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The Blue EM2


Happy to be here at last.

More Blog Posts474

  • Saturday
    On this day...

    Today, 5 years ago, the 3rd Equestria Girls film, Friendship Games, was broadcast on Discovery Family (and opened in cinemas in the UK). Whilst not as good as Rainbow Rocks in my opinion, it is still a solid entry in a solid franchise.

    And, of course, Jimmy and I celebrate it the only way we know how. Check out our efforts below!

    Read More

    0 comments · 25 views
  • 2 weeks
    Some advice for CoVID

    Originally, this blog was going to be a rant about how young people in Britain seem to thing social distancing doesn't apply to them. However, I came across a video that gets my point across perfectly;

    In all seriousness, follow the rules in your area. It'll save lives.

    4 comments · 52 views
  • 3 weeks
    September is here!

    As to where I've been...

    I'm in the Lake District of England. Lovely place too.

    Sorry for being out of contact, but hopefully next week I can be online more.

    8 comments · 52 views
  • 7 weeks
    Some technical help please!

    I'm trying to upload an image as cover art for an upcoming story, namely this;

    Read More

    10 comments · 109 views
Jul
26th
2020

Film Review: Big World! Big Adventures! · 6:30am July 26th

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed in this review are my opinions, not absolute gospel on this matter.

Well, hello once more! Today, I am back with yet another film review! For a complete gear shift, I will be reviewing the 2018 Thomas and Friends film Big World Big Adventures.

I imagine most of you know who Thomas and his friends are, but the characters have something of a rocky relationship with feature length entertainment. The first attempt, 2000's Thomas and the Magic Railroad, was a box office flop, and since then the studios behind Thomas have generally focused on the direct to DVD market, producing a string of simple, innofensive films that loosely connect to the show's increasingly convoluted canon.

However, a few have somehow received theatrical releases, and in 2017 Mattel, the current owners, announced a massive overhaul of the show, starting with a feature length movie about Thomas becoming the first engine to travel all the way around the world.

The fact that these two have already done that nonwithstanding, nothing wrong so far. Unfortunately, after having watched the film, I can tell you now that it flies off the rails in almost every category.

This film is also a musical, so as per last time there are four points, rather than the usual three. Let's go through them;

STORY

The story is fairly simple; Thomas meets a racing car called Ace who tells him that he is taking part in a race that will cover the entire world. Thomas decides he wants to become 'the first railway engine to go all the way around the world' (for some reason, they feel the need to keep clarifying 'railway engine'), and hops on a boat to Africa, travelling across the globe and meeting with a cast of varied characters. The premise itself is fine.

The problem is the execution; the way it's done is highly contrived and heavily dependant on coincidence and conveniance. Throughout the story, Thomas just happens to arrive at a port where a boat just happens to be going where he needs to go, or (in an early example) is travelling from Dakar (Senegal) to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and there just happens to be a goods train going there (despite the fact that the two cities are in countries on opposite sides of Africa and 4,156 miles apart, not to mention you'd need to cross through 11 countries on the way).

This contrived nature to the narrative is also reflected in character interactions. On several occasions, Thomas will arrive somewhere and be given a job by the staff of that country's railway. Never once do any of them question the appearance of an engine that looks nothing like the ones they normally work with. Further issues are compounded by historical errors in the narrative. The film takes place in 1962, a detail we know from a later episode in which an engine built in 1964 is clearly familiar with Thomas' exploits. However, there are several instances of incorrect engine designs turning up, including a diesel built in the early 2000s, and in one scene Kwayku, an African character, is stated to be from Zimbabwe- a country that didn't exist in 1962 (and quite how an engine from Southern Rhodesia ended up in Tanzania is a worthy question in itself).

I know it looks like I'm nitpicking, and the usual response is 'it's a kid's movie, the plot doesn't have to make sense'. To which I say; the target audience should never be an indicator of how much effort you put in. To quote film director David Lane:

Children aren't stupid and don't like being treated by entertainment as idiots. They can follow a plot.

CAST AND VOICE ACTING

The entire voice cast from the show return, and most of them, such as John Hasler (Thomas) and Keith Whickam (almost every character in the show) give good vocal performances despite the less than stellar material they have to work with. Hasler, in particular, manages to maintain the childlike charm he has when voicing Thomas, even if Thomas' personality has regressed to how it was in season 1 of the show for no readily obvious reason, being once again cheeky and lazy; early on, he attaches some open wagons loaded with fish (I'll comment more on that in the next section of this review) to the back of Gordon's train to get out of work. The writers have magically forgotten nearly 35 years of character development.

