Wednesday, 5 July 2017

DVD Review: The Complete Series 18

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FAN BASE

THE COMPLETE SERIES 18
Written by
Andrew Brenner
Paul Larson & Laura Beaumont 
Mark Huckerby & Nick Olster 
Davey Moore

Episodes
Old Reliable Edward
Not So Slow Coaches
Flatbeds of Fear
Disappearing Diesels
Signals Crossed
Toad's Adventure
Duck in the Water
Duck and the Slip Coaches
Thomas the Quarry Engine
Thomas and the Emergency Cable
Duncan and the Grumpy Passenger
Marion and the Pipe
Missing Gator
No Steam Without Coal
Spencer's VIP
Toad's Bright Idea
Long Lost Friend
Last Train for Christmas
Duncan the Humbug
The Perfect Gift

Bonus Disc - Dino's and Discoveries
Emily Saves the World
Timothy and the Rainbow Truck
Marion and the Dinosaur 
Samson at Your Service
Samson Sent For Scrap
Millie and the Volcano

Special Features
N/A

Release Date
19/06/17 

Three years after S18's release on television and we finally have a collection of all the episodes from that season along with a bonus disc of the 2015 'Dino's and Discoveries' DVD. Prior to S20, this season was hailed among as one of the best but does it still hold? Let's find out.


EPISODES


Like all season collection DVDs, S18 consists 26 episodes that ran the course of 2014 on television. I bought some DVDs of Thomas & Friends at Rasputin Music and Ameoba Records while I was in California for a couple of weeks in June and some of them had provided booklets telling the consumer what's inside such as episodes and special features and other offers from the brand. 

Since HIT Entertainment and Mattel have paper advertisements in their DVDs to promote things in the UK like books, Drayton Manor etc. why not have a booklet showing us what the episodes are? 


As of the episodes, some still hold up. One of my personal favourites from this season looking back was 'Thomas the Quarry Engine'. The episode is simple and it feels like some early Awdry charm plus the engines singing 'I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside' is perhaps the most Awdry-esque thing to see in the episode. Rev.W.Awdry had always add some old nursery rhymes and things like in his books, although the song is a music hall song but it feels like something the Reverend would've done.


'Duck and the Slip Coaches' is another episode I always think of when I look back at S18. The episode is brilliant. While it showcases some railway practice, it wasn't the sole focus as the story is all about James taking credit about the idea of slip coaches even though he took the idea from Duck and claimed it as his own. It's a fun and charming episode. 


'Last Train for Christmas' is still in my opinion, one of my most favourite Christmas episodes from the season and of all time. What makes it so good is to show about the railway and why it serves the public even during the busiest time of the year, no matter what the weather. You see the engines have commitment on getting the passengers home in time for the Christmas holidays. Connor braves through the bad weather to bring home his last passengers and getting extra coaches so more passengers can fit and you see engines from the Fat Controller's railway ploughing the snow off the track so that Connor can get through. It's such a great episode.


I look back at 'Old Reliable Edward' and despite the reuse of Edward is old and not useful but he had proved his worth cliche. But I think it's good to showcases the younger generation of Thomas fans Edward's true character after years of him being such a downer about his old age, hating a crane and being a show off, watch 'Edward's Exploit' or 'Saved from Scrap' and then 'Saving Edward', 'Edward Strikes Out' and 'Steady Eddie' and you would see the major difference in his character. I quite like that the episode showcases Edward's sarcasm and teasing towards Gordon, a trait that needs more exposure. 



There are some episodes that I do considered as duds from this season ever since they were new back in 2014. 'Signals Crossed' is still the episode that was a good idea but had the wrong character choice. When I think back to the episode, I think it could've been better for Mavis rather than Toby. Although Mavis isn't the character that we've known since S3, she did say she's up in the quarry all the time. So why not have being nervous about signals? Mavis hardly had any episode to herself and it could be quite refreshing to see rather then seeing another engine from the steam team having an episode to themselves. 


I pretty much have mixed thoughts about 'Marion and the Pipe' ever since the episode first began and looking back, it wasn't bad but it certainly wasn't the most interesting episode. The writing felt it was all over the place as Marion found out that she had burst a water pipe and then realised it in the end that it was one the whole time. But it was great seeing Marion and she was a great character in the episode and the entire series. 


Another thing that makes the DVD collection at bit different compare to the rest is the added bonus disc of the 2015 DVD, 'Dinos and Discoveries' which consists six episodes from the 18th season. Some fans are bit critical about this idea and while they have their own opinions, I can see two sides of this. First off it's the idea. In the previous series collection (Series 17), the episodes from 'Spills and Thrills' were all part of one disc and are showcased in the production order. Why release the 2015 DVD when so many fans (young and old) two years ago had already bought it? But there's another side to this as well, not many kids would have the DVD when it came out in 2015. Sure there could be plenty of kids wanting the DVD and getting out of their parents' money but I don't think all parents would've gotten it for their kid on the day it came out. Clearwater Entertainment, run by Railway Consultant Sam Wilkinson, said that it's trying something new and could be a better value for money. 


OVERALL

I think the DVD is good value. Although as said before, I think HIT and Mattel should release a booklet containing the episodes since there's no episode listing anywhere on the cover. There are many good episodes in this DVD that would be enough to entertain a child and despite the Dinos and Discoveries disc, kids would at least be more interested that there are more episodes to watch. 

RATING
7/10

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails Exhibit

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FAN BASE 

THOMAS & FRIENDS:
EXPLORE THE RAILS EXHIBIT 

On Saturday, June 17th 2017, I went to the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum at San Jose, California, USA. I went there with my dad while my sister, mum and brother in law went to some shops down town. The Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails exhibition was created by the Minnesota Children's Museum in 2014 and it's an interactive and STEM exhibition for young children.


