Monday, 5 October 2015

Film and DVD Review: Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure

Well, it's finally here. After weeks of cinema screenings in July and August, and a month and a half of waiting, Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure is finally available in the UK on DVD. And here are my thoughts on it!

It's safe to say that HiT and Mattel have gone all out with the 70th anniversary of Thomas & Friends. With a 45 minute special everyone loved, to a load of special merchandise which has been well received (Bachmann's Celebration Thomas was a bit of a cop-out, but that's another story) and now we have the annual 60 minute special: Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure.

The trailer promised an action packed special with a good antagonist, an abundance of new and returning characters and lost treasure, obviously. But the question is: will it sink or swim?

Front Cover
I'm going to say something now that will seem like a bad thing, but it actually isn't. For this film. it feels like they've returned to the Nitrogen style of "split the cover in two and clutter it with as much information about the special as possible". But like I've said, that's not a bad thing. Whether Nitrogen's specials were good or bad, their covers always made them look appealing, and this cover feels the same way, with the main characters on top and the main plot catalyst on the bottom. I have to say though, those backgrounds look absolutely gorgeous.

Rear Cover
There's no image of the rear cover for the UK version so bear with me.

This cover is better than the front one, in my opinion. The rear picture shows Thomas with the small engines and a beautiful scene of Arlesburgh behind them. It's absolutely gorgeous, simple as that. Although, if I had to be nitpicky, Thomas' face seems to have been Photoshopped as it's off centre slightly.

So the film begins with Thomas and Bertie racing again, avoiding obstacles along the way, making it feel like either was going to win. While I don't mind it much, as it was entertaining, I'll say it again: more needs to be done with Bertie than the obvious. That's why I have a lot of appreciation for Britt Allcroft, she would often try different things. Granted, those different things didn't always pan out too well, but her taking the attention off the railway for an episode or two was a great idea that can be expanded on in the CG era if the team actually decided to do that.

Anyway, using Oliver as an obstacle for Bertie was great. Not only was it nice to see them together on screen for the first time ever, but it was great to see how Bertie actually reacted to some sort of traffic, which is a rarity. That being said, it also enforced my point that road based episodes have have a lot of potential.

And then we see a shot of the Thin Clergyman just riding along on his bike as Oliver passes by. I like how there's no attention paid to it. Partly because the pace of the story would have been disrupted, but mostly because the Reverend Awdry was a very reserved man. He never really boasted about his creation or did many interviews, he was just, on the whole, an ordinary man who happened to create something special, and that's how I see his appearance here. No huge fanfare, he's just there going about his life. It's a touching tribute to the man who created the franchise.

I love the music used in this intro. In fact, I love all of  the music from the film. That being said, I don't think hearing it through normal speakers or really cheap headphones does it justice whatsoever. I heard the music in the cinema first and it was just amazing, especially the intro. That drumming was incredible; it sent shivers down my spine every time I heard it in a screening.

As for the footage? I like it. Sure, it's not like the previous animated film intros and yes, it had little to nothing to do with the actual theme of the film, but it did link the scene before the intro with the one after it really well. Besides, it showed off Thomas' model, and their new glossy texturing, excellently. Also, that little heart in the speed gauge of Thomas' cab is lovely. It felt like a subtle way of saying the cab is the heart of a locomotive. And it's nice to see that, even if the majority of stories these days would make it feel like the contrary, the cab is still an important part of a locomotive.

The New Branch Line
Then we get a scene which gives us the exposition that there's a new branch line being built between Arlesburgh harbour and Harwick. I like that they're giving the lesser known locations from the original map some exposure, and I'm delighted that Arlesburgh is being given some love as well. It feels like the Little Western finally feels whole, but I'll talk more about that as the review progresses.

That said, I do think Annie and Clarabel's complaints are... odd. Why would the Fat Controller close a line that has a reliable timetable like Thomas'? Yes, it's a new branch, which would seem intimidating, but still. It does gives a chance for Thomas to be rather boastful about his position though, which is great.

Magic Engines?
We're then introduced to the sub-plot, in which Marion believes that the small engines are "magic". It's, on the whole, really strong, and using both Olivers to make it happen was brilliant. Yes, I liked it. And before anyone screams "hypocrisy" that I like this and not Thomas and the Magic Railroad, let me explain.