Even if the main cast don't get much focus (and this is understandable, given Henry, James, Edward et al are not the focus of the story), at least they have interesting characters to speak of. The guest cast is a mixed bag.

It has become tradition in these films to have guest actors play new characters. Previous entries saw John Hurt voice a pirate in Legend of the Lost Treasure, and Hugh Bonneville voiced Merlin, an experimental steam engine, in Journey Beyond Sodor. This time, the guest voice artist is Peter Andre, an Australian actor and singer who voices Ace, a racing car who sets the film's plot into motion by pursuading Thomas to travel the world.

Andre's performance as Ace is, hands down, the best thing in the movie. He injects energy and power into the acting, and his effortless, bouncy tone perfectly suits a daredevil race car. Much like Tara Strong in the last review, Andre was clearly having a lot of fun.

The other major new character introduced is Nia, and the only notable international character in the film as the other international engines either have one line of dialogue or are steam powered ethnic stereotypes. Yvonne Grundy also tries her best with the duff material given for her, but even she can't beat the fact that Nia is, and I'll be blunt here, a Mary Sue.

When we meet her, she always knows how to do jobs exactly as required, she instantly knows every detail about everything (even the South American ecosystem, which she should know nothing about, being from Africa), and has no personality flaws whatsoever. The irony is that in trying to create a strong female ethnic minority character, the writers created an arbitrary one instead, one who is written in such a way to appeal to as many people as possible that she ends up appealing to nobody. Ethnic minority characters can have flaws, you know!

ANIMATION

This film was animated by a TV studio on a TV budget, so I have to admit, the environments look surprisingly good. True, it's not Pixar by any stretch of the imagination, but it holds up surprisingly well, as each environment is vibrant, brightly coloured, and fairly detailed. This also applies to the vehicles and engines, all of which are modelled off real life prototypes and are fairly close to the machines they are based on even if the proportions are occassionally not quite right, such as Thomas who is noticably shorter than his basis; compare.

Unfortunately, the animation has a serious problem; it is highly unrealistic. Throughout the film, engines are seen going up and down gradients you would only find on industrial branchlines and colliery sites. Early on, Thomas stalls on a steep hill and Nia comes to help (but only after giving him grief for no reason). However, the gradient animated is so fierce that in real life most engines, even modern diesels, would struggle to get over it.

The biggest issue in terms of animation concerns the physics and 'bouncing' issues. The film is full of incidents of characters defying the laws of physics, such as Ace flying into the air when in realiity he would only bounce slightly. Another scene has Thomas doing a loop-the-loop in the Grand Canyon, which would not be possible as the speed needed to clear it would be impossible for Thomas to attain due to the heavy train he's pulling at the time and needing more steam than his boiler can produce.

Bouncing refers to a problem in the more recent years where the characters rock about on their frames (the trucks frequently bob from side to side despite their being no mechanical way in which to do this, and the engines can pivot their bodies about, which is also impossible as the bodies are rigidly attached to the frames). It results in the series feeling less like Awdry's creation and more like Cars with steam engines (which is somewhat ironic, given that despite the talking machines, Pixar went to considerable lengths to get the physics right in Cars).

Additionally, cargo is often seen being moved either dangerously, implausibly, or in ways that break railway protocol. Early on, Thomas attaches some open wagons loaded with fish to Gordon's train. Fish and other perishables must be moved in refridgerated stock to prevent it from rotting, and only a season earlier this had been seen being done (the writer claimed in response that children couldn't figure out what the vans were full of, to which I say TELL THEM THE WAGONS ARE LOADED WITH FISH!). Similarly, in Brazil, Thomas is tasked with taking coffee to San Fransisco. Setting aside the fact there is no railway line linking the two places, the coffee bags are moved on open flatbeds, not in vans which would make more sense.

I already know what most people say in response; 'it's a cartoon, get over it!'. In response I say;

Barring the talking railway vehicles, Awdry set out to write and create a realistic setting based on real life events and rooted in real railway practice, as well as real life physics. In this sense, Thomas and Friends is animation, not cartoon, as cartoon has its own internal logic and approach to reality. When you take what is outwardly a realistic show and fill it with unrealistic elements and cartoony physics, it diminishes the work as a whole and honestly convinces me the writers not only know nothing about railways, they have also never been anywhere near one.

To draw a comparison to another work; 101 Dalmations may be animated, but it obeys the laws and logic of the real world, which makes the sequel all the more jarring as it adds cartoon elements for no readily obvious reason. To conclude; not all animation is cartoon. Cartoons are a specific type of animation, and adding cartoon elements to other forms of animation doesn't really work.

MUSIC

The final issue to discuss is the music. As is probably common knowledge by now, the classic music of O'Donnell and Campbell is long gone, replaced with newer music. Since Legend of the Lost Treasure, the Thomas and Friends films have become direct musicals where the characters themselves sing, whereas previously a disembodied choir was singing instead, providing the character's offscreen thoughts and feelings.

I don't have an issue with the films being musicals, not least because some of the performances have been surprisingly good over the years (Hottest Place in Town from Journey Beyond Sodor comes to mind).

Unfortunately, the songwriting and singing are not as good here as in previous films. Many of the songs are strange (such as trucks from Senegal singing in the style of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who are South African), others are turgid (another takes the title for least imaginative lyrics, as it's just the line 'we're friends' repeated over and over, though at least Thomas shares the listener's frustrations if his facial expression is anything to go by), and others are surprisingly good.

As far as the singing goes, the strongest performance by far is Peter Andre. He only gets one song (Free and Easy), but he really knocks it out of the park, providing a powerful and effortless performance that blasts through the texture to create something truly extraordinary. I had no idea the guy could sing so high!

Most of the other singing is handled by Nia and Thomas' voice artists. There's not much to say about Nia, as her only singing role is 'we're friends' repeated endlessly. The songs in this film, however, reveal something about John Hasler; he's a good singer, as the previous films show, but the slower ballad-type stuff heard here really doesn't suit his voice, and the more uptempo numbers of the earlier films, such as Streamlining from The Great Race suit his voice better. This is especially noticable in Sometimes you Make a Friend, a lament that Thomas sings after he and Nia are separated. Hasler tries his best, but he struggles to hit the high notes and sustain them as they're slightly out of his range. This is not meant as a criticism of John Hasler. It's a criticism of the casting director who thought giving Hasler a song like this was a good idea.

In conclusion, BWBA is a rushed, poorly made, somewhat thrown together film that was clearly made as a cash grab. The lack of care or attention put into production, combined with how the story makes a nonsense of Awdry's wishes and intentions, is emblematic of a show that is in decline, and I'm sorry to say it hasn't got any better since then.

When Awdry penned the following words;

Dear Christopher
Here is your friend Thomas the Tank Engine. He wanted to come out of his station yard and see the world.

I'm pretty certain this isn't what he meant.

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Comments ( 51 )

That’s the problem with a franchise like Thomas and friends. You’ll always get dude and misses.

5322218
More duds than hits at the moment.

Its a stupid movie when reverend awdry created Thomas the stories were way better than this

5322237
Can I quote you on that?

5322256
In my opinion I think bwba is a embarrassment to the Thomas and friends fandom

5322263
Agreed. If it had been a spinoff separate to the rest of the show, that would've worked better.

5322264
The only movie that I loved was Thomas and the magic railway

5322268
I think you'll like this;

EThomas, Twilight, and the Magic Railway
Stoke up the Magic that Lies Beneath the Mountain, and the Lady will Smile...
The Blue EM2 · 21k words  ·  31  8 · 854 views

That moment of despair when Sisyphus watched as the boulder rolled back down the hill.

5322276
Sisyphus being Andrew Brenner in this case. I'm convinced Mattel held him at gunpoint whilst directing this.

Coming from someone who went from this to this and missed all of this, I think BWBA is superficially hated and unfairly judged based on some form of bias and pregenerated pessimism because it's made by Mattel.

This is the post I made after seeing the movie in cinemas for the first time:
Big World! Big Adventures!

And my thoughts remain mostly the same.

When you think about it, the series could've become something much worse when it was acquired by Mattel, I mean just look what they did to Bob the Builder. Something similar could've happened to Thomas. They could've changed Sodor from a timeless location to a big urban metropolis. They could've completely redesigned the characters to the point where they became unrecognisable. They could've replaced the entire voice cast. They could've just dumped Edward and Henry out of the blue.

But they didn't. I believe we're very lucky that the show has stayed the way it has despite the changes, and I think people are taking that for granted and not giving the recent series a fair chance.

But alas, everywhere I go all I see is:

"Blah, blah, Mattel. Blah, blah, Andrew Brenner. Blah, blah, bouncing. Blah, blah, PC. RIP Edward. RIP Henry."

And I'm sick of it.

5322334
Also:

Nia is, and I'll be blunt here, a Mary Sue.

False.