The activities include climbing on Thomas and pulling his whistle, fix Percy's 'wobbly wheels' at the Steamworks, be a ticket collector and plenty of other things. The highlight for me though was 'The Evolution of Thomas' exhibit that showcases the history of Thomas from the Railway Series books to the multi-million pound brand that it is today.


One of the biggest attractions to see, if you had grown up with the models that were used in the show before the CGI switch, was the Thomas and Emily models that were used on the show in their respective display cases although with a bit of wear and tear, although not as bad as Drayton Manor's treatment. But despite that they were kept in the best of their condition and it was amazing to see them up close and personal after seeing them on the screen for so many years.



Other things in the exhibits they had were clips from the model era with episodes from 'Thomas & Gordon' or 'Thomas Gets Tricked' as known in the United States, 'Henry and the Elephant' and 'Emily and the Rubbish' which is also known as 'Emily and the Garbage' in the US. They even played clips from the CGI episodes which are the Brenner and McCue era episodes such as 'Not So Slow Coaches' and 'Thomas' Shortcut' and they even played a clip from 'Shining Time Station' the show that started Thomas' success in the USA with Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor. Other videos include Mattel creating toys for Thomas & Friends, which was for the revamped Trackmaster line, this exhibition was created in 2014 so it's not all updated to the recent years. It also has a small audio story narrated by Keith Wickham, although it was quite hard to hear due to the crowd.


The exhibition had other little things for kids to play with, such as the large wooden railway play table and a little play area for younger kids. There was even one part of the exhibition that I played with for a bit, which was this little play table and you release a wooden railway toy down this small roller coaster thing. I thought it was fun as it reminded me of exhibits at another place like this I use to go to back in my home country, Australia. It's called 'Questacon' which is a science and technology centre which is also in the same guise as this museum that I went to. The place is centred in Australia's capital Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (A.C.T) and it's still running to this day. 


They also have a small Knapford station and one of them have small posters that were used for promotions for the show in the style of British Railway posters. There was even one for a weekend getaway to Misty Island, now who wants that? *crickets chirp*, no surprise.



It's a small exhibition, but just right for any young child. After the exhibition, we take a look around the museum and I thought it was quite fun even for an adult who is young at heart. One of my favourites was this air suction tube, you place a little soft felt ball and you see it being sucked around the tubes and fall into a basket. That thing had also reminded me of things that were at another museum that I go to in Sydney, my home city, called the Powerhouse Museum. In the 90's there were many fun things to play there as a kid and I still have fond memories ever since. 

After an hours worth at the museum, we stopped by the shop. The shop has things aimed what they have at the museum and they even have Thomas merchandise such as DVDs, Wooden Railways, Books etc. I manage to buy quite a lot in the end. One thing to make your visit interesting is that there is an exclusive Wooden Railway toy that you can only get at the museums that hold the exhibition and that is called 'The Sodor Mint Car'. 

It's a small wagon with plastic coins inside with the exhibition logo on the side and you can switch it around as it was shown on the box. I ended up getting two, one for display and one to open. I also bought two books which are 'Trains, Cranes and Troublesome Trucks' and 'Goodnight Thomas' both published by Random House and a 'Day Out With Thomas' cap for my little nephew and I bought the DVD 'Tales on the Rails'. 

In the end, the exhibition and the museum are great to visit. If you have children or young at heart, I recommend going to the museum it's great fun for everyone. The Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails Exhibition will be at the San Jose Children Discovery Museum until September 10th and will be travelling around the United States as far as 2021 according to the schedule provided by HIT Entertainment. Check it out to see if there's one heading to a museum near you.


Friday, 12 May 2017

NWR Editorial: Journey Beyond Sodor trailer

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FAN BASE

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

NWR EDITORIAL:
JOURNEY BEYOND SODOR TRAILER


After months of waiting, we finally got the trailer for the upcoming 2017 special, 'Journey Beyond Sodor'. In this special, Thomas goes to the mainland again! That is if you count 'Thomas and the Special Letter' and the book 'Thomas and the Great Railway Show' and if you count it as one despite that the 2016 special would not have any impact on S21, except for Flying Scotsman and Vicarstown, 'The Great Race'.  

The trailer opens up with a beautiful shot of Arelsbrugh harbour and then Thomas, possibly on the mainland and then Duck and Oliver chuffing and then we cut to James wondering about Thomas. In the UK trailer we hear that James gets a new voice from Rob Rackshaw. Even though I'm pretty much warmed to Nigel Plinkgton's voice for Percy despite being critical back in 2015, I will be waiting for the entire special to hear his new voice. 

Then we cut to Thomas going across the mainland and saying that there's a lot of new things to see while a truck, with a new face and narrow gauge based, says all he can see is another truck's backside. Although I'm not a fan that they still use US voices in a UK dub as it sounds out of place with an entire cast of UK voices, I don't have anything against the US audience or the dub here.

We then meet our new characters at the Steelworks, Hurricane and Frankie and then we meet the experimental engines such as Lexi, Theo and Merlin and a new crane named Beresford, who I think would not add much to the story TBH. We then see James at the Steelworks too and was being chased by Frankie and Hurricane for some reason. 

Then we see the most unexpected thing happening to Thomas, being carried over and dropped to a melting pot.