The small engines being "magic" is never taken seriously by anyone bar Marion, who has no real idea how the "verra wee engines" function. Sound familiar? In Ballast from Small Railway Engines, Gordon and Henry thought the exact same thing before they knew the truth. The first movie, however, took the "magic" concept and used it as a crucial plot point, which didn't feel believable.

The sub-plot was also really entertaining. Not just because it's Marion in the spotlight as, well, she's probably one of my favourite characters in recent years, but the sight gags were brilliant. The way Oliver and the small engines act around her is also hilarious.

This scene in itself was a great way to introduce the small engines to the show. Not only is a way to explain their purpose to those who've never heard of their adventures in the books, but it's a great way to show that they weren't there solely because the team wanted to pander to the fans who'd remember them; they were necessary to the story.

The Construction Yard
We're then taken to the construction yard, where we see Duck interact with a returning Donald and Douglas. This scene does little, other than serve to tell us what the twins were doing there. As for Duck's reaction, it just felt like the team were patting themselves on the back for bringing the twins back. It's especially jarring when you consider that Duck and Oliver were brought back naturally, without the unnecessary fanfare.

On another part of the site, workmen blow up part of the cliff to lay new track. There with them are Jack, Oliver and Alfie. I like that Alfie's back; seeing him with Jack again was great and it felt more natural than seeing the front loader on his own. I also like that the explosions here have a purpose, like they did in Luke's New Friend. Oh, and Oliver getting lost is perfectly plausible, unlike engines getting lost.

I quite like the construction yard's design in itself. It looks cluttered and the track layout is really simple. There's not much more to say about it really. Its introductory scene does a good job setting up the main location of the film and, like I say, it looks great.

Silly Little Tank Engines
Meanwhile, at Knapford, Gordon complains about his coaches not being ready for him, as Thomas is still in the shed. The scene sets up Thomas' plot brilliantly, and it feels incredibly natural, especially with Thomas taking so long to actually get going.

It's also quite refreshing that, apart from Thomas, the "Steam Team" actually does very little in the story. Heck, most of them barely get a line of dialogue. I think it's great that the team are expanding the world of Sodor, showing that other characters are strong enough to hold a plot together, not just relying on the eight main characters that have been built up since 2004.

Back to the story, where Gordon teases Thomas about his position, culminating with Thomas taking the coaches and, I'll be honest, a pretty great pile-up. I love accidents on Sodor, but only if they make sense to the story, and this one does. Thomas is so concerned about Gordon's teasing that he doesn't concentrate, causes a huge mess and, later, gets punished for it. Kids gets something intriguing to look at, and those who like well paced narratives get a logical plot point. Everyone wins.

Marion tries to play "Guess What's in my Shovel" on site with Donald, who refuses because there's work to do, then asks an excavator to play. She discovers that his name is Oliver, and thinks that he's actually the Great Western engine. I love this scene as, like the previous one, it moves the plot along well and it's really funny watching Marion trying to comprehend that two machines can have the same name. It could also be something kids could relate to; knowing two people with the same name can get confusing at times.

I also liked seeing Max and Monty again. Sure, they didn't say anything, but they played their part well, and that's fine by me. Fingers crossed that, with all these Pack members returning, they have more, possibly bigger, roles in future episodes or specials.

As Marion leaves, chatting to herself, Stanley passes by and the ground beneath him starts to crumble. It sets up the tension really well, and it keeps the sub-plot in the back of your mind while they go back to the main one. Oh, and I like that they involved Stanley in the construction. Even though he said nothing, and his model was pre-series 19, so no brake pipes or lamps, the team showed that he can be a really good, silent, adaptable workhorse. And if that's the route they decide to take with him, I'd be fine with that, even if I'd love for him to have a few more speaking roles.

New Tank Engine?
We then discover Thomas' punishment for the accident he caused. I like that the Fat Controller was getting sick of hearing Thomas' excuses, and thought that discipline at the construction yard would make him behave a bit better. This, apparently, is the culmination of a mini-arc during series 19 where Thomas constantly tries to shirk responsibility, and considering Who's Geoffrey? and The Truth about Toby, I'm interested to see if it's taken any further in other episodes (if Channel 5 actually airs them..!)

On a slight tangent, I love the Fat Controller's portrayal here. He feels like the father figure that the Awdrys always wanted him to be: punishing engines when needs be, while praising them when they did something good. And no, I don't think he was that cruel to Thomas, but I'll explain further later on.

