Monday, 1 September 2014

Film and DVD Review: Tale of the Brave

Well, the wait is over. Tale of the Brave has surfaced on DVD here in the United Kingdom. After a stint at Hoyts theaters in Australia in July and a week's worth of screenings in Vue Cinemas here, it has finally been released to the public to watch in their own homes! But how does this special stack up and, more importantly, would I recommend the DVD?

2014. Thomas' 30th anniversary on the small screen. And while Andrew Brenner is focusing on making the 70th anniversary of the franchise a memorable occasion, there is still a new series (currently airing in the UK) and a movie to celebrate this huge landmark for the TV series. But with King of the Railway setting a high bar, can this movie top it and give the TV series an anniversary to remember?


This is, quite possibly, the most difficult thing I've reviewed thus far, but it's not for the reasons you think. You see, a review has to point out the positive and negative aspects of the subject matter. But honestly? This is nigh on perfect. And all the "problems" here are either rather nitpicky or pretty insignificant. Sorry to spoil the rest of this one for you!

Front Cover

Remember how I said King of the Railway's cover was a work of art? I could basically say the same here. It is absolutely beautiful! I really like the choreography of the main characters (even though Thomas isn't really the main star of the movie) and I love the facial expressions on each engine; somehow, they all feel natural bearing in mind what they're about to go through.

I suppose a couple of little nitpicks I would have is that the walls of the China Clay Pits are coloured in a similar fashion as the walls of the Blue Mountain Quarry, rather than the actual Clay Pits. And, although Gator is one of the main characters of this movie, he was never seen at the Clay Pits.

But as I say, that's nitpicking at a fine piece of work.

Back Cover

The back cover... disappoints me slightly. Don't get me wrong, I like the layout, and the sky in the background is a thing of beauty, but why is Thomas next to Gator? I can understand why Thomas is the main focus of the front cover, but why was he the focus of the rear one as well? Especially since Thomas and Gator barely spoke to each other.

There are really two ways this could have been fixed:

  1. Put Percy next to Gator. Not only would it give the real main star the attention he deserves, but considering what happens, it would make a lot more sense.
  2. If they were so insistent on having Thomas on the cover, set it at the Clay Pits and put him next to either Bill and Ben or Timothy and Marion.
It's a real shame, as this cover could have been perfect with a few minor tweaks.

Film (POTENTIAL SPOILERS)

Prologue
This sets up the main plot point of the movie brilliantly. But first, let's talk about the set up. Thomas is away from his branch line for the first half of the movie, yet it doesn't feel contrived (they don't want him away from the branch solely to let the plot happen), there's an actual reason behind it. But not just any reason, it's because a bridge needs repairing. Sound familiar? To me it does. If anyone has read Thomas and the Twins, Thomas was sent to work on Edward's branch line for the exact same reason! I love the fact that the new team are starting to adapt Railway Series stories for plot points.

Not only that, but the twins' heroic actions feel like they're returning the favour for what Thomas did in Down the Drain from the same book. Yeah, it could just be coincidental that the twins were there to help, and the connection to that story could just be me looking too deeply into it, but it's still really nice to think that it could be a possibility.

I also love the scene leading up to the storm. I'll focus on the animation of it near the end of the review, but for now, I'll focus on everything else. The short chase was really fun to watch, and it felt a bit more realistic. No one seems to be going faster than their prototypes were built to go. Because of that, we get to see the China Clay Pits as much as possible. I won't go into too much detail now, so I'll just say that it looks wonderful, and it was a brilliant way to show it off.

As for Timothy's reaction to Bill and Ben's trick, I really like it. Some may complain by asking "he's a new character, why didn't he 'act out'?". To that, I have to point out that we haven't seen the Clay Pits since 1998. And since the China Clay Company is privately owned, Timothy could have been bought and put to work in the time that it's been absent. Also remember that Bill and Ben appeared out of nowhere in the Railway Series, so it seems possible that that did happen. As for how he built up resistance to the twins' tricks? I imagine Edward and/or BoCo (more than likely the latter, since he's been absent for 16 years too) helped him out a bit.