One thing though is this, some people are complaining, this is in no way of attacking anybody and if it is I apologise in advanced, that the animation looks bad, despite being Jam Filled's first feature length special. This happened back in early 2013 when the 'King of the Railway' trailer was released and when we saw Arc Production's animation for the first time, there were some unfinished shots like when the Earl introduced us and the engines to Stephen. The lighting was not there in the trailer but was there in the final product and when Thomas and Percy were careering down the hill from the castle and the grass in the trailer was flat and bland and in the final cut it was detailed and I believe the shot after that we see no dust on Thomas too but he had it in the final cut. 


This also happened in the 'Tale of the Brave' trailer such as Gator at the docks being all bright and sunny and in the final cut it was dull, cloudy and grey. There's more to it than that, I suggest going onto the Wikia for it. This also happened last year when an Australian news site was showing Shane's profile video for last year's special. On there we see that the lighting was different and he wasn't pulling any trucks and when his video was released on the offical YouTube channel and the DVD, the lighting was better and he was pulling trucks. So while yes that some sets are a bit flat, I'll await for the final cut.

Some people complain that a truck made a butt joke or maybe that the truck was self-aware. I get it that you will never hear a butt joke in anything that is Thomas but that joke could be about anything. Plus I kinda hear that line from the troublesome trucks. 

The trailer was also released alongside with a Behind the Scenes video with more footage from the special. One of the other things that some are complaining about is the engines bouncing around, mostly the experimental ones. To be honest, the bouncing may seem odd but it feels like they are expressing themselves more, heck Kevin bounced in S19 where was the backlash? Or even in model era such as Gordon shaking when Diesel 10 was first seen in Magic Railroad! I can see there point though, the fans. When it comes to competing against other kids brands such as Cars, you might say Chugginton but I think that show is slowly dying considering that here in Australia there is hardly any merchandise or DVD available. The only countries that are keeping Chugginton alive are America and Japan, heck the latter country has a store dedicated to it! Mattel are now the owners of HIT's brand and they see Thomas as the number one brand and would do anything to appeal to kids today. This is a side effect of being a successful children's brand.


Even though I would love to see realism in the show, I think I can take the engines bouncing about when it comes to a good quality story. Because story is more important as long as its entertaining and makes sense to audiences. A bouncing engine is more tame than a stupid pointless bridge jump to sell an expensive train set.


One thing that I'm surprised to hear about this special is the addition of Hugh Bonneville as the voice for Merlin, who I believe would be the leader of the experimental group. If you are not familiar with him he was also in the popular BBC drama 'Downtown Abbey' and the 2014 film 'Paddington' the bear. Looking at him I think he was a great choice as he brings some fun and a eccentric feeling to his character that makes him as the engine who thinks he's invisible but not. 

In conclusion, I think Journey Beyond Sodor might be better than last year's special but maybe not as good as Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure. But we'll wait and see when its out. 

JOURNEY BEYOND SODOR
COMING TO THEATERS ACROSS THE UK, AUGUST 25TH

COMING SOON TO DVD, SEPTEMBER 2017.


Monday, 13 March 2017

Episode Review: Over The Hill

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS 
FAN BASE 

OVER THE HILL
Written by
Helen Farrall 

Directed by
Dianna Basso

Produced by
Ian McCue (HIT)

Plot
With Glynn now working for the Earl of Sodor, Sir Robert showed him around the castle. But poor Stephen felt jealous and thought the earl liked Glynn better than him. So Stephen challenges him to a race.

PRO
- The dynamic between Stephen and Glynn
- How much money does the Earl have?
- The race between Stephen and Glynn was hilarious
- I love that the Rainhill trails were mentioned

CON
- 'Would you like a cup of tea with that? Young Gordon!' 


I think out of all the Christmas episodes, this one has to be my absolute favourite. The dynamic between Stephen and Glynn was very interesting to see. They do remind me of two old men talking about how great everything was in there day and how everything today was taken for granted. I do love that the Earl has a role too and I wonder with all the expansion work he's cashing in on, I wonder more about his character. What does he do for money? What is his work? Aside from the castle is he the Donald Trump of Sodor but more kinder and loveable?, haha(!), We don't know much about him and I like to know more and I also love it how his next project is a railway museum. 

The race that Stephen and Glynn had was pretty funny too with the 'Eye of the Tiger' theme playing ready for a thrilling start then some old time music of 'Jingle Bells'. It remind me of a Family Guy joke, yeah I'm not much of a fan of the show as I once was and if you have kids I suggest you don't show them the show if you're not a fan of their humour, but the scene of those two reminds me of Hebert and a German person having a punch up but because of their old age the fight isn't epic as it was them withering.


I also like how they have Stephen mentioning the Rainhill trials. It makes Stephen more real to kids. If you don't know what the Rainhill trials are. The Rainhill trials was formed in October 1829, nearly 200 years ago. It was made to decide that either stationary engines for locomotive can pull trains on the nearly built Liverpool to Manchester Railway. Ten engines entered, five engines competed and the Rocket was the winner of the five engines. More of the famous trial runs can be seen here.


Probably one of the strangest changes for this episode was in the UK dub when Glynn said to Gordon 'Would like a cup of tea with that? Young Gordon!' whereas in the US dub he said 'Would you like a glass of milk with that?' to be honest the latter makes more total sense when it comes to Glynn's jab as he mimicked Gordon for being young (a baby) I don't know if the jab in the UK dub is a British saying thing or there way of saying burn but the way the writers change it, it seems so surreal As it didn't make any total sense to me. But even with a one line change, it did leave a great impression on me.