Watch some of her starring episodes to be proven wrong.

And I take it you haven't seen Ashima.

5322336
I'm speaking in the context of the film, not the subsequent seasons.

I have watched S22-24, unlike a lot of people who dislike the revamp, and I did enjoy a few episodes, such as Steam Team to the Rescue, but on the whole I'm not too keen.

However, if people like the BWBA era, who am I to judge?

5322338
You could try to word this review from your personal perspective rather than in a general manner of speaking, lest fans of what your criticising will get the wrong impression.

5322340
I'll tweak the wording to suit.

I never got interested in this film, but after seeing your review, I am glad I didn't watch it, it would've been a total waste of time.
And I conquer on many of those points, the cartoon physics, the inaccurate history on it, Thomas magically getting on a boat to random locations, and the fact that the writers of the show ignore the fact it's unhygienic to carry most foods in open wagons.

You are indeed a good guy to talk to on reviews of films.

5322871
Thank you. This film, and the following seasons, are indeed a waste of time,

There is one issue that I see this as the worse movie, it doesn't have realism I think reverend awdry wanted realism instead of the bouncing

5323182
The old Thomas and friends showed realism where there wasn't bouncing and instead would ace crash into the diesel rather than into the breaking the laws of physics

5323185
Ace feels more like a Cars character, to be honest.

5323186
Yeah I agree and Hit entertainment did a way better job than Mattel in my opinion

5323187
Weird that. At the time we thought Hit made a mess!

5323188
What do you think of hit now compared to Mattel

5323193
Yeah but I still enjoy it more than Mattel

5323187
So... you'd rather have forced monotonous rhyming (50% of which doesn't rhyme), literal copy-pasted writing, blatantly recycling the exact same animation footage multiple times and following the three strike rule to a tee over the simple addition of body language (I refuse to call it "bouncing", as that's not what it is).

5323666
I think he would.

I wouldn't.

5323729
Like I said; superficial hate. Nothing to do with the show itself, just the current owner of the show.

I don't see how anybody can unironically call the Mattel era worse than Series 13-16.

I'd rather have something that embraces some of the absurdity over something that just repeats the same stale formula again and again with zero changes.

5323740
I don't. Whilst (and this is my opinion) I think that S22 onwards is a step down from S17-21, it's by no means a new dark age.

5323745

Whilst (and this is my opinion) I think that S22 onwards is a step down from S17-21, it's by no means a new dark age.

Okay that I do agree with. After finally catching up with everything missed after I dropped the show in 2012, I too am in the ballpark of calling S17-20 (S21 is technically the start of the Mattel era) the show's Renaissance. Matter of fact my favourite special (Tale of the Brave) is from that era.

Granted I'm still puzzled as to why people give the more cartoonish tone and cinematography in the Mattel era a lot of flack when it was properly founded in Series 20; the music stings, the quick close up shots and the Gilligan Cuts; they all came before Mattel.

5323755
I think it was how suddenly some elements appeared, such as engines being able to pivot about on their frames.

5323757
But was there really any way that could've been explicitly implemented?

Their reasons for adding that feature was to better compliment the voice actors.

IMO, they should've done that when they first switched over to animation in 2009.

5323763
Fair enough.

Perhaps add it in slowly, piece by piece? I noticed it got toned down a bit after JBS.

5323764
Yeah JBS and S21 were a bit of an awkward middle ground for the new style. But from BWBA onward it seems much more well integrated and I think it matches almost perfectly with what the engines are saying or expressing.

5323773
Plus at least pivoting is all they're doing. They're not using their wheels as hands, or hopping from rail to rail, or shuffling themselves back up after derailing.

5323666
Ok what do you call it than. Daveman1000

5323808
You know what Thomas and friends had realism and i would rather see that than the damned fucking bouncing!!!!

5323815
Ah yes, realism, with locomotives that have faces and have endured through countless crashes and incidents that would lead to their railway being sued and closed down.

Shame on you BWBA, you aren't realistic enough! The rolling stock isn't even international!

5323820
Its my own opinion so you can respect or leave it to that

5323821
Using the f word is not a respectable way to share your opinion.

5323777
Unlike Chuggington.

5323820
Awdry himself admitted the challenges of working within this boundary;

Barring the fact that the engines have emotions and can express them, I have always worked to base my stories on something that happened sometime, somewhere, on a real railway.

-Preface to Thomas the Tank Engine, the Complete Collection, published 1997.

5324100
My response there was mainly poking fun.

Plus the show pretty much stopped following realism when the HiT era started.

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