Intro
I can imagine a lot of fans would be a bit conflicted on this intro, mainly due to the music that was used. With the other CGI specials, the music was a completely new track (apart from Hero of the Rails which was an edited version of the main theme). Here, however, they used an instrumental version of Monsters Everywhere. While I do think it's a bit lazy, I'm actually not that bothered by it as the tune does tie in with the main theme of the movie.

As for the animation, it's a lot better than their previous attempt at a film intro. The characters actually blend in to the backgrounds really well, and it gives off a 1940's feel to it. A nice little nod to the fact that it'll be Thomas' 70th anniversary next year (although that could be unintentional).

One thing I did find a bit strange is the Tale of the Brave title used the same text as the other credits, instead of using the movie's logo. I don't think it's bad, just... strange, probably because the other CGI specials incorporated their respective logos into their intros.

Main Feature

I like how the movie instantly picks up from where the prologue left off. In retrospect, King of the Railway failed in this department since it put what should have been the prologue at the start of the special, while the actual prologue wasn't really picked up on until around 7 minutes in. It's also really interesting to see the mix of engines to congratulate Bill and Ben, rather than just the Steam Team as per normal.

One thing I have to point out at this point is that the film has a lot of emotion. Sometimes you're laughing, sometimes you're a bit scared, and on the odd occasion it gets really heart-warming. The first time I watched, I had to fight back tears a couple of times. That said, I still do.

One thing I loved is the suspense that was built up to Gator's appearance. There are no words the first time he's seen, nor is there any narration throughout his entire build up and reveal. There's just amazing music and some stunning animation. I'm going to say this now, but this is quite possibly the best directed film/special that I've seen so far, and the next one has a lot to live up to!

I also enjoyed the references to older episodes. The Fat Controller's reaction to the telephone ringing was a hark back to Thomas in Trouble and Percy remembering his trouble with danger signs was akin to Percy Takes the Plunge. But there's one I really have to pick up on, and that was the reference to Up, Up and Away. Yes, it's humorous, but that's enough now. We know how ridiculous Sharon Miller's scripts were; the fans have already done enough "jokes" on those episodes as it is. Please Andrew, just focus on telling stories and referencing episodes in a good way next time, rather than using bad material to get a cheap laugh.

The scene introducing Marion was fantastic. It was a nice little jump scare and it actually gave you a taste of her personality brilliantly. Her dialogue is great and Timothy's line after she leaves was delivered in such a funny way. I also thought Marion's "chickens" line was really surprising. Not many kids will know this, but scientists say that dinosaurs are linked to the origins of birds. So the new team isn't just doing their railway research, but their scientific research, too!

The next scene returns to the docks, which gives me a chance to praise the team again. Throughout the film, workers are actually heard speaking whenever they need to. They have nothing to do with the story, obviously, but the fact that they're actually doing and saying things makes the scenes feel more realistic, and it's definitely not something you'd have seen and heard with the models (I do still love them, but they did have their limitations). That said, the engine crews are still silent. That's something I feel needs addressing in the future.

The next scene takes place during a foggy patch and, again, I feel like I should praise all involved here. Not only do the shots in the fog look amazing, but the weather patterns and day cycles feel as though the story progresses brilliantly not just on a story front, but on a passage of time front, too! Granted it could have been nice to see rainy shots without them being pointed out (since the whole film takes place during Autumn without it being mentioned, it's not beyond the realms of possibility to have the weather change on a whim either), but I'm still extremely satisfied with how things played out.

And then we come to Gator's reveal which, again, I really enjoyed. The animators and producers really used his unusual design to their advantage. One question though: why is he even here? From a railway standpoint, he has no point, but from a narrative standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Percy has seen pretty much every engine on Sodor, so he knows exactly what each one looks like (as does the audience). So even if the alternative characters shared Gator's fear, the reveal wouldn't have worked that well as the audience would know who it was beforehand, as would Percy. Secondly, both have their own fears, so they would need help from each other to get over them. This is only really laid out at the end of the film, but there are hints throughout that this is the case.

I'll get on to what I think of the songs themselves later, but I personally think they really suit the situations they're included in. For example, Monsters Everywhere was a great way to give us an insight into how Percy was feeling when taking the mail. It was also helped by the amazing animation, which helped convey Percy's thought processes visually as well.

