How to Ruin a Childhood Favorite



Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends helped turn me into the person I am today. As a child the simple by well crafted television version of Rev. W Audrey’s books encouraged in me a drive to imagine and create. Imagination was required because, while these trains were quite clearly models with static faces and limited movement, I truly invested in the stories and cared for the characters. Creativity came about when I was able to reenact and  eventually conjure up my own stories at home using my ever growing mountain of Thomas toys.

I’ve always found it hard to let go to let go of childish things and so when I saw one of the latest Thomas DVD movies on sale for three quid I just couldn’t resist. I must say I was a little too upset with what I saw to be considered a sane and healthy adult.

The first major problem is that every now and then the plot will grind to a painful halt and a puzzle game will be introduced. I imagine this is some sort of vein attempt to offer interactivity to the Playstation generation but it doesn’t work in this context. The problem here isn’t that what the puzzles teach isn’t useful, generally they seem to encourage practical problem solving, but that they serve no purpose and have no reason for being. The information offered by these interludes could easily be covered by the narration without resorting to encouraging children to scream at the television with futile dreams of changing the course of events through their magnificent decision making skills.  If the kids really do want to play a game that actually rewards them for taking part rather than wasting their time then surely they could visit the Thomas website or buy one of the video games.

I know I’m probably reading far too much into this but the fact that the storyline can never really be influenced by the viewing audiences suggestions means that these sequences are exercises in pointlessness. Do we really want to raise a generation of opinionated people who are happy to scream out suggestions despite not being required or invited to do so. These problems may encourage practicality but not creativity and implies could give kids the impression that there is only ever one to solve a problem or to write a story. 

Another, possibly more painful, intrusion shows up in the shape of numerous musical numbers. These aren’t fun, fluffy Disney-esque pieces in which the characters convey their inner feelings through song, oh no. What we get here are a chorus of intensely annoying  drama school kids singing pointless and forgettable songs for no apparent reason. Where are these voices meant to be coming from? Who are these evil little bastards intent on slowing proceedings down to a snails pace? The new closing theme to the series is perhaps the most insulting example of Thomas the Tank Engines new musical direction.

Here’s a quote, if you can bear it:


Thomas! he’s the cheeky one
James is vain but lots of fun
Percy! pulls the mail on time
Gordon thunders down the line
Emily! really knows her stuff
Henry! toots and huffs and puffs
Edward! likes to help and share
Toby! we’ll let’s say…he’s square!


That last line makes my skin crawl. It’s like the composer and lyricist don’t even care what bile they are churning out. It’s almost as if an in joke has been left in by mistake, a placeholder line that has survived the redrafting process.

Despite these annoyances there is still a lot right with this special. The model work remains as beautiful as ever, despite the intrusion of some nasty sped up camera work, and the script, when not sidelined by the pointless diversions outlined above, is charming and carries a genuine message of tolerance and working together as a community to improve everyone’s quality of life. Bonus points should go to the writers for a bizarre dream sequence in which the trains imagine what fate might befall them if they were to outlive their usefulness; try hard at school kids or you might just end up being strung up and used as a coconut shire!

I know it’s plain weird for me to care about a show which clearly isn’t aimed at me any more but it’s quite painful to see something that helped shape my childhood being diluted down to appeal to the lowest common denominator in all children. Kids don’t need to have flashy graphics and inane songs pumped in their direction in order to ensure their attention. At least I hope they don’t.

One Response to “How to Ruin a Childhood Favorite”

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