We're then introduced to the new tank engine, Ryan, who would be working on Thomas' branch in the absence of the blue engine. It sets up their little rivalry really well, but I don't think it went as far as his rivalry with Stanley, where he actively set the silver engine up to fail. Here though, he just watches in the background as Ryan does pretty much everything better than him which is perfectly fine as well; after all, their rivalry isn't the story's main focus.

Re-routing the Track
On the new branch line, the workmen discover that the ground they're working on is unsafe and plan to re-route the track. I think it's great that they added this bit. All too often have building plans gone relatively smoothly, and even when they don't, something comes out of nowhere solely to expand the plot a bit longer (looking at you, Calling All Engines!). Here though, they got it out of the way quickly and logically by adding to what had been established in the earlier scene with Stanley.

Never Overlook a Little Engine
Thomas arrives at Arlesburgh where we get our first song of the special. It's very unique in that the singers are actually the voices of Rex (Tom Stourton), Mike (Tim Whitnall) and Bert (Keith Wickham). I'm surprised at how good they are at singing, in all honesty.

But, for me, the visuals are fantastic throughout. It starts out like a normal Thomas & Friends music video, but then they throw some really unique imagery at us that I love. It gives off a "real music video" vibe, which is great. My personal favourites were the 70th anniversary cake and the shot at the end of the song.

Discovering the Pirate Ship
Thomas' constant "rails first, ballast after" uttering was actually really nice. It was rather relatable for kids who want to remember something they really need to and it's a lot more effective than the repetition between series 9 and 16. It was also nice hearing Thomas hum Never Overlook a Little Engine.

Anyway, the main development here is Thomas finding the pirate ship, which is something no one ever discovers. They just assume Rocky found it and... that's it. I love the whole scene though, even if it's completely ridiculous, especially the flatbed coupling up to Thomas because... reasons. Despite that, though, it's really dramatic and well animated.

Rescuing Thomas
There's a scene with Ryan that... does nothing really, apart from have Annie and Clarabel worry about where Thomas was, even though they were in the yard when the accident happened and they looked surprised when the Fat Controller told him that he'd be sent to the construction yard. So why they wondered where he was baffles me.

Thomas is then lifted out of the cavern, and we can properly see how much detail was thrown into the damage that Thomas suffered. Not much was resolved here, only sending him to the Steamworks.

The main thing this scene does is introduce Sailor John and Skiff. I'll talk about my thoughts on both as the review goes on, but the drama here was really well done; you really wanted to know what John was plotting.

At the Steamworks, we see how great Victor is as a character. He's like a doctor who's wanting to soothe the fears of those who'd rather be anywhere else. I have an admiration for him that he can be so level headed while still trying to keep Kevin under control.

As for the little crane, I thought his role was pretty humorous, but it does make me wonder: if he is so accident prone, why do they keep him around? It just doesn't make too much sense. Maybe this can be expanded on in the future? Or maybe he can be sent to a yard to improve himself. Or, if they are going to keep him as comic relief, can they make it more subtle next time rather than having him say he screws up and then having him screw up to hammer that point in?

The scene itself is there solely to show that Thomas was being repaired and Edward telling everyone that Rocky found something at the cavern. First, how did Edward know that? Second, why was he allowed to go from Knapford (probably) to Crovan's Gate solely to tell Thomas (more than likely) that titbit of information? Weren't there better ways to reveal this? Couldn't they have just just kept the focus on the cavern during this time rather than trying to keep it a mystery for a few extra seconds?

Displaying the Pirate Ship
We then see Rocky lifting the ship out of the cavern, while the Fat Controller announces that they will put it on display at Arlesburgh harbour, while the engines and machines wonder how it got there in the first place. It's a nice way to move Marion's sub-plot along, as she moves on to wishing that she could find the treasure, but it leaves the question of how they got the ship out of the cavern in, what seems like, a day.

Back at Arlesburgh, Marion tries to get the small engines to grant her wish of finding the treasure. It's a really fun scene, especially when they realise that the steam shovel is approaching and Rex and Bert just leave Mike high and dry. It felt like something they'd really do, and it made me want to see more from them.

There's then a scene of Donald and Douglas taking the ship to the quay at Arlesburgh harbour, which was nicely done. It shows off the animation brilliantly and it brought John back into the fold really well.

The Lost Pirate?
Then we get a scene of Henry spying Skiff and John while out on the "Flying Kipper" and becoming scared of it. I'd say this was the weakest aspect of the film as it just seems like an excuse to move the plot along since it's never resolved. Sure, the audience finds out that it's not a ghostly sailboat, but Henry doesn't, which is disappointing.