I think the best thing about the film though is Percy and Gator's relationship. As I said, it becomes more apparent as things progress that they need each other to make themselves stronger, braver engines. It feels like Gator is an older brother or a father, someone for Percy to really look up to and admire, while Thomas remains a good friend that he can joke around with.

The interesting part is when Thomas asks Bill and Ben about the landslide. It was really intriguing to see them be so defensive after jumping to a conclusion. It's a part of them that we've not really seen before, and it shows that they do take their work seriously when they need to. It's a very mature moment for them, and it shows that Andrew Brenner has a lot of time and respect for the twins. They feel more like multi-layered characters now, and I'm not even sure that's what he was going for!

We're then transported to the sheds, where we see James come into the equation. And I must say, it's his best role to date. Fans wanted a steam engine as an antagonist, and here we have one. And it feels a lot more natural than Spencer's role, where he wants an engine dead just for the sake of it. James sees how scared Percy is and jumps at the chance of teasing him. It starts out harmlessly, but then it progresses to more mean spirited tricks. Again, it feels real, and it's really intriguing to watch.

It's at this point, I feel I should address the main dynamic of the film: Thomas, Percy and James. I must admit, after King of the Railway, I didn't think it would work, and they'd only be there because they're usually pushed as the main stars. But here, it worked amazingly well. I don't really want to spoil things descriptively, but it's seriously the best dynamic of any special and film before it.

And then we come to the scrapyard scene. Some say it's pointless, but I can actually see some point in it: it's the main catalyst of Percy's belief that monsters are real. The only problem I have with it is that it's too short. If Reg and James actually worked on the "monster" from the ground up, it would have had more of a purpose. But James just claims credit for it later and Reg's contribution was completely forgotten about, which is a shame. As for the scrapyard itself, it feels very Railway Series in style:
Thanks to TTTE Wikia for the image

We then cut to the docks to learn more about Gator's back story.

I like the art style of the sequence; it feels like a storybook which, considering Thomas started out in one, is a nice little coincidence. It also portrays a nice moral that describes the true meaning of bravery, so kudos to the team for that. One nitpick I do have is Gator saying "cars" at one point, then "trucks" during the flashback. I don't mind what you have him say, but please keep it consistent.

After more teasing from James, Emily comes into the picture. Why Thomas didn't defend Percy here, I'm not sure. Probably because it means more that another engine is defending him? Regardless of why though, it's a great role for Emily to have. It feels like she's the "motherly figure" in the sheds, and I'd love to see this expanded on a bit more. Oh yeah, and her teasing James with the exact phrase he'd said to Percy was extremely cathatic and delivered fantastically. If she continues to be handled in this way, she could become another positive role model for girls, like Marion (who I'll talk about in depth later). On a slight tangent, I really liked the reasoning behind James pulling the Flying Kipper. Sudrian engines visiting the mainland could make for interesting story ideas, whether that be from fans or the writers themselves.

The transition between Percy's happiness and James' anger was pretty humorous, as was James' interaction with Porter. They have a really good chemistry with each other, which was great to see again here. Porter's reaction to what James says to him is utterly priceless, and makes the whole thing really funny. It's another example of why the show needed a CGI makeover.

Then we come to the part where many fans will argue the "Kipper curse" is well and truly alive. I must admit, I loved the accident's direction, and I loved that it came just after he met Gator for the first time, like Percy's incident in the fog earlier. Again, it's all down to catharsis. And yes, Gator's faulty lamp was pretty funny, and it also explained why it wasn't on in the fog during his reveal. Finally, I really liked that it displayed how dangerous going past red signals was, rather than it being explained. The "show, don't tell" route really works for the show, and I'm loving seeing it implemented.

It then cuts to a small shot with Gator and Percy being happy, which further cements their friendship. Again, it's a very sweet moment. The scene at Knapford was really cathartic; it felt deserved after James had done the same to Percy earlier. That said, how did Emily know what had happened? Also, how did James get cleaned up so fast? There's no clear transition here, and it makes things feel rather jarring. A few words to the effect of "A few days later" would have helped this situation, I feel.

Another scene that was built up extremely well was this one. There is narration here, but only when they need it. The music and the animation build the tension up perfectly and we begin to feel the same way that Percy does. I also have to say that the Scrap Monster does look a bit creepy in that light, so kudos must, again, go to all involved here.