One thing though that puzzled me about these two episode is this, why aren't they on TV during S20's run when they were released on DVD in the US and UK last year with some S20 episodes? Are these episodes part of S21 and they were placed on the DVD to make up more than three episodes? Were they to hype up the upcoming special 'Journey Beyond Sodor'? With the Earl and his Railway museum idea and the possibilities that maybe the experimental engines might make it as there new home? If that was the idea then I'm happy they did that as that how it should work with the season before special formula. However these are just questions and whatever the answers will be, will be the answers in the end and I hope we soon find out why these episodes aren't part S20's TV run.

Rating: 10/10


Episode Review: The Christmas Coffee Pot

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS 
FAN BASE

THE CHRISTMAS COFFEE POT
Written by
Helen Farrall 

Directed by
Dianna Basso

Produced by
Ian McCue (HIT)

Plot:
Marion believes there's a talking Christmas tree, but it turns out it was something else.

PRO
- Nice to see Glynn again
- Awdry canon of The Fat Controller building Glynn
- The UK dub did Thomas' surprise voice better

CON
- Marion's role could've been replaced
- The discovery of Glynn was underwhelming from Thomas in the US dub


I thought that Channel 5 in the UK would air this during Christmas 2016 along with the other three episodes focused on Christmas/Winter along with its sequel, 'Over the Hill'. But they didn't which is a shame. Neither did Japan as well during their run of S20. The only way to see these episodes are on DVDs in the US and the UK. For the US they're on 'Tinsel on the Tracks' and in the UK, 'Full Steam to the Rescue'.

Anywho, out of all the Christmas episodes that were out on the DVDs, I was looking forward to this one the most, sadly though it wasn't the best in terms of story but I was looking forward to be seeing Glynn again and him getting more focus. When Glynn was first seen in the 2015 mini special 'The Adventure Begins' some were complaining that he was pointless, used for merchandising, being a one off etc. the kind of stuff you hear about many of the new modern day Thomas character, especially around the Barlow/Miller era, although the criticism of that era is fair as there was little to no effort in their newbies. Heck some people doubted Philip and he's been getting some appearances lately. But I digress here.

The discovery of Glynn after the trees fell down to reveal himself was...underwhelming especially with the dialogue coming from Thomas in the US dub. It sounds like Thomas wasn't too surprised when he saw Glynn he just said 'Oh you're the coffee pot engine! How are you?' no surprise, no gasp, just seem like they knew he was there the entire time. I do think it was better in the UK dub, when Thomas discovered Glynn he sounds way more surprised then his US counterpart. In previous years he sound more excited about Gator's return in 'Long Lost Friend' and meeting up with Hiro in 'Helping Hiro'. I have no hate for Joseph May in the end, he is a good voice actor in the show as Thomas and there are people who do like his acting. I think he just needs to improve a bit better as he does deliver some of his line awkwardly in some episodes.

Originally I was hoping that the writers aren't making Marion into an idiot. But thinking back to the episode, I think her portrayal was actually good with her jumping to conclusions that can be very peculiar, 'Sodor's Legend of The Lost Treasure' is a clear example of that. She thought the small engines were magic because of their sizes and that there's only one Oliver on Sodor. That's because she never saw them in her life and that her imagination can go wild, watch 'Marion and The Pipe' when she thought a pipe was part of a viking ship. So her conclusion of a talking tree fits in well with her character and persona. 

But I felt that Marion's role in this episode could've been replaced by somebody else as she didn't really do anything other than telling everyone about a 'talking' tree. For her role, I think Thomas is more suitable to the lead role after all Glynn was on his branch line. But rather than him believing that tree could talk, make him wonder who the voice belonged too. Be like a little investigation episode. Marion's lead role felt forced in my opinion  and like I said before, she could've been replaced by Thomas for the lead role as the focus kept switching on certain characters, at least the latter makes sense or have Marion thinking it was Bill and Ben playing tricks on her until she discovered that it was Glynn.

There are things I do like, especially that it's great to see Glynn again and looks as though he has more purpose than being part of the Fat Controller's railway considering that they were foreshadowing 'Over the Hill' at the end with Stephen not looking pleased and of course I do love how they acknowledge that the Fat Controller had built Glynn. Something that the Rev.W.Awdry had stated in his fictional history book. Although you do have to question his age, the Fat Controller's. I believe the Reverend would be happy that the series is at least acknowledging his work despite he might not like it with characters like Thomas being placed there whether it was in mind or not. The episode is not bad but I think there could've been better options than what it is but the heart of it was right there.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 12 March 2017

S20 Ep.26: Useful Railway + Series Overall

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FAN BASE

USEFUL RAILWAY
Originally Written by
The Rev.W.Awdry

Adapted by
Andrew Brenner

Directed by
Dianna Basso 

Produced by
Ian McCue 

Air Date
31/01/17 - CAN
12/03/17 - JPN

Plot
After an encounter with a flock of sheep, Mike calls them silly and can't understand why Rex calls them useful. The Small Controller arrives and tells them they are now arranging to take wool trains for the local farmers. Rex is chosen to take the first train. Rex is over-confident, but gets his comeuppance when, by accident, a tractor's load spills onto the line, derailing him. Bert and Mike tease him, but say sorry when they come to take him home, and the Small Controller tells them their railway is more popular than ever.

PRO
- The slow-mo crash
- The expanded intro

CON
- Thomas' shoehorning 


Of course we have our third RWS adaptation and what a great way to conclude a brilliant season. I will get this nitpick out of the way and yes it's about Thomas' shoehorning in this episode, he just felt like a pointless choice. OK so there might be a focus group that said they want to see more Thomas in the show and that's fine but there were episodes that are fine without Thomas and he doesn't need to be there all the time. They could at least chose Duck or Donald or Douglas in the episode, since the small engines are situated the Little Western or even or Ryan or Daisy since the 20th season is set after 'Sodor's Legend of The Lost Treasure' and the extension to Harwick goes through their branch line or just have the episode open on them without the need of a standard gauge engine interacting them.

