THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND NOT FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FAN BASE
THERE BE SPOILERS DURING THIS REVIEW
TALE OF THE BRAVE
Ian McCue (HIT)
Brian Lynch & Robert Anderson (Arc)
1/09/14 - UK
16/09/14 - US
1/10/14 - AUS
HIT Entertainment (UK/US/AUS)
ABC Kids (AUS)
2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the television series of Thomas the Tank Engine, however HIT Entertainment are more focused towards the 70th anniversary of the Railway Series in 2015 and it looks as those it'll be a memorable one, implied from Roll Along Thomas' TOTB premiere report, though mentioned briefly. After much hype, with a two month stint here in Australia's Hoyts cinemas and screenings at various VUE cinemas in the UK and soon a DVD and Blu-Ray release coming to America in a few days time, Tale of The Brave is out on DVD in all UK stores. Is this movie better then the previous? Is it great to mark the 30th consecutive year of the series? Well let's find out:
The film opens up in a usual prologue, we see Thomas making his way to the china clay pits, though I've appreciate the continuity of the twins working at the Quarry I think it's right for the twins to work at what they were made for, the china clay pits, which is much more better in CGI compare to the one used in S2-3 of the series, although it was in S5, but it shares it set with the Quarry. The reason why Thomas was at the clay pits is because his branch line is closed due to bridge repairs, reminds me of a certain Christopher Awdry book from 1988, which I hadn't thought about it when I saw it in its cinema run back in July.
At the clay pits we see one of the new characters, Timothy. An oil burning engine that works at the clay pits alongside Bill and Ben. Of course he went through what Captain did in MIR, no reason to be here, though I've always come up with my own head canon when it comes to stuff like these, despite not being official but all part of the fun. However Bill and Ben were out of nowhere characters in the Railway Series book, 'Main Line Engines', so the same can be said for Timothy. Though his characterisation is not much like BoCo, according to some fans, his naviety and gullible nature shows in the movie, Thomas pulling trucks that he was (Timothy) coupled onto. However he just simmers down and know that the twins are just silly engines, sure that part shares the similarity of BoCo.
Soon it started to rain and in the clay walls would unstable in the wet, so as Thomas sets out with his trucks, he noticed some footprints. Before he could get a proper look, some loose clay fell and Bill and Ben rushed to save him just in time. We then open to another great looking opening with a jazzy instrumental of 'Monsters Everywhere' with shadow selves of the characters that are in this special, with a reference from the Fat Controller of a well-known film maker. So we're then opened to the plot with some of the Fat Controller's engines lined up in the yards to hear his speech praising the twins' heroic action to save Thomas. I do love the reference that Gordon made, 'You can say that again', a possible reference to 'Wrong Road'? What I also love of the line up there was five members of the steam team and the rest were the secondary characters and that it was only some of the Fat Controller's engines rather then all of them, as of course there's a railway to run, unlike in the previous specials.
After that, the Fat Controller had ordered Thomas to go down to the docks to work. However he was still thinking about the footprints. We then see a scene with Gator, who's not revealed giving us the feeling of mystery. Before Thomas went to the docks, he went back to the clay pits but the area where he was the day before was closed off with danger signs. This is where we meet another new character, Marion, a steam shovel who loves digging. Yes she's an out of nowhere character, bare in mind though that the clay pits haven't been seen for sixteen years, so, in your own headcanon*, you can make up your mind. (*a headcanon is like a belief, idea or aspect. Though not official info unless it's confirmed by the author) I love the little jump scare and the delivery of her dialogue was fantastic as well. Plus I love it how Marion mentioned chickens and since that this special is focused on dinosaurs I love it how there is scientific fact that dinosaurs are linked to birds and chickens are one of them and it shows the comparison, as I've been to dinosaur exhibition in Sydney back in July.
At Brendam docks, Thomas set to work. If you look really closely to the sky you'll notice that they're moving, like real clouds. I also love the dock workers talking in the backgrounds making the scene more realistic. Percy was wondering about the footprints from Thomas but thought they must be from a monster, despite Thomas and Cranky saying that there's no such things as monsters. As Percy left with a goods train to Vicarstown, a fog rolled in, if you've read on SiF's blog in 2012, the Isle of Man is prone to fog obscuring the view of the island and since Sodor is near there, the same can happen over there, so it was nice research put in there, like they've done with…Misty Island.
Percy spotted a strange looking engine coming down the track and thought it was a monster. After Percy's 'encounter' with the 'monster', it turns out to be an engine, another new comer, called Gator. I will get to his characterisation soon. Later at night, Percy was taking the mail train and through the song, 'Monsters Everywhere' performed by Robert Hartshorne, the series' composer, we see many buildings and thing shaped into monsters, which was brilliant done by Arc Productions.