I have a couple of nitpicks for this scene though. How did Percy's whole train turn around and how did James get back to the shed before Percy without him being spotted by the saddle tank engine? I suppose you could both of them down to "TV series logic" and, in the long run, they're pretty insignificant. Especially since this scene does a brilliant job making you feel for Percy, and an even better one putting his and Thomas' trust to the test. What makes this conflict perfect, in my opinion, is that Percy doesn't forgive him the first time Thomas tries to apologise, but I'll get to that in a bit.

As for this scene, the engines' reactions to Percy's claim are understandable. It's a bit like a "cry wolf" scenario (which is coincidental, since Andrew Brenner wrote a similar conflict for Fireman Sam), and it fits really well. It's also nice that Emily actually told the others off for trying to take things too far, while she, Edward and (in a subtle reference to Whistles and Sneezes, although that could be me looking too deeply into it) Henry try to reassure him. What was also nice is that Percy stood up for himself again and actually stood by what he was thinking. That part makes his characterisation here leaps and bounds ahead of his performance from Day of the Diesels where he was taken advantage of, making the whole thing feel extremely manipulative. Here though, the producers and Andrew Brenner give him a lot more growth, making him feel like a more rounded character and treating him with some respect.

Oh yeah, and I love the transition from night to dawn with the scrap heap monster. It tells the audience exactly what the "monster" is, and the music and visuals set the scene perfectly. It's a bonus that the Fat Controller complains that a truck is on an open line, although why he pointed the finger at James straight away kind of confused me. He hadn't seen James' behaviour up to that point, so it would seem odd that he'd jump to conclusions. Unless he knew something the audience didn't..?

We then see Percy and Gator meet up again in probably the best, most heart-warming scene of the film and, quite possibly, the series. And it also conveys, brilliantly, why there's a co-dependency in their relationship. Gator tries to reassure Percy that everything's OK when the subject of monsters pops up, while Percy zooming across the suspension bridge (that whole scene is amazingly directed, by the way) reassures Gator that heights are nothing to be scared of either - or, at least, high bridges.

Another poignant scene was where Thomas and Percy passed each other. You feel for Percy and, actually, you feel sorry for Thomas since you know, deep down, he didn't mean to upset his friend by not supporting him. But to Percy, his lack of support felt like he wasn't trusted by his friend. That said, I love Annie and Clarabel's words of support. They're not just his faithful coaches, but they seem like his "guardian angels", always there to support him whenever he needs it the most. Oh yeah, and the end of this scene brought a tear to my eye. Again, the music and visuals come together masterfully to create something truly emotional.

When Thomas sees James next, he puts two and two together and realises what had happened... almost. Like I've said, it was Reg who built the scrap monster, long before James arrived at the scrapyard. Had James actually said that Reg was involved in some way, his scene would have had more of a point to it, and Thomas could have confronted the crane before seeing Percy again, giving the character more of a purpose in the story.

Remember the scene I talked about earlier where Thomas tried to apologise? This is it, and it's a true sign that Percy can indeed stand up for himself. And I personally think that standing up for yourself against someone you consider a "best friend" is incredibly brave, especially when you feel said friend doesn't give you support when you need them the most. It's also telling how forlorn Thomas looks. You know he feels guilty for what he didn't do, and he desperately wants to make things right again.

The next scene with James is fantastic as well. You can tell that James feels a hint of remorse for what he did, but he can't really express how he feels without admitting what he did. And, again, Percy standing up for himself showed how far he's come throughout the movie. It's also interesting to hear that Percy wants to prove his bravery. Yeah, he says it's to "surprise you [the other engines] all", but I don't think that's the case. He knows that Gator will soon be leaving, so I think he wanted to prove it to himself a lot more, to show that he could do what he thought was impossible without his new friend being around (that's my theory, at least).

Some might say the meeting between Thomas and Gator is pointless, but I personally think it wasn't. At least it was reincorporated into the story a short time later, rather than it simply being dropped, like Reg's contribution was.