There's not really any enough reason for Thomas now whenever he's anywhere in the series it's rather the local train or just because he's there. Why cannot be him taking a school excursion from his branch line to the small railway? They never done that before in the series. I don't mind if Thomas makes an appearance to please younger fans but Thomas' constant appearance kind of overshadowing the other characters.

With that out of the way, I still think this is another good adaptation that followed closely to the original story and despite Thomas' forced appearance, the expanded intro was nice to see as well with the small engines not taken seriously as serious engines until the end with them working hard while Rex was off the rails. The slow motion scene though, I don't mind it. It reminds me of the later years of the classic series when they made the crash all slow-motion. In the end though it was nice adaptation and a brilliant way to close off probably the best seasons so far from the Brenner/McCue era. I hope we see more of the Railway Series stories being adapted in future.


SERIES OVERALL

When S19 came to a conclusion, I said that I wouldn't get too hyped up for this season and after seeing this. I put it down as the best season of this era. The stories are fun and interesting. Some were mundane, some were funny and some were brilliant. I especially love the idea of adapting the Railway Series stories of the small railway engines and I hope the current production team keep on doing that as there are many stories that are still unadapted and deserve treatment now that the show has been converted to CGI. I see stories like 'Super Rescue', 'Stop Thief' and 'Triple Header' work as CGI stories.

One of the best things I see from the production team is how Davey Moore had handled the Daisy episodes. Her persona was the most consistent out of all the characters and I think maybe the writers should focus on one character rather than have a bunch of writers focusing on some of the characters (e.g - Thomas) That way they could keep some of them in continuity rather than being all over the place. For example, Thomas was cross about the idea of Hugo replacing him and the other engines and said 'You're fast and modern' and yet he wants to be streamlined to go fast. I understand that the writers had a limit of time to write these episodes to meet deadlines but they should at least try and be a bit more consistent with the characters so they can keep with one personality making Thomas going from his bland good guy side and his old cheeky side just doesn't work well. This is by no means saying that the writing team are bad, they had done great things to keep with continuity (e.g - The boarded up tunnel from KOTR in 'Missing Gator' was mentioned that it was re-boarded up)

This season had brought some goodness like Henry not being flanderized in his sacred persona and switch it around. While I'm not a huge fan of it, I think it was handled well in S19 and 'The Adventure Begins'. There were some interesting new characters such as Bradford, Hugo despite the unique choice of his basis his character felt a bit flat and disappointing. However SiF said that there are plans for the rail zeppelin by the production team and hopefully they do better with him. Bradford on the other hand was probably one of the best newbies we've seen this season and I hope we see more of him in the future with Samson as I think the two characters would work well together.   

I did say expect some flaws and there had been some this season unfortunately. Nothing is perfect but there needs to be a bit more effort into the show. You might say I'm complaining but I do that because I care about the show and I would like to see things improve for the better. I've already mentioned about Hugo earlier but one of my gripes is the fact that this season is somewhat before 'The Great Race' and the problem I see with that idea of episodes set before special is that there's clearly not any build up towards the 2016 special. No hints, no mentions nor anything related to the special. I understand that yes the episodes could've been in production when TGR was finishing its production stages or before the episodes were written, but I don't know much of the production stages that happened over at the now former Arc Productions and now Jam Filled Productions. 

It could've been good to see Gordon mentioning about brothers to Douglas and despite how much they annoy you or anger you that you should care about them still as they are your brother who looks out for you. He doesn't have to mention Flying Scotsman as many kids might have bought or seen the movie. I liked this idea in S19, season before special, because I think it would flesh out the characters more, especially the ones that were on the sidelines, but with how the way the season turned out looking back, it didn't add much considering that there wasn't a special to work off from to bring the characters from that to the show. I also think the distribution of the show should've been delivered more properly as well. If you read the reviews on Amazon, especially in the US, from parents, no matter how dumb they can be they do bring out some good points such as characters that there kids don't even recognised since this is set after the 2015 special and I think HIT and Mattel should go back to what they did in the first that was series set after special.

I think ARC Productions had gone out with a bang, there animation was so detailed and amazing to look at and to be honest out of no disrespect, it made the 2010 Nitrogen animation look very dated. It was great at its time but it doesn't hold up anymore to me at least.

But looking back at S20, I still enjoyed it more than I did with S18, despite the flaws. What am I looking forward to S21? It's sad to see though, from the people on Twitter, that 'The Great Race' will have no impact on the upcoming series, I don't know though if that's true or not, with the exception of Vicarstown station and Flying Scotsman, which I'm thankful for. But it's no big surprise, given as how Ian McCue had stated in a interview with 'The Guardian' last year that the international engines are one-off's. Which make sense considering that they are there for the Great Railway Show. Which is also a shame too considering that there are engines like Yong Bao and Freida who have great potential for stories in my opinion, maybe there should be more of that 'Great Race Friends Near and Far' mini series on the official YouTube channel.

Although I think Thomas' last two appearance were a bit forced in however, I didn't mind his constant appearance this season. Thomas is there but he wasn't given too much dialogue and he was at places where I see he's suppose to be at (e.g - Knapford station) however I think when it comes to roles any other character could've been suited more better (e.g - replace him with the scottish twins in 'Mike's Whistle') I hope the writers continue on with this in the future.

