Ever since the 21st century began (if not earlier), Transformers fans have pretty much expected that each new Transformers franchise would contain homages to the Generation One era of the 1980s. The Animated franchise was certainly no exception. Indeed, it has been argued that Animated has been the most "G1-like" franchise in Transformers history (with the exception, of course, of G1 itself). Yet, for all the homages, Animated remains very distinctly its own entity.
Animated Wreck-Gar is an homage to a character that first appeared in 1986's Transformers: The Movie (the cartoon one, not the Michael Bay explodo-fests of recent years). G1 Wreck-Gar was the leader of a group of robots who lived on a planet made out of junk and transformed into motorcycles of various types. These robots called themselves--wait for it--"Junkions" (yeah, real creative, I know). G1 Wreck-Gar, voiced in the movie by Monty Python member Eric Idle (later by Tony Pope in Season 3 of the cartoon) spoke almost entirely in catch phrases from Earthen television broadcasts (leading to lines like "Yes friends, act now, destroy Unicron. Kill the Grand Poobah. Eliminate even the toughest stains!"). Why a 21st century alien robot would be so fixated on television shows from mid-to-late 20th century Earth is never explained, but it certainly did make for an intriguing character.
Anyway, this entry isn't about G1 Wreck-Gar, but about the Animated version. Instead of hailing from a planet of junk, Animated Wreck-Gar was created when an All Spark fragment fell into a pile of junk and gave it life. Appropriately enough, this "pile of junk" robot transformed into a garbage truck. Personally, I find the idea of a garbage truck Transformer as both novel and completely appropriate for a Wreck-Gar homage. I get a bit annoyed when people insist that if anyone else has a problem with a franchise, it's because that franchise isn't "the same" as G1. Change is fine. A garbage truck Wreck-Gar is change (remember, G1 Wreck-Gar was a motorcycle). But the essence of the character is homaged very nicely while giving the writers an interesting idea to play with. And, indeed, a lot of homages don't work especially well. The quality of the idea is what matters the most. If the idea is terrible, then why shouldn't we say so? This idea, thankfully, is tremendously cool.
The writers of Animated also changed Wreck-Gar's personality significantly from the G1 version. Although Animated Wreck-Gar's head is made out of a television set, it's not so much that this Wreck-Gar is obsessed with television as he's just very, very impressionable. This Wreck-Gar is as likely to repeat anything you tell him as he is a television commercial, per se. This leads to some sticky situations when the extremely naive Wreck-Gar ends up helping villains such as the Angry Archer and even sides with the Decepticon Lugnut for a time.
Animated Wreck-Gar homages the G1 character in at least one more way. When Eric Idle wasn't available to voice the new incarnation of the character (apparently beause he was out producing Spamalot. Great play, by the way!), the writers remembered that the song that played during G1 Wreck-Gar's opening scene in the 1986 movie was a song called "Dare to Be Stupid" by Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al was contracted to provide the voice for the Animated version of Wreck-Gar, and proved an excellent fit (he must have especially loved saying the line "I am Wreck-Gar! I dare to be stupid!"). When it was announced that Weird Al would be a guest at BotCon 2009, I specifically picked up this toy for the express purpose of having Weird Al autograph it. After a rather long line, I'm proud to say that I was able to achieve that goal.