This scene on the boat is also a powerful one. Gator knows how valuable Percy's friendship is, but he also knows that friends sometimes need to hear the truth. His main advice here (running away from your problems isn't very brave) is a lesson that is valuable in life, and it shows how strong of a character he really is. He could have just ran away from the high mountains, but he knew that wouldn't have solved anything. His advice comes from experience, which makes it all the more valuable.

The next scene, with Thomas and James at the shed was well done, too. I just love how James tries to make excuses to get out of trying to find Percy at the Clay Pits, and his sudden eye opening after Thomas asks if he's scared was priceless. Yes, it's cliché, but it's never been done before on the show. Yeah, the models did sometimes have their faces changed in a sort of stop motion style, but here it's far more fluid, and makes it all the funnier. And his rant about being the bravest was really fun to watch as well. Again, it felt more like he was assuring himself that he was brave rather than boasting to Thomas.

And then we come to the part where Cranky tries to stop the ship that Thomas believes Percy is on (due to hearing its horn before he pulled in and remembering what had been said by Percy). I was pleasantly surprised that the ship began to leave before Thomas got there. Usually, in these situations, an engine who chases a ship (or another mode of transport) would get there just in time (Bertie's Chase being an exception), but here, Thomas arrives as the ship leaves, which gives the scene a lot more urgency. I must say, right now (and I'd usually save this for the "Voice Actors" section, but it deserves to be brought up here), that this is Ben Small's best performance as Thomas to date. He's come such a long way since he started out in Hero of the Rails.

Is this scene unrealistic? Yes. Do I care? No, because it actually had a purpose, and it gave Cranky a huge shining moment. Again, the fact that the characters, the workers on the ship, the music and the visuals were allowed to tell the story without the narrator getting involved really helped the scene immensely. Yeah, it was a bit of an anti-climax when it was discovered that Percy wasn't actually there, but the journey up to that point was so breathtaking that I really couldn't care less. Also, it was pretty funny how coolly Cranky acted when the ship returned to the quayside, despite what had (almost) happened to him.

And then we come to the main climax, and I must say, right now, it's absolutely amazing. Some will describe it as Series 5-esque, but I don't agree. I think it's better than series 5 could ever hope to be, mainly because what happens isn't shoehorned into the plot. We've seen what would cause the landslide at the start: the storm and the fog (fog is formed of water droplets, or ice crystals, suspended in the air). And yes, I can believe that 2 days' difference wouldn't affect the stability of the cliffs. Remember, this is china clay we're talking about. It isn't as resilient to the elements as stone. On a little side note, I just love Bill and Ben's interactions when Percy and Thomas pass through.

I also love how Percy's experience with danger signs plays off against James' stubbornness to prove how brave he is. And considering how little James thinks of Percy (in particular, his lack of bravery) throughout the movie, it's understandable that he wouldn't listen to the saddle tank engine's warnings now.

And I have to compliment the animators here. The passage of time progresses so amazingly well throughout the scene, and it's just fantastic to watch.

I thought this shot was rather poignant, as it showed that Percy's belief in Thomas' "story" about the footprints was well founded, and it emphasised, in my view, that Thomas should have, at the very least, stood up for his friend in the sheds earlier.

I'm actually rather surprised that James thought this was a "monster" since there have been two cases of dinosaur skeletons being found on Sodor (Rheneas and the Dinosaur and A Visit from Thomas). That said, considering they were forgotten about by the previous team as well, it's also rather unsurprising. Not only that, but James never saw the skeletons himself, so I suppose his lack of knowledge here was understandable.

From a narrative standpoint, this shot is brilliant as well. Cutting Thomas off would mean that Percy would have to be the hero himself. He wouldn't be able to rely on his friend to bail him out this time around, which raises his heroic status even higher. Oh, and the performances by Ben Small and Keith Wickham here were tremendous as well.

Everything about this part is sublime. Percy proving his bravery, the urgency of the whole situation, and the amazing angles that were used. I was actually pleasantly surprised with how they ended the whole runaway sequence, especially considering they don't usually go down this route for a story, but I personally thought it was fantastic, and it showed how determined Percy was to try and be heroic up until he... well, I'll let you find that out yourselves.

And that, right there, was Marion's shining moment: saving Percy from severe damage. Nice catch, by the way! Someone sign her up for the England cricket team!

Considering the only extremely nitpicky thing I can point out here is that Marion knows Percy by name, despite not knowing it before, I think this is another great scene. It's really funny how Marion spoke to the dinosaur's fossilised skull. It could be because of how it was said, but even so, it's fantastic. I also liked her explanation of what a fossil is, although considering she's never dug one up before, that is kind of confusing as to how she knew so much about the process.

The scene at the Steamworks was really sweet. Again, it would have helped if James had mentioned that Reg built the scrap monster, but the fact that he really did look apologetic made me forget that slip up slightly. What made both apologies heartfelt was that Thomas and James both knew what they did wrong and both looked really guilty about what had happened. And yes, Percy's response was really heart-warming.

This scene with the dinosaur skeleton felt rather convoluted. Since there were no transitions, it feels like they were trying to suggest that it was excavated, separated from the rocks, put together on the plinth and transported to the town hall in just a few hours which, to me, sounds extremely unlikely. That said, it is a fantastic looking specimen, and discovering that the footprint was made by the same dinosaur brought the main story to a nice conclusion. Oh, and the Fat Controller saying "Fizzling fireboxes!" was rather funny. Pretty random, but funny regardless.

The ending scene is absolutely beautiful. I get emotional every time I watch it. I really do believe that it's the end of Hero of the Rails done right. We're left in no doubt that Gator is going home, unlike Hiro's which was really ambiguous. Oh yeah, and I really didn't care less about Hiro's because he was such a crybaby throughout the special! And those wise words by Percy right at the end were the icing on the cake, and it completed his character development perfectly. One interesting little titbit: Cranky was still being repaired throughout, while the crane formerly known as Big Mickey lifted Gator onto his ship. A nice little touch by the animators.

Animation
What can I say about the animation that I haven't already said? It's absolutely gorgeous! One thing I did find humorous that I haven't mentioned yet was their seeming obsession with amphibians at the start. It seems like there's a running theme starting, with Arc including different creatures in each series and film (ducks for series 17 due to Montague's return, and amphibians here and, possibly, series 18 because of Toad's)

Shots like these are just awe inspiring. Sodor just looks so amazing during the dawn and dusk periods. It also feels more natural seeing the railway at these times of day. Speaking of which, the weather effects are absolutely stunning. The thunderstorm looked so realistic, as did the fog.

You can never go wrong with a good night time shot either. Also, is it just me that thinks the frog/toad on James' running board is a reference to Trust Thomas? It's fantastic that Arc's animators are seemingly being given more freedom, meaning they can have more fun with what they produce.

I also really loved this shot of James being lifted out of the pond in broad daylight. It felt like they wanted to leave him there for a few hours while they did track maintenance somewhere else. That or they just couldn't be bothered to get him out before then. That said, wouldn't they be worried about the fish delivery?

This shot is really outstanding, and probably the best way to show how high the suspension bridge was. Yeah, they could have done an angle with the camera actually in the ravine, but you wouldn't be able to see Gator pull up like you could here. And yes, I adore the autumnal setting. It's a fantastic change from constant summer specials.

I can't talk about the animation without mentioning the amazingly choreographed landslide. It is stunning, and probably the best thing I've seen on this show in years!

Can I criticise the animation on the whole? Not really, to be honest. Everything negative I'd say would either be really nitpicky (Percy derailing slightly before he's carried away) or things I've brought up before (rolling stock changing, points in the wrong position a couple of times).

Other than that, this film is perfect visually. When I said it was the best cinematography for any Thomas and Friends project, I meant it. And I implore you, watch this movie when you can; it's utterly breathtaking as far as visuals are concerned!

New Characters

Timothy
I really like Timothy. His design is unique and he has a real charm about him. I also like how he's similar in many ways to Bill and Ben: they're all saddle tanks, their whistles are the same basic sound at different pitches, they all have the Sodor China Clay initials on their tanks and they all have nameplates designed in pretty much the same way. The only difference is that Timothy uses oil, so he can work if the twins can't, and vice versa. I'm really looking forward to his future appearances.