The next morning, Thomas went to the clay pits again. He met up with Timothy, while Marion was digging more rock from the landslide, and was tricked by Bill and Ben. At the docks, Percy was collecting trucks, albeit tired. After bumping into some trucks he ran away thinking it to be a monster. Back at the clay pits, Thomas was still looking for the footprint. But he thought it was a storm playing tricks on him. But after seeing Bill and Ben he thought he might've played a track, though the twins thought the landslide was a trick, providing a little bit of comedy from Bill.
After that he went to the sheds and saw a nervous Percy. He asked Thomas to take the mail, due to him being scared, despite James thinking it's funny. The next day the branch line was fixed and Thomas collected his coaches, Annie and Clarabel, meanwhile James was heading for the scrap yard to collect scrap from new comer Reg, which was unfortunately short. But I hope he has some proper development in the upcoming Christmas episode, hopefully. He created the scrap monster.
Percy met up with Gator once again at the docks, as he missed his ship. Gator told Percy that he must collect some trucks, don't know why they've kept the term 'cars' in the UK dub, from Duck's branch line, GWR fans rejoice of a mention thinking it's the best ever, tonight. Percy was worried that he might be scared of monsters but Gator told him that monsters would be afraid of him which lead Percy thinking Gator's brave and so we're given a flashback of Gator's past, in a remarkable cut out style flashback, feels very picture book style. The flashback provides the highlighted moral about bravery, 'being brave isn't the same as not feeling scared, it's what you do even when you do feel scared'. A great moral telling kids that you can be brave and still be scared of it. So Percy decided to be brave, with a reference to a ghastly S15 episode and take the mail train for night. While James was to take the Flying Kipper, while Henry goes to the mainland with a goods train, an engine getting its comeuppance is great to see again, teaching kids that teasing and bullying can lead to karma.
So after James got a fright from Gator, he fell off the line and into a pond. The other engines' thought it was funny when he returned at the big station the next day. Now everyone thinks he's the 'scaredy engine'. So he decides to get Percy back by shunting the scrap monster into the middle of the main line to scare Percy so he can be the 'scaredy engine'. After Percy's encounter with it, all the engines laughed and Thomas didn't believe him, in an honest way, leading Percy to give Thomas the cold boiler (pun intended). Percy was sad that no one believes him and after meeting with Gator with a beautiful 'Our Tale of The Brave' song by Sam Blewitt, and Thomas had learned that James was the one who did the joke and told James to find Percy and apologise for his action, Thomas talking down to James? Haven't seen that in a while. When Thomas came to the big station, he told Percy but Percy was still cross with him.
You could say Thomas was being made as a villain in the story. But to me this is Thomas trying his best not to make an assumption about the whole monster thing, but trying hard to be honest, when you look at the latter, he was having a difficult time for both sides. Unlike what he did in the previous specials from the Miller/Barlow era. But Percy wants Thomas to believe in him and to be honest it's Percy that should be blamed here. He's blaming his best friend for not believing in him because he wants to be right (Percy). It maybe hard to understand but that's how I interpret it. So Percy thinks about going to other railways to prove that he's brave. However later that night at the docks, Gator told Percy that 'running away from your problems is not very brave'. Another good moral. Meanwhile Thomas and James were heading for the clay pits, after a little funny scene prior, thinking that Percy would be there, but after a ships horn blared, Thomas knew were Percy would really be. So he raced to the docks as the ship left the port. Resulting Cranky to grab the ship with his hook, unrealistic yes but I like it because it's needed.
I usually get comments on why I don't like some of the unnecessary action, like in S5. I don't mind the action unless it is needed rather then just being there. This is needed to showcase, I believe, Cranky's bravery for stopping the ship, despite that he might've plunged into the sea. When I first saw the movie in July, this actually let me tensed and worried. But in the end, it turns out Percy was already unloaded half and hour ago, is it me of does Cranky just love that hour of time, as he says it in some S18 episode. So Percy was at the clay pits, with James catching up, with some funny moments from Bill and Ben and a reference to a S2 episode.
James arrived and after being scolded by Percy, he dared him to head into the landslide area show his bravery. However James' echoing was causing a landslide and after seeing skeletons of something, he thought it a monster and rushed away whistling loudly which is causing another landslide, as the walls are unstable. Anyone noticed Mark Moraghan's little gasp? James' wheels slipped on the rubble and so Percy decides to be brave, prior to that Percy discovered the footprint.
The climax was needed here especially to showcase Percy's decision to brave and his character development during the film. The climax has great suspense and the music really sets the danger mood. I do see more as S3, maybe because it reminds me of a certain episode that is set a the clay pits or quarry. As Percy was gathered up by the rubble, a skull came down and Marion grabbed it just before it hit Percy. I do have one nitpick is that how does Marion know Percy's name? Probably a script error, I have that problem before when writing episodes.