I hope for S21 we see characters that get enough focus such as the Skarloey Railway engines or Oliver. For the latter I wish since his return to screen in S18 he barely had any episode to himself and more of it was focused on Toad. Not that I hate Toad but I think there be focus on the engine that pulls him around. You could perhaps make an episode where he learns something new as the wikia stated 'Oliver is an engine who is willing to admit that everyday is a learning curve'. Maybe he could learn about the slip coaches from Duck as he can be conceited about learning the practice itself, he was conceited about his escape from the scrapyard and use his 'Resource and Sagacity' as he a way to do things and wisdom too. Sure it could work with engines like Samson or James, but no one in the current generation that are just starting to watch Thomas had seen who Oliver is and I hope he won't be the next Rosie, an engine lurking in the background with little to no dialogue at all.

Speaking of Rosie, I'm looking forward to her screen time this year in S21. Looking back, Rosie was handled poorly by the previous team with her persona. She was considered as a tomboy but we never saw that coming from her. A tomboy is suppose to be a girl that has the same characteristic and behaviour of a boy, a bit like Misty or Zoey from Pokemon. Although the former did have some girly traits but only little. Rosie in Season 10 had none of that we never saw this tomboy persona she was given. How the way she was handled was a bit more like a bland girl.

She would also get a new coat of cherry paint and the NWR logo, which is nice but it might stick out like a sore thumb since the other engines don't have one as well. I think the paintwork that she would be given now would expose more of her tomboy persona as the pink didn't reflect that. Not at all and it was more of a stereotypical way to say she's a girl because that's what it is. I'm glad that the production team had listened to fans and I'm looking forward to see how they handle Rosie in S21. She would also be given a NWR logo, I hope one day the production team would do that to all of the engines. You can have them located other than their side tanks or boilers. Like the sides underneath the coal bunkers on the tank engines or on the sides underneath the cabs of the tender engines or on the buffer beams on engines like Percy, Duck, Oliver etc. It adds a bit of realism towards the show.

However in the end there could be quite a few surprises for next season. I also would like to give thanks to Ian McCue, the now former producer of Thomas. As he is now senior producer for all of HIT's brands, including Thomas. Thanks to him for bringing Thomas back to his roots and expressing the great history that the brand has and good luck to his replacement, Micaela Winter.

I will be releasing the two episode reviews for Glynn as for some reason they weren't shown during the UK's run of S20 during Christmas 2016 and they weren't shown through Japan's screening of S20 as well. It is indeed strange about those two episodes and I hope we will get word about them.

So now, I'm looking forward to see what the production team would bring for S21 and 'Journey Beyond Sodor'. Thank you to everyone who had read my views on these episodes between 2016-17. More reviews will be coming soon.



Monday, 6 March 2017

DVD + Episode Reviews: Extraordinary Engines

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FAN BASE

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE EPISODE LINE UP AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE WAS BASED UPON FROM THE TV AIRINGS IN JAPAN AND FROM THE EXTRAORDINARY ENGINES RELEASE.

EXTRAORDINARY ENGINES
Written by
Andrew Brenner
Helen Farrall 
Davey Moore
Ian McCue

Directed by
Dianna Basso

Produced by
Ian McCue (HIT)
Robert Anderson 

Episodes
Engine of The Future
Henry In The Dark
The Missing Breakdown Train
Hugo and The Airship
Three Steam Engines Gruff
Skiff and The Mermaid

Special Features
'Let's Go' - Sing-Along Music Video
'Spring Is Here' - Sing Along Music Video
Railway Fun with Thomas

Distributed by
HIT Entertainment (US/UK/AUS)
Mattel Creations (UK)
Universal (US)
ABC Kids (AUS)

Release Date
31/1/17 - US (iTunes)
3/04/17 - UK
14/02/17 - US (DVD)
TBA - AUS

Like every other year, we are given another themed DVD with episodes from the 20th season featuring a new character named Hugo. However these episode had aired over in Japan back in December 2016 and some of these episodes were given some praise already. So do these episodes live up against the previous selected ones from the other themed DVDs? Let's find out!

ENGINE OF THE FUTURE
Written by Andrew Brenner


So we are given our new character of the tentpole release and this year it's Hugo, a rail zeppelin. I will talk more about his character later on but his episode was not very good. The episode felt rather cliched with the fear of replacement trope I get that it's trying to tell the moral 'don't jump to conclusions' and that's fine and that the engines are old machines but it's been done before. Plus I felt like there should've been more added to this episodes. The engines all don't like him because they fear, in a cliche manner, they're going to be replaced by him, Hugo is sad and Percy wants to put things right and the engines like him again with no explanation. Also the focus was more on Hugo being more modern and futuristic rather than being a character.

You might say that the same can be applied for Harvey in his debut episode from 2002. That though is entirely different. Harvey proved his worth at the end of the episode, him saving engines with his crane arm and the engines found him useful. Hugo's worth was never even stated since he never had a reason to be on the Island. Sure he took Franz, nice touch of naming after the Rail Zeppelin's designer, to see the Earl, but what for? What could've been better if say, it was Daisy who feared of being replaced by Hugo because he's more modern, fast and futuristic. Then Daisy was very negative about him and Hugo was cross with her for creating such nonsense and stood up to her and her words. Next day, Daisy broke down while taking passengers to Harwick and Hugo came and saved the day and he proved his worth that he can help Daisy along the Harwick line.

There are a few things that I do like about this episode. Sure Franz being named after by the designer was a nice touch but another nice touch is Hugo pointing out his flaws such as him lacking a coupling hook and his propeller can be considered as dangerous in crowded station platforms, which his basis has actually suffered, except they didn't mention hills, I'll get to that later. But there was some good researching there by Andrew Brenner. Plus I like it that Percy was the engine wanting to make Hugo feel better rather than Thomas. But in the end the episode didn't really make me like it and I do wish it was added with more development from the steam team.

