just happened to be the only ones in the area when a certain crew of renegade Predacons zoomed by in a stolen ship.
Sealed Good in a Can: The stasis pods all contained protoforms that were Maximal by default, but could be reprogrammed to produce a Predacon with a little know-how. This made every time a protoform made planetfall a race between the two factions to recruit the newcomer.
Another scene, where Optimus brandishes his swords before Megatron shoots him down is reminiscent of the duel between Indiana Jones and the Cairo swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dinobot pushing Scorponok into his rotor blade weapon echoes the demise of the German engineer in the same movie.
Airazor's pose in "The Low Road" is a direct reference to the famous Star Wars poster.
The sequence in Season 3 where Megatron is using the Transmetal Driver to create the new Dinobot II from a blank Protoform draws heavily from the classic film Frankenstein (1931).
In the episode "The Probe," the search and rescue probes sent out from Cybertron, shot for shot, mirror the imperial probe droids from the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.
Several to classic Looney Tunes, mostly involving Waspinator getting scrapped.
The head writers involved were very active in the online fandom. As a result, these cropped up all the time, often in the form of locations. Subsector Hooks and Grid Joona, for example, are named after fans who posted on the alt.toys.transformers usenet group at the time.
At one point a concussed Waspinator refers to himself as "Wonko the Sane." While originally the name of a minor character in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, the specific reference was to a Beast Wars fan, Benson Yee, who used this name as an online alias. Yee was recruited as a continuity consultant for the second season finale. The Beast Wars crew recognized the value of the fandom.
What may have been a very subtle Shout Out was Cheetor's weapon sound effect. It sounded just like Mega Man's from the cartoon. Both were voiced by Ian Corlett.
Rattrap and Optimus's dialog about the Ark, how "that ship wasn't built, it was poured" and "die-cast construction; it's a lost art" are both about how the original G1 Transformer toys (well, the better, larger ones) all had die-cast parts for at least half the body.
Megatron's first appearance to Optimus after he gets his new dragon body: "Enter the Dragon!"
Megatron:Come on now, let's hear it. The usual "destiny and honor" speech. Optimus:Speech this! *clocks Megatron in the jaw*
Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: Dinobot who spends most of the 2nd season contemplating his fate and whether he has any control over it, once he discovers Megatron has a method to predict the future using the golden disk. Dinobot goes through enough grief that he joins the Predacons for the simple reason they're more likely to win and after rejoining the Maximals he contemplates suicide. He finally finds his answer witnessing Megatron directly changing the future of his own free will, Dinobot becomes relieved and ironically finds himself with no choice but to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to thwart Megatron's plan to wipe out human existence. In death, Dinobot finds peace knowing he died from actions of his own free will.
The Smurfette Principle: While the original cast was entirely male, female characters Blackarachnia and Airazor were introduced in the first season. However with Airazor getting beamed into space by some freaky alien plants midway through the second season, Blackarachnia remains the only female in half of the second and the entire third season. Interestingly enough, Airazor does return as Tigerhawk, a fusion of both hers and Tigatron's bodies, but the character is presented as male.
Left the Background Music On: In the third-season episode Changing of the Guard, when the previously-reluctant Rattrap is beginning to enjoy his submarine ride, cheery, upbeat music (a rarity for this series in general) begins playing. Cut to Silverbolt, listening to the music over his communicator with a puzzled expression.
Squashed Flat: Happens to several characters. The writers really liked dropping heavy things on the poor bots.
Stable Time Loop: Megatron's attempts to wipe out early humans to rob the G1 Autobots of their closest allies ends up indirectly causing the invention of the club, furthering humanity's evolution. Thus they ultimately evolve to become modern humanity and help the Autobots win the war which leads to the Autobots and Decepticons becoming the Maximals and Predacons. This all leads to an embittered Megatron arranging the whole trip to prehistoric Earth in order to wipe out early humans and/or kill Optimus Prime so that the Decepticons win the war. In other words, Megatron created his own mission.
Story Arc: Less obvious in the first season, but became prominent in the other two with the Vok and Golden Disc issues.
The show has a lot of explosions. At least one of the Transformers will be blown up in every episode.
Not counting Waspinator, who gets blown to bits in nearly every episode regardless.
Symbolic Blood: Hydraulic fluid and bits of metal go flying everywhere.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Early on, the Maximals were as prone to internal squabbles as any crew of 'cons which were only exaggerated by the addition of a Predacon defector to the team. The eventually overcame this, but still has a few hiccups now and again.
The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Megatron's speech at the end of the second seasonafter he attempts to kill the original Optimus Prime appears to be adressed to the viewers as much as it is to the Maximals.
Dinobot: Their defence shields are down! Destroy them! Megatron: Now where's the fun in that?
With Us or Against Us: Law of the Jungle: after Tigatron's departure from the Beast Wars, until the Preds made him return to the Maximal side, there is a short dialogue between him and Dinobot:
Dinobot: That is the law of the jungle. The hunters and the hunted. Scrap or be scrapped. Tigatron: Animals hunt to survive!note In the Latin American dub, Dinobot says this line and Tigatron replies with "And what do you think war is about?"
Dinobot: And what do you think war is about?! Maximals may believe in peace, but Predacons... you do not really know the Predacons. We... they live for the glory of conquest. If Megatron takes the energon wealth of this world unopposed, he will begin a war that will destroy Cybertron and shatter galaxies, until only one side survives. It has been this way for millions of stellar cycles, ever since the Autobots and Decepticons began the Great War.
Tigatron: Peace will never come until someone agrees NOT to fight! Dinobot: The Predacons will not allow it! They'll destroy or reprogram you. Tigatron: They won't find me... Dinobot: I found you... Dinobot jumps to Tigatron with his claws. Tigatron: What are you doing?!?! Dinobot: If you are not with us, you are against us!
You Can't Fight Fate: Subverted. After getting a disk that shows a history of Earth from the perspective of the future, Dinobot is torn on what to do with it. If experimenting with the disk proves that this trope is in effect, he will have no choice but to kill himself in the face of realizing he is not "the master of (his) fate" and there is no such thing as free will. Later he witnesses Megatron testing the disk: he blows up a mountain whose image is recorded on the disk, and the image on the disk changes accordingly - proving that fate can be fought and one's actions and choices are not predetermined or set in stone. In this moment Dinobot at last knows that he his the master of his own fate...though as Megatron intends to abuse this discovery to change history for the worse, Dinobot's sense of honor means there is only one course of action left to him.
Your Size May Vary: Unlike most Transformers shows, the approximate size of the characters remained consistent.
You Shall Not Pass: Tigerhawk pulls one of these when he faces off against the Decepticon war ship Nemesis.