It turns out to be fossils of dinosaur, with Marion reciting a bit of Hamlet. At the Steamworks, Percy was cleaned out with all the dust and Thomas and James apologise for their action, though James would've mentioned that Reg did it as well, the scrap monster. So at the town hall, it was Megalosaurus, a British dinosaur I might add. After hearing that Gator is leaving again, Percy head towards the docks to say his farewell, which gives such a bittersweet but happy ending with another moral from Percy that we sometimes have to be brave to say goodbye to someone and we've all been there before. We're then given the final song which 'Let's Be Brave' from EggPlant Studios, while yes a generic pop song it's very catchy and can grow onto you. While the song is playing in the background we're then given the voice actors and the characters that they've voiced, which is rightfully deserving.
To me this is better then King of The Railway, Blue Mountain Mystery and probably every previous Thomas special so far. Its story has more emotion, more appealing characters and it has that theatrical style cinematography and music. The new characters are great, minus Reg. Gator feels very much like a big brother to Percy with his wise words of wisdom about bravery, Marion is all bubbly and fun and Timothy has his gullible side, hope it's not a running trend for all characters though in the series and specials, Reg though was there for a few seconds, but he was there more as a plot device for creating the scrap monster, plus his persona has stand out as well, his sarcastic humour reminds me a bit of John Lennon, to be honest. The morals are much stronger and easy to understand for a child to learn from and can help kids that are in real life situations.
I will admit that Marion and Timothy didn't add much to the special but there personalities have shone through for a few minutes. Plus yes they don't have a reason to be on Sodor unlike other characters, but as I said in the review, their have been other character that had that treatment too such as Bill, Ben and BoCo and yet they're pretty well beloved characters ever since. I like to see characters given reason to be on Sodor and I wish they did that for those two. Some say Gator didn't have much purpose on the island, but to me he did. He came to Sodor to be transferred by boat to another country, however I think more should've been added to that. Like maybe have the Fat Controller introduce him to the other engines and telling them why he's here.
Andrew Brenner and his team behind Thomas & Friends are really bringing back for what the series were used to be. There'll never be anything like the classic series or the Railway Series ever again, unlike some who can't let go of the past and need to appreciate the effort of the new, but I'm fine with that. As long as any special or episode has a good well written story with morals that are valuable rather then to make money by using it as an advertisement for the toys, which by the way this really didn't have the feeling of a toy commercial, I understand that some fans don't like that but as SiF says, the toy line is the lifeblood of the show. But as long, as I've said before, as the specials or episodes have a good story, put much realism as possible in the stories and making it as entertaining as they could, I'm happy that kids are getting good entertainment from someone who knows and respects the franchise rather then junk they see with no effort put into it.
I've seen the US version of the dub and while I do like the US voice cast, well some of the voices that they've provided, they seem to lack emotion in some scenes. The climatic scene of Thomas at the docks and the second landslide at the clay pits, shows not much emotion. Ben Small did it brilliantly. In the UK dub he sounds like he's really in panic mode whereas Martin Sherman, whom I know has left the series and that his last contribution is next year, as said by SiF themselves, has lack that and he made Thomas sound like it's a normal thing. Plus how the way the actors deliver the lines in the US dub is like something you hear out of a cheesy 80's or 90's sitcom. Kerry Shale's panic mode for James sounds very shallow and bland whereas Keith Wickham gave James, like Ben Small, a more serious panic voice. Sherman's delivery of lines for Percy lacks emotion as well. The scene with him and Gator saying their farewell's lacks sadness, whereas the UK dub made Percy sound like he's about to cry and you can share that sympathy with his sad emotion because we've all been there before.
I sometimes can't stand the US voice for Thomas, James and Percy and at other times I'm fine with them, so it's most of a love/hate for them. But I really hate the voices provided for Henry, Toby (despite not being in the special) and Edward, they sound terrible and nasally. Emily and Gordon's US voices I can tolerate as they sound very normal. Yes I know the UK dub has its own flaws too as well. However I hope the US actors improve the voice acting someday in future.
The animation from Arc Productions is spectacular. The design of the clay pits is much better then the one we've seen in classic era. I actually love the detail of the rain water over Thomas' face, it looks very real. Plus there cinematography is great too. The music, I'll say this, why can't HIT Entertainment release the soundtrack of their specials?! Hartshorne's music is just amazing and it feels more cinematic, especially the one during the clay pits climax. That music would leave you tensed.
Tale of the Brave is definitely my number one favourite Thomas special as of now and who knows what 'Legend of the Lost Treasure' would bring next year.
TALE OF THE BRAVE
IS OUT NOW IN STORES IN THE UK AND US
COMING SOON ON OCTOBER 1ST IN AUSTRALIA