To this very day I consider Cheetor from Beast Wars the best-developed character in the history of the entire franchise. Across three seasons of Beast Wars and two seasons of Beast Machines we saw him go from wide-eyed youngster to seasoned veteran and leader in a natural and believable process. Let’s take a look at his various developmental stages:
When we first meet Cheetor, he’s the wide-eyed kid caught up in a big adventure. He loves exploring the new planet, he revels in the speed of his new beast mode, and the danger of facing the Predacons isn’t quite real to him yet. It’s all still fun and games. Even when he gets captured and almost eaten by Tarantulas, he is only scared very briefly before being rescued by Rattrap, whom he considers a great friend despite the fact that Rattrap is pretty much annoyed with him 24-7. Cheetor is clearly the kid-relatable character here, maybe not quite as obnoxious as your average human-friend-of-the-Autobots, but still clearly a kid.
After spending the first few episodes of Beast Wars basically having to be rescued every other week, mostly from trouble spots he got himself into, Cheetor’s first opportunity to shine came with the great episode “The Spark”. Deep in enemy territory, Cheetor and Rhinox must save the protoform inside a damaged stasis pod even as the enemy is quickly closing in. Cheetor not just donates parts – including the vitally important locking chip that allows Transformers to go into a life-preserving stasis – but then heads off to buy Rhinox the time he needs to repair the stasis pod. Cheetor takes on Waspinator, Blackarachnia, and Terrorsaur by himself and manages to take out two of them before being taken down himself by Terrorsaur (from behind). And more importantly, he bought his friend enough time so he could finish the job and bring Airazor online.
Not only does this episode portray Cheetor as a capable warrior, it also shows him use tactical thinking (he leads the Predacons on a merry chase) and displays his willingness to give everything for his team (donating parts to a dying comrade despite the danger it puts himself in). This is where the little cat really started to grow up.
With his new Transmetal body (as in: new toy) and the ability to fly, Cheetor literally begins to spread his wings. He becomes a better warrior, he takes on more responsibility, and he begins to display signs of maturity, such as knowing when he’s outmatched and calling for help rather than just wading in. Toy-wise this was my favorite version of Cheetor
In the double episode “Feral Scream” that was mostly an overly long toy advertisement disguised as a puberty tale disguised as a horror story, Cheetor starts getting pimples. Said pimples being the result of being exposed to Megatron’s experimental Transmetal II driver and slowly becoming a Transmetal II robot (aka a new toy) himself. While the double episode itself is rather boring and predictable, it starts another phase in Cheetor’s development. He has become bigger and more powerful, while at the same time becoming somewhat moody and aggressive. He also starts looking at girls. Well, one girl, seeing as there is just one girl in the cast at this time, Blackarachnia. This also gets him into stand-offs with Blackarachnia’s boy toy Silverbolt, to the point where you really just want to shout at the two to just whip it out and measure whose is bigger. Yep, the little cat is a teenager now.
Over the length of the Beast Wars Cheetor changed a lot, but one thing remained the same: his utter confidence and faith in his team leader Optimus Primal. It was only after returning to Cybertron and finding it overrun by Megatron’s Vehicons that Cheetor’s faith began to waver. Optimus, it seemed to him, was too caught up with the spiritual and philosophical ramifications of their techno-organic nature instead of dealing with the important things, namely taking out Megatron. It’s part of the growing-up process to realize that one’s parents are not perfect and all-knowing and Cheetor has reached this important point in Beast Machines.
Near the end of Beast Machines, Cheetor has finished growing up. This shows both in his willingness to take over command of the team when he feels Optimus is in the wrong, as well as admitting his own faults and deferring to Optimus when he realizes that the other is right. While Cheetor was not directly involved in the final battle for the fate of Cybertron, he did play an instrumental part in taking out Megatron’s last remaining Vehicon generals and he did so by using guile and experience instead of just rushing in as he would have done at the beginning of Beast Wars. Yes, the little cat is all grown up now. And it was great watching him do it.
Sadly we are still waiting for another character to grow through a similar journey.