Rating:
4/10

HENRY IN THE DARK
Written by Lee Pressman

I wish Mattel had released a glow in the dark Henry instead of a wooden railway rolling stock toy of the glow in the dark paint. You got the Adventures range with the glow-in-the dark Thomas, Percy and Rosie, they could've added Henry in for promoting the DVD. But aside from toys, this episode I feel was fresh when it comes to Henry. Over the years he was seen as the worrier engine and while I do think that trait was done better in 'The Adventure Begins' with his fear of the rain done in a different context and Season 19 with some relatability of fearing Chicken pox, I think Henry had better episodes in the 20th season.

In this episode the tables had turned, instead of Henry being scared it was the other engines that were scared of him and while Cranky showed Henry in the mirror what he looks like, we never see Henry just running away in a coward sort of way. Although I wish that was done to Edward. Maybe it would be better if it were Edward calming down to everyone that it's Henry at the sheds nearing the end of the episode rather then him running away into his shed with the others. I mean he looks out for engines and the episode showed him glaring at Gordon and James with their teasing towards Henry. But other than that, this episode was good, interesting and fresh and there were some funny moments with the Fat Controller at the end.

Rating:
8/10

THE MISSING BREAKDOWN TRAIN
Written by Davey Moore

It was nice to see that Judy and Jerome have a major role but the episode feels average. Not much happens in the episode except for Daisy's crash. All we see throughout most part of the episode are the two cranes going to Arlesbrugh, the countryside and the Blue Mountain Quarry. There was a funny moment of a seagull, lack of a better word, pooping on top of Jerome and it gave me a nice chuckle even though I'm not a fan of that type of humour but at least it wasn't hammered down to be funny. It's a nice episode and I think it proves that you can have more than one crane in the show. The episode was simple but it's not bad but also not great either.

Rating:
5/10



HUGO AND THE AIRSHIP
Written by Andrew Brenner

This episode has an 'All at Sea' feeling towards it. Hugo's ambition to fly is a lot like Duck's ambition to travel by sea. Although the moral about 'Being yourself' was done before plenty of times and I think the moral was handled well in 'Best Engine Ever' with Emily and her insecurities rather than trying to copy someone, which this episode went with instead.

However the way the episode was written around the first few minutes was a bit poor. The scene gave the idea of the airship's presence felt more like a mystery tale. If they want the story to be about Hugo and his insecurities why not make him sad that the engines thought he was flying because he looks so similar rather then him wondering about the airship because how the way they transition from that to his ambition for flying looks like it came out of nowhere and felt more jarring and made no amount of sense. The scene of him trying to fly like the airship felt strange too with the lack of sound effects and all we hear is the music and voices that it makes the episode feel a bit lazy or rushed. Even though I like it that Brenner had pointed out the flaws of his basis, his hill climbing with his propeller is one that they haven't pointed out. If his basis climbs hills with its propeller on, the flow would separate if full power is applied. I know they bend some rules to tell a story, but it was a bit of a missed opportunity for that to showcase a needed crash, yeah a cliche but if its a way for Hugo to learn that he is for who he is that would be better way rather then him trying hard to fly.

Another flaw too is Hugo's purpose working on the Fat Controller's railway. What is his role? Sure it's taking passengers but on what designated track? Since the current team had brought back designated tracks, although not used too much. It's important for him to have a reason and I hope we see more about it in the future.

I get the episode's message but I think if you want an episode about Hugo and his insecurities, make him sad and doubtful rather than making it look like a mystery story. Yeah some fans don't like to see a character being all mopey but I think it is the only way to develop him.

Episode Rating:
3/10

THREE STEAM ENGINES GRUFF
Written by Andrew Brenner

I think this is one of Brenner's weakest scripts in the 20th season. One of the problems about this episode was Toby. We had an episode written by the same writer who made Toby almost in his original persona in 'Toby's New Friend' and suddenly he was reverted back into his worrying persona like in S13-16 in this episode. Toby is not a worrier, he can be temperamental, a bit of a joker, savvy about trucks more than Thomas and Percy despite his old age and he can be wise as well. Sure he did get nervous in S5 later on but he wasn't flanderised for it, and this is coming from a person who's not a fan of S5. Heck the three traits he holds could have story potential in fact some of those traits were in previous episodes for a second, Toby teaching Den about trucks in 'Den and Dart'.

Some fans have compare this to 'Cows' because the engines were scared of one. But there is a major difference between them. With 'Cows', Henry and Gordon were 'scared' because they never had any experience dealing with cows despite that earlier they were boastful about how easy it would be dealing with some, it made sense. They weren't scared by one because it was a monster or because it was an obscure sound. Sure Edward said they were afraid of it but he was just teasing. Gordon and Henry didn't carry on like wimps and run away, they just stood their ground and deal with it. Here the three small engines were scared by a sound and assumed it was a monster until Annie & Clarabel pointed it out.

Thomas' role, despite being the bland good guy, does remind me of him in 'Ghost Train' where he doesn't really believe in the stories until he got scared but without the cheekiness and more generic.

Percy's role was quite disappointing too. We saw him being developed in 'Tale of The Brave' about being brave despite being scared and throughout S19 we never saw him in his sacred persona until this episode and 'The Great Race'.

Now this is not the worst episode of all time to me at least. I like the concept of it all and I got a bit nostalgic looking at Thomas, Percy and Toby the Ffarquhar branch line trio and it was nice seeing the comeback of Trevor with dialogue for the first time since 2005, although his US voice wasn't great though in my opinion. The moral was nice about overcoming your obstacles and that we shouldn't jump to conclusions before knowing the truth. But it could've been better if maybe the episode developed Toby's character!