Henry tells everyone at Brendam what happened, to which Salty tells the story of the lost pirate. I like how everyone just scoffs at the story as though they're getting bored of them, or the stories are just becoming more ridiculous. The story itself does seem plausible, but it feels like a cliché pirate story. Although mentioning the Merchants and Navy was a nice touch.

What I did like about it was the different animation style, which I'll get to later, and the map of Sodor, which completely destroyed both the canons sets up by Thomas and the Magic Railroad and Misty Island Rescue, instead choosing to follow the original placement set by the Awdrys. It makes the island feel a bit more real, and if it also means that there's more world building in the future (on both sides of the Irish Sea), I'll be delighted with that.

Thomas returns to work after an unspecified amount of time (this special, like Tale of the Brave, has issues with transitions) to see the ship and is still rather bitter that Rocky was getting the credit for finding it and... that's all that happens with that plot point. Sure, it's brought up once later, but that's it. Thomas doesn't try and put the record straight or anything, Rocky's just given the credit and that's it. Although, in fairness, had Thomas tried to put the record straight, he may not have been believed and, once he was in the position to put things straight, he himself probably just forgot about what happened, or he was just relieved that the Fat Controller wasn't angry at him any more.

Back to Work
At the construction yard, Thomas takes on bad coal and sees Ryan working there. It makes sense that Ryan would be sent to work at the construction yard, but if Percy could handle the work on Thomas' branch line alone, why didn't he just work there alone in the first place and have Ryan work in either the main yard or on a branch line that needed him? Unless Percy was working with Ryan on the branch line before the accident in the cavern..?

After this, Marion brags to Alfie and Oliver that she'll find the treasure due to her wish on the small engines. It was another really funny scene, especially Oliver and Alfie's reactions to Marion's boasting. I'd love to see her in an episode which stars The Pack, or vice versa. It could probably be one of the most entertaining of the show.

Thomas complains to the small engines about Ryan. The funniest thing here is that Thomas is pulling loaded hoppers under the chute. Was there a miscommunication between the animators and the script? That said, the sparks coming out of the funnel due to the bad coal was really well done. It's also rather interesting to see Thomas jealous, even if the special was retreading the ground that was laid by The Great Discovery.

After a firebox clear out, Thomas goes to the shed and sees Ryan. After which, he decides to sleep alone. The line delivery here was brilliant: Eddie Redmayne did a great job portraying Ryan's kind, welcoming nature while John Hasler did well inflecting how jealous Thomas was.

Finding the Treasure Map
Thomas then finds Sailor John and Skiff looking around the cavern for the treasure. It's a great way to introduce the two characters properly, although it's a bit of a shame John's intentions weren't revealed. In fairness, had he done so here, he probably wouldn't have been able to keep up his charade for as long as he did had he revealed what he wanted to do there and then. But it would have been interesting to know more later on, at a similar moment where he started to become more openly antagonistic.

John enlists Thomas to lower him in to the cavern while we learn about Skiff. It's rather interesting that he doesn't like putting his face underwater even though he's a boat. Considering kids might not like it either, he could be relatable to them. It will be interesting to see if that's used as a plot device in a future episode.

As the sun rises, they realise that Skiff can't get John home, so Thomas has to push them. How that's possible, I don't know, but my biggest problem here is the transition. When is "tomorrow night"? Do they count "tomorrow" as 6am on a certain day? Or did they just mean they'd continue late the next night? It's really confusing. That said, the animation really shines here. It's just stunning.

That said, the scene does give us a gorgeous overhead shot of Arlesburgh harbour. It looks like a proper seaside town. I'm not sure how much research went into its design, but the effort really shines. A brilliant job by all involved!

The Dynamite
Ryan, who saw Thomas out with Skiff earlier, has his suspicions, and confronts the blue engine about what he saw. He then takes on coal from the hopper that Thomas used the day before to collect a train from the docks. It's a very interesting scene that shows how petty Thomas is due to his jealousy of the new tank engine. It's also rather natural how Thomas convinced Ryan that he was dreaming, so as not to get into even more trouble.

Oliver says that they're waiting for dynamite, and Marion suggests that he makes another wish to "turn into an engine again". The scene is humorous, and it's really great that the consequences of the main plot have a knock on effect on the sub-plot.