Marion
I love Marion. She's so bubbly and full of charisma and... character! And her final scenes made her really stand out as one of the stars of the show. Oh yeah, and she's a female steam shovel! The stereotypical "male machinery" role you'd expect was turned on its head and actually, I feel, gives girls a positive role model to look up to. Not Rosie, not Flora, not Peppa Pig (I know it's a different show, but who treats a piece of bacon that jumps into muddy puddles as a positive role model?!), but Marion.

Reg
Reg leaves me feeling... conflicted. I love his design, I love what he was built to do, I love his sarcastic nature, and I love what he does in the film. He (unintentionally) builds the scrap monster that leads to Percy feeling scared enough to want to leave. That said, I think his role would have had more credence had there possibly been a montage of him building the "monster" while James collects the trucks, but with the time they had and the story they told, it's understandable that his role was cut down so much.

Gator/Gerald
What can I say about Gator? He's a fantastic character that acts like a brother to Percy. He teaches lessons about life not just to Percy, but to the audience and his departure was Hiro's done right... for the time being. If they keep bringing him back for no real reason like they did with Hiro, they'll really put a damper on this ending, which would be a shame as it was so beautiful. I also love his unique design and the fact that he has a nickname and a real one, which is a nice nod to Duck/Montague.

China Clay Pits
After its mention in Gone Fishing, it was inevitable that we'd see the clay pits again soon after, but who'd have thought they would look so stunning? The animators did an amazing job bringing it to life, and they did a great job showing how weak and unstable the cliffs could be in the wrong conditions. And it was a really smart move to have the first scene show the clay pits off as it makes the audience familiar with what will be the main location of the movie.

Voice Acting
I mean it when I say that this is some of the best voice acting for any Thomas and Friends project I've ever heard. There was so much passion with every word spoken, each emotion conveyed suited each scene and the new characters sounded brilliant. There's nothing more I can say about it, really. Kudos to voice director, Sharon Miller!

Clive Mantle as Gator was a brilliant choice. And it was actually rather surprising that someone who's been on mainstream TV throughout his career, including recent roles in Game of Thrones and Sherlock, would agree to sign up to perform in such a role. It says a lot about the prestige of the franchise. That or they were paid big bucks to do it. Although, considering he actually put effort into Gator's voice (unlike Alec Baldwin in series 5 and 6 for the US market and Shining Time Station: The Movie), it felt like he wanted to be there.

The same could be said about Olivia Colman too. This is an actress who has won three BAFTA awards (for those wondering, BAFTAs are the British equivalent of the Emmy awards), and she wanted to perform as Marion. And I must say, she's absolutely brilliant too! She put so much enthusiasm into the role, it's really easy to see why she's won so many awards.

As for Tim Whitnall, he did a brilliant job with Timothy and Reg. As I've said, it's disappointing that we didn't see much of Reg though. As for Timothy's Brummie accent? I really like it. Considering he's been around Bill and Ben for, I'm assuming, quite a while, it's no surprise he'd pick up their dialect in some way. Again, he puts so much into his performance that the characters feel believable.

Music and Songs
The main music of this movie is, as usual, top notch. And, yet again, I feel that it will go unappreciated and some fans will "redub" some scenes with Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell's music. It's been 11 years since they last contributed to the series, let it go! For once, appreciate the here and now and at least try and enjoy the music we have!

As for the songs? I like all of them, but for different reasons.

Monsters Everywhere was a pleasant surprise. Most fans expected this to be similar to Searching Everywhere from King of the Railway, and considering they re-used Working Together for that special, that's understandable. But the fact that it's completely different is not what makes it great. The spooky tempo, the lyrics, the vocals, everything about it makes it great. And it also helps that the music video uses a brilliant selection of clips.

Tale of the Brave? It's as beautiful as The Island Song. Seriously, I get really emotional listening to both of them. They both have an amazing soundtrack to them, and both have some fantastic lyrics that are sung so beautifully. Again, Tale of the Brave is helped due to the footage that was used in the scene it was featured, as well as the strong bond that Percy and Gator had forged up to that point. Even thinking about it for this review is making me slightly teary eyed. It's my second favourite song of the entire show (The Island Song is number 1, by the way. Thomas, You're the Leader! has slipped off the radar entirely). It would be a real shame if this song never got a music video, as it really deserves one.

I started out disliking Let's Be Brave, as it felt too much like a generic pop song from this day and age. I thought the lyrics were really uninspired and it was a disappointing way to end the film. But then I heard it again and again... and it really grew on me. Yes, I still think the lyrics are uninspired and it feels like a generic pop song, but it's also really catchy! It feels like a guilty pleasure now, and the lyrics, and tune, are stuck in my head.

Overall Film Opinions
Why do fans want the "WWII" movie? Judging by the information we've seen, it's going to take the original concept from Shining Time Station: The Movie and make it more British. Not make it more Thomas related, just make it more British. If Britt Allcroft, the person who brought Thomas to life on TV in the first place, couldn't get it right, why are fans expecting Hollywood bigwigs to succeed?

I bring that up because Ian McCue, Andrew Brenner and the rest of the production team succeeded where Britt Allcroft (and, more than likely, the Hollywood bigwigs will do too, if it's ever released) failed; they made a movie about Thomas and his friends (and an absolutely outstanding one at that), not a movie that shoehorns the engines in solely to market the film to little kids and other Thomas fans.

It's a fantastic plot that constantly knows where it's going. It treats Percy with dignity and respect, not a gullible idiot that's the subject of the "vindictive" diesels. Yes, this isn't perfect, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, as far as I'm concerned. There's humour, some fantastic action scenes, a lot of emotion and, most of all, it has heart. This feels like a massive "thank you" to all those fans who stuck by the show when others lost faith. Yeah, kids won't feel the same way as, for most of them, this is one of their first experiences with the franchise. But even if that's the case, it's a fantastic way to get them hooked for the reasons I've stated above.

I just have one question though: why don't this team try making a theatrical, box office Thomas movie? They obviously know a lot more about the franchise than Britt Allcroft and the Hollywood bigwigs, and they care a lot more about it, too. They've also proven with this film that they could be more than capable of undertaking such an endeavour, so why not give them a shot?
Film Rating: 9.5/10

DVD Bonus Features
These features are brilliant. The Perkins segments have little to do with the actual feature, but they tie in with each other extremely well.

The Monsters Everywhere music video was nice, but since it had been seen on the Tale of the Brave official mini-site before, it wasn't particularly new. What was new was the Let's Be Brave music video, which featured an abundance of clips from future episodes, including Duck in the Water, Duck and the Slip Coaches and Missing Gator. It was a great little video that gave fans an insight of things to come.

The Perkins segments, while unrelated to the film, were brilliant in their own right. The Steamworks postcard was great, and featured a wide variety of footage from the CGI era up to series 17, although fans may revile in horror seeing Wonky Whistle and Kevin the Steamie footage mixed in..! That said, the fact that they mentioned most of the tools that the Steamworks was equipped with was a fantastic touch, and gave fans young and old a proper insight into Sodor's premier locomotive workshop!

For Perkins' Story Time, we were treated to the Railway Series version of Thomas and the Breakdown Train, the story that culminated Thomas' journey from station pilot to branch line engine.

The illustrations accompanying it were brilliant as usual, although those wanting James to appear in his original livery will be out of luck as he has his red livery and his NWR number. It's a shame, but considering the Skarloey Railway engines had their TV series liveries in the telling of Trucks!, I'm not surprised that they altered James' appearance here.

There were also four "Guess Who?" puzzles of the four new characters, They were the usual fare; not too bad, but nothing too memorable. That said, the screenshots used were from newer episodes, so they're at least a bit more memorable than previous editions.

Overall DVD Opinions
This is the best Thomas & Friends DVD this year. The film is amazing, the bonus features are great and the price tag (as little as £7 from Asda) is extremely reasonable. If you're a Thomas fan, or a parent of one, I definitely recommend this DVD to you.
OVERALL DVD RATING: 10/10  

4 comments:

  1. Hell yeah. I got this DVD earlier today from my local Sainsburys, it's awesome! It's definitely tied with TATMR for being my favourite Thomas movie.

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    1. I agree. Except with the Shining Time Station: The Movie part; that was an utter disgace

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  2. Where exactly was the up up and away reference exactly? I don't remember that.

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    1. It's the scene just after Gator's back story; Thomas jokes that Percy has been asked to deliver a giant balloon on a flatbed

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