The overall premise has been changed from the usual "evenly matched good robots vs bad robots". The main team of protagonists are not highly trained defenders of justice, but merely a maintenance crew caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This gives a greater sense of peril to the battles and when it comes to the good guys facing down the bad guys, you are truly rooting for the underdog here. A well planned storyline allows a good mix of character centered episodes, pure sci/fi adventure ones, comedic episodes and even some serious emotional drama.
The themes that the writers interwove into the story are not as deep as the philosophical Beast Machines nor as preachy as "good morals" plugging Cybertron. They are simple themes pretty much in line with those present in the original 80s Transformers series, such as the importance of teamwork and the value of trust. More social themes like corruption, propaganda, the problems of single parenthood and "empty nest syndrome"(especially after the point where Sari "grows up) are thrown in in the later seasons allowing even older audiences to look at Transformers as not just a show to promote toys.
Mentioning Sari, she is the mandatory "human" character this time around. The ever spunky and high spirited little girl could possibly be the most likable "human" character among all the others from the previous series. Her mannerisms, style of speaking and her reactions to various situations make her a character that any curious, bright eyed kid or "inner child" can relate to.
Now "characters" has always been the strongest point of the original series and Beast Wars. How do the autobot and decepticon characters fare in their latest incarnation? The answer is "very well". Being in a separate "continuity" from any of the previous series, i do not expect a 100% similarity between Optimus Prime in this show and the other Optimus Primes in previous shows. Each new character that is based on a previous existing character still possesses enough distinct personality traits of their predecessors. Optimus, though no longer a confident leader(his wavering confidence in his leadership capabilities is just one of many captivating subplots in the story) is still selfless and courageous, Megatron is still a tyrannical megalomaniac, Starscream is still obsessed with gaining leadership of the Decepticons from Megatron etc. The chemistry between the autobots is the high point here. Very believable in the ways they interact and their sometimes bumpy relationship make for some good comedy here and there. Though the decepticons are still the main threat, there are other "supervillians" that the autobots have to contend with. IMO, some of the supervillians seem necessary but i guess they are there to add variety to the episodes.
In short, there characters are just as likable as in the original cartoon, though it may take some time to warm up to the many little changes. Like the characters for who they are, or hate them for the changes made, its up to you.
Ironically the weakest element in Transformers animated is its animation.(imagine that. lol). The character designs are really up to one's own preference. They are very in keeping with the typical cartoon network minimalistic and highly stylized art. In light of that, One would think that with such an art style, more attention could be spent on creating smooth fluid animation and movement. That does not seem to be the case here. Character animation is pretty mediocre with a lot of scenes, especially fast paced fights, utilizing very notorious animation short cuts such as creating motion blur in-between only two key frames to give the illusion of a fast movement. It just ends up giving a very jerky and jumpy feel to the movements.
I must say that the characters actually look terrible in still shots or on posters(hence the negative fan reaction when still images of the characters were first revealed), but in constant animated movement, the character designs worked pretty well and like the characters themselves, it would eventually grow on you.
I urge anyone who is looking for a good Transformers series to watch this show with an open mind. Do not be so shallow as to dismiss over one or two negative aspects. The children would like this show for its lovable characters and action Older viewers can find something to like too in its well woven story lines, underlying themes and entertaining scripting. Even long time Transformers fans would get a kick out of the numerous in-jokes and homage/references to past Transformers shows and comics. Look past the mediocre animation and there is Truly something for everyone to enjoy.