The fairy tale, which this episode had referenced, is about three goats and the oldest one is the one that defeats the troll and threw him into the river, in the original version. You could've had Toby being the third one and him 'confronting' the 'troll' which was the cow and Toby could've at least learn that he shouldn't have a wild imagination and that could begin to readjust his original character...again. Kids might as well look towards him for his bravery or maybe give him the lead role and let him be in Thomas' place but make Toby more interesting. Honestly the personas in the classic series can work here. You can have Thomas being cheeky like he did in 'Ghost Train', Percy being scared like he did in 'Thomas, Percy and The Dragon' and a wise Toby but sassy tram engine like he had in various episodes at that time 'Dirty Objects' is a prime example.

Andrew Brenner is a good writer in the end though, far from the worst. But this is sadly one of my least favourites he wrote and probably one of the weakest episodes. It was a good idea but the classic personas of Thomas, Percy and Toby could've worked much more better here than what they are now.

EPISODE RATING:
3/10


SKIFF AND THE MERMAID
Written by Helen Farrall 

I found this episode hilarious! The story was nice and simple but when the Skiff and the Fat Controller went out to sea this is where it gets funny. I love the scene of the Fat Controller thinking he was stranded on a deserted island when really it was *spoilers* Bluff's Cove, although I wish they made the Fat Controller realise that he was there the whole time and should've telephoned for help.
I'm not much a fan of Skiff overall to be honest. I felt he was a bit bland and uninteresting in the 2015 special. But I like Skiff's character here he feels more like a sweet and naive child that gets overexcited, such as looking for the mermaid, it was nice. One sad thing I do find in this episode is definitely how little use of Oliver we've seen in this era. He barely had any episodes focusing towards him and he feels underused and more like a device to pull or push Toad around. I think the production team should try and focus more on Oliver in future, regardless of his render. It's not perfect but I don''t mind it and Arc Productions had fixed Duck's render this season. But in the end, it was a funny episode and I do hope we see more episodes focusing on Skiff.

EPISODE RATING: 
9/10



NEW CHARACTER:
HUGO



Hugo's persona had come about his insecurities of him being different and while yes that was fine I felt like more should've been done on him. SiF had said on twitter when these episodes were out in Japan back in Feb 2017 that the writers have plans for him. I hope we see more of him being fleshed out in future episodes soon.

I do love the fact that the writers had given him the basis of the Rail Zeppelin with its futuristic and sci-fi look but in reality his basis wouldn't have been futuristic considering that the series takes place possibly around 1967, due to the small railway engines' stories being adapted and Reverend Awdry setting them in that period, according to 'Sodor: Its People, History and Railways' book. But who knows about the reaction if the people of England had seen the real rail zeppelin back in the 60's?



SPECIAL FEATURES


I think HIT Entertainment are treating the intervals now as a special features as they are part of this pack on the DVD known as 'Railway Fun With Thomas', the same is done for the UK's first DVD release for 2017. The first interval is 'Really Useful Engine' and the two characters that are focus are Belle and Harvey and it's the same as all the others. What's their purpose on Sodor and a bit of a recap.


However it's nice to see some new ones instead of recapping old ones. 


Of course we have the Earl's Quiz and in this one we see him asking the target audience questions towards moments such as 'The Afternoon Tea Express', 'Toad and The Whale' and what carriage that Toby pulls. Again, these are nice segments for the young audience to get them to memorise things from a particular moment. 


We are given another ''Landmarks of Sodor' segment and this time we take a look at the Search and Rescue centre and of course it's the same as the others, we are given a insight on what it does and who works there and these are fun to watch with Rob Rackshaw's voice, who thankfully doesn't feel like he's shouting. 


And we are given another 'The Fat Controller's Tales' this time featuring Toad and his events of 'Toad and The Whale'. This segment though made me feel sad that he gets as much focus than Oliver and Oliver didn't even have a single episode given to him yet. But I digress, I'm kind of starting to warm up to be this segment, although I still do feel like they are just rehashing the idea of 'Who's That Engine' and 'Really Useful Engine'. The one thing that is missing is the 'Guess Who?' puzzles and to be honest while they are good for the young audience, they are pretty much easy to guess and are becoming redundant.


And this year we are given not one but two songs from Eggplant LF! The songs are 'Spring Is Here' and 'Let's Go' which were shown on the PBS broadcast in the United States in 2015 and 2016. To be honest the first video 'Spring Is Here' is not bad but not great, it had nice music although the lyrics are bit bland. 'Let's Go' however, looking back at it, felt generic with the lyrics as the song was mostly about Thomas going on an adventure however I do like the music as it sound very railway folklore. So as always Eggplant LF are always a hit and miss but these are better than 'Race With You'.

OVERALL

So is this DVD worth it? I think it was a good release but it doesn't beat the likes of 'Spills and Thrills' or 'Start Your Engines'. The episodes could've been better but there were a couple of good ones. It's good to see that the US had finally got the updated 'Engine Roll Call' song and credits now all they need is the updated intro and better text. The special features are good too especially the songs. If you're a fan of S20 or a fan of Hugo then this release will be for you. 

OVERALL RATING (DVD):
7/10

Episode Ratings:
Sidney Sings - 8/10
All In Vain - 10/10
Tit for Tat - 10/10
Engine of The Future - 4/10
Henry In The Dark - 8/10
The Missing Breakdown Train - 5/10
Hugo and The Airship - 3/10
Three Steam Engines Gruff - 3/10
Skiff and The Mermaid - 9/10

Overall Rating:
191/250