Thursday, 17 July 2014

Movie Review Revisited: Hero of The Rails (2009)


Written by
Sharon Miller

Directed by
Greg Tiernan

Produced by
Nicole Stinn
Release Date
September 8th 2009
October 12th 2009
Spencer had come to the Island of Sodor once again with the Duke and Duchess of Boxford as there summer house is being built. However Spencer began to be boastful to Thomas saying that he isn't special and is more of a toy. So a race between them has been made and after failed brakes, Thomas had discovered an old engine named Hiro, who had come from Japan many years ago. 
2009 was the first time since 2001 that there was no new series to be broadcasted on television that year and so this special marks the first full CGI production of Thomas & Friends, due to taxation in the UK since 2007. I remember when SiF had announced in 2008 that the live action animation was to be replaced with CGI and at first I was excited, worried and angry at the thought. However after watching S12 in 2008 I thought Nitrogen studios did well for Thomas and what makes it more better about them is that the former director, Greg Tiernan, is a railway enthusiast and Railway Series fan. Plus the animation made by them was amazing to look at and I have to admit it certainly did better then the models, but that doesn't mean I hate them. 
For the first time since 2000, although the media were saying that this IS the first time, that the engines were given individual voices. When I first heard that in 2008, I was very annoyed by that idea as it takes away the storytelling value that the show had since 1984. The narration of Thomas the Tank Engine is suppose to be in the style of a person telling a story as if its someone reading a storybook to a child. But over the years looking back at S12, I now think it's a good idea to do that move as having one person doing the voices now while all the mouths at the same time, it does get very off putting in my taste. But as of the voice actors, no offense to the American fans but the US voices are atrocious and annoying, the only good ones would be Thomas, Percy, James, Gordon and Emily in this special and beyond. Edward and Toby's voice sounds nasally and Henry's voice sounds very much like someone's trying to do a Jerry Lewis impression and Spencer's voice doesn't seem to fit with his persona. Spencer is suppose to be a snobbish big headed engine and his US voice sounds more like a tough guy that it sounds like Captain Ginyu in Dragon Ball Z Kai.  The UK voices weren't great as well at the time when the special was made, Ben Small made Thomas more high pitched and Keith Wickham sounds like he didn't put enough effort into Percy's voice, but they've improved better later on. But I do have to say that most of the voices in this special are done better in the UK dub. They sound normal and Ben Small did a good impression of Clive Dunn, despite that he (Toby) has one line. Ben Small said on a video done by Chris Tomson back in 2010 at Thomas Land in Drayton Manor that the late Clive Dunn was his inspiration for Toby's voice. The late Clive Dunn has been in many British shows such as 'Dad's Army'. 

One of the new characters that was introduced to the special is Hiro, one of the 'oldest' engines of the Island of Sodor. By 'oldest' I mean that he really isn't the oldest. Judging by his basis, which is the JNR D51 locomotive, that was made in 1936 while Thomas' basis, the E2, was made in 1915. But it's a good choice of a basis for Hiro and I think he's one of Sharon Miller's best characters. He has a back story on how he came to Sodor and how he became 'Master of the Railway', although it was because he's strong, not a really strong reason though and how he was put into a siding all forgotten and alone for years. However there is one big hole in the plot, Hiro fears that the Fat Controller will scrap him because he's an old fashioned engine and yet Thomas is a steam engine himself, a working steam engine. 

Over the years it's been known that the Fat Controller runs a STEAM Railway and despite that, he uses some diesel engines too. There's been a quote in 'Enterprising Engines' in the story 'Little Western' saying "Please tell everyone, that whatever happens elsewhere, steam will still be at work here." Plus in the whole movie there has been steam engines, some that are old as Hiro's basis, that are helping him out. In short, why would Hiro and the engines fear that the Fat Controller will scrap him despite that his railway is run entirely of steam engines and that the Fat Controller had said in the past that he didn't want to scrap engines, Gordon and Edward for example during the new series era? 

Here's a little fun fact, according to Christopher Skala, who was exceutive producer of Thomas & Friends from 2007 - 2010, Hiro was going to be painted blue and from John Lee, Hiro was going to have a different name. To be honest I think Hiro looks good in black, which is worn by the D51. As of the idea of Hiro, I think it's great to bring in an engine that's not actually built in Britain. Thomas the Tank Engine is an internationally recognised children's show and, as of 2014, it's the seventh most popular brand in Japan alone. So it's a good idea that Japan has there character to represent the show in their country. There's has been a lot of promotional material of Hiro in Japan, here's one from a Thomas Land hotel room in Japan: 

Hiro is a likeable character and I've enjoyed his presences in the series since his debut, though I think he was much more better handled in S17. I also like Togo Igawa as the voice actor for him, he definitely gives that realistic Japanese voice rather then having a VA that does a bad stereotypical accent.

Another two new characters are introduced as well. Victor and Kevin, who both work at the Sodor Steamworks, which is situated at Crovans Gate. These two are another likeable bunch. The characterisation of Victor is great, he's wise and definitely looks out for the other engines but what I don't like about him is how the way he's the one who fixed the engines, while he has no hands or tools and hardly does anything. As of his voice I prefer his US voice, it sounds more natural rather then his UK one, which was replaced in Blue Mountain Mystery. 

Kevin is another good character. A nice cheery crane and the voice acting makes the character too. I haven't got much to say about him, due to his lack of screen time. 

 Nitrogen had done a great amount of work with its CGI but there are a few critical things I find about their work now that Arc took over production. The lighting in Tidmouth sheds looks a bit more blurry compare to Arc who had done it in a more natural way. 
The sunset doesn't look more appealing then how Arc made it, though Nitrogen improved that in S16. Plus there grass look more two dimensional and flat as well. Whereas Arc does manage to be a bit realistic with theirs:
There's good coming out from Nitrogen and like them and Arc equally. 

Well to be honest, like Calling All Engines!, Hero of The Rails is more like an extended Thomas episode as well. I remember Brannon Carty doing a video showcasing that. It's a mediocre movie in my opinion and it's easy for kids to understand. It has a good story and likeable characters, though I don't know why Spencer is given the bad guy role but if it were a diesel then it'll be a whole overused 'Steam vs. Diesel' plot. But there's a plot hole that I think it'll never be filled. I'll watch it here and there whenever I'm in the mood.