Ryan returns to the construction yard with the dynamite and sets it alight. OK, how was it only just set alight there and then? Ryan's steam flows nowhere near the trucks at that moment in time and it seems like a really long, plot convenient wait for the sparks that were shooting out along the way to cause the dynamite to set alight at that precise moment. Also, and here's the big one: why was that dynamite uncovered? Yes, I know it was for plot purposes, but are the workmen really that stupid that they'd forget to cover it up before Ryan left?

In fairness, it does lead to a pretty humorous sequence between Marion and The Pack, and a really dramatic scene with Thomas, Ryan and the dynamite. And before anyone says anything, I can completely understand why the Fat Controller would drop everything to scold Thomas. From his point of view, it seemed like Thomas wanted to blow Ryan up.

And why did he not stop to find out what really happened? Maybe because Thomas started with "it's really not my fault"?, like he'd been doing for the entire film? He probably just thought it would be another excuse. And considering he was, presumably, going back to Knapford - or somewhere else of importance - for a meeting, it wouldn't have surprised me if he didn't have the time to find out what really happened.

Finding the Treasure
As the Pack sets off for home, Marion digs up a chest. It's fairly obvious here that it's the treasure chest as, well, it looks like one. But at least the animators did try and cover it up as best they could to try and subvert expectations.

We Make a Team Together
That night (or early the next morning, it's hard to tell with the confusing narrative transitions), Thomas meets up with John and Skiff again to search for the treasure. Then there's a montage of them trying to find it to the second new song: We Make a Team Together. While it is a good one, I don't think this version of it is as good as the one at the end of the film, which felt more like a real anthem than just a place-holder for a montage. The montage itself is really good. There are some really good sight gags, especially the reference to Titanic.

After the montage, John insinuates that Thomas may have already found the treasure behind his back. While it's rather predictable that John would do this, it's still a tense scene that makes you wonder what he'll do next. And it also shows that Skiff may actually being used against his will now as he looks sad when he leaves. What's slightly weird is that John only thought about using an oar to make Skiff move now rather than earlier. Although, in fairness, Thomas was willing to help earlier, so he had no real reason to think about using an oar.

A short while later, Thomas bumps into Marion and discovers that she found the treasure as it falls out of her bucket. Like I've said, it's great that the two plots intertwined at points; it makes the film itself feel more whole. But it's still a relatively cliché plot point for this kind of story.

Later, Thomas and John have an intense confrontation. It's probably one of Thomas' best moments as a character for quite some time. It also shows that, while Thomas can be cheeky, he can be a real badass when he needs to be, and stand up for what's right (by making himself look good, unlike Day of the Diesels where he sounded as bad as the diesels did up to the plot's resolution). Also, showing how apologetic Skiff was when Thomas pushed him out of the way demonstrated how much of a sympathetic character he was. He was lied to by John, someone he thought he could trust, and it made you want to hug the poor little boat. But that could just be me..!

Keeping the Treasure Safe
Thomas takes passes through Knapford (notice a small cameo by Rosie) and overhears the Fat Controller's plans to keep the treasure chest safe in his safe overnight. I'll be honest, that was the only joke that made me groan. It was rather cringe-worthy, in my opinion.

Thomas and Ryan then reconcile their differences. It was a nice way to end their jealousy arc, and it showed that, despite the fact that the Fat Controller (even though he had every reason not to) wouldn't listen to his side of the story, Thomas was still loyal and determined to do the right thing, which is admirable. Maybe by that point, he knew that he shouldn't try and excuse what had happened and just wanted to be, in the Fat Controller's eyes, really useful again?

Thomas goes to Knapford, where John and Skiff arrive to find the treasure. The question here is how John knew where the treasure was. Yeah, Thomas told John that the Fat Controller had it, but he never said where it was being kept. Maybe John was a resident of Sodor or maybe he knew the Fat Controller personally. It's made clear in his biography on the official website, but it's never really referenced in the film; he just enters the plot and everyone else has to fill in the gaps.

The Obligatory Chase for the Treasure
John blows the safe door off (how the chest was left intact is beyond me; it's made of wood, after all) and sets off with Skiff. Thomas follows in hot pursuit, leading to a close call with Gordon. On a side note, I like how Thomas says "Express coming through" earnestly here after saying it cheekily at the start of the film, a subtle reference to Thomas and the Breakdown Train where he said "hurry, hurry, hurry!" earnestly after saying it in a cocky manner earlier in the Thomas the Tank Engine book. This was the only instance of "wrong roading" throughout the film, which I wouldn't mind if it hadn't been for Thomas and Skiff getting onto the right track seconds later without any points being seen!

Skiff's then attached to the pirate ship and dragged along to try and make a faster get away. I can understand why they did this: more surface area for the wind would possibly equate to more speed. However, how did the ship stay where it was long enough for John and Skiff to get to it? Also, how did Skiff get up the the hill? And third, how did they get the ship from Arlesburgh harbour to the outskirts of either Haultraugh or Bluff's Cove without a) anyone noticing and b) without any assistance?

They soon pass Ryan, who runs away, and the small engines, who push some trucks off the ballast chute (where the buffers disappeared to, I don't know) with one getting caught on the ship's flatbed... somehow. I would criticise the contrivance and the convoluted nature of it all, but it showed how gutsy the small engines were, which was fantastic. It also showed how well they worked as a team.

Ryan then finishes the job of stopping the pirate ship by pulling it over. How it happened was completely stupid and convoluted, especially considering the rope magically hooked onto Ryan's buffer, but it was still a really dramatic, fun scene to watch, and it showed that Ryan could be just as brave as Thomas.

Thomas continues to chase John down. John tries to stop him with a shovel, the anchor and some dynamite, but fails each time. The chase ends with both falling in the sea. It's a brilliantly done scene by the animators and the cast. Sore, how Skiff ended up in the water was rather convoluted, but it doesn't detract from the excellent chase, which was one of the best of the series.

The heavy waves then tip Skiff, John and the treasure over and underwater. Watching the treasure sink like that wasn't anything you hadn't seen before if you've watched enough films, but it was still well animated and John's reactions were great. Although how Skiff tipped over with his mast up I don't know. It also showed how menacing John was, threatening to flat out kill Skiff should he disobey. That's rather dark, but it's done in such a way that kids probably won't know what John's true intention was.

I'm rather surprised that they featured the police and actually have John arrested by the end of it. I know the police was featured in Thomas in Trouble and a couple of Railway Series stories, but considering how kid friendly the show is these days, it's a nice surprise that they'd take the realistic approach. It was also good to see Captain do something again.

Thomas and the Fat Controller have their heart to heart and I thought it was really sweet. Yeah, the Fat Controller didn't apologise for jumping to the wrong conclusions with the dynamite, but the speech he did make felt really genuine. It was also nice how Ryan put in a good word, showing that they really were good friends after all that had happened.

Opening the New Branch Line
The branch line is soon built, and Marion's sub-plot ends when she sees both Olivers together. Whether she still thinks the small engines are magic remains to be seen, but seeing both Olivers put her to rights when she thought that there couldn't be two Olivers was really entertaining.

As for the branch line itself, we're told that Ryan will handle the goods and Daisy the Diesel Rail-Car will handle the passengers. It was a great way to reveal what to expect in the future, and Daisy and Ryan's dynamic should be interesting.

To end the special, we're given a reprise of We Make a Team Together as the parade of engines travel along the new line. Having Marion and the Pack raise their buckets in a kind of salute was a nice touch, and the song was much better here. As I said earlier, it feels far more special here. It feels like an anthem, and it was a fantastic way to end the film. Well, that and the sea divers finding the treasure, that montage of Thomas and his friends (even though Salty dissolved through the trucks he was shunting) and the lovely fireworks display at Arlesburgh harbour with Thomas and Skiff looking on at the end of the quay.

This has probably some of the best animation of the show. It's absolutely beautiful. The lighting is fantastic and the models look gorgeous now that they've been made glossy.

Their alternate styles for Never Overlook a Little Engine were excellent. They made it feel like a proper music video, and a lot more interesting to look at than if they used the realistic style that they used to animate the rest of the film and all of the episodes.

The storybook style aesthetic for Salty's story was great as well. The actual animation of it was fairly simplistic, but it did the job of telling the story really well.

And yes, the illustration-style snapshots shown through the end credit sequence were lovely. It was a nice tribute to where the show came from (one of many in the film, in fairness). They're visually appealing and they capture Loraine Marshall's style well, which makes me wonder if the team called her to Canada for guidance on them.

That said, the animation isn't perfect. The usual goofs of things disappearing are still there, but the most annoying one is Rex's bogie constantly disappearing. They really need to sort this out soon; they don't usually have an issue with wheels disappearing (the only other time I remember this happening is with Annie at Ffarquhar in The Adventure Begins) and seeing this happen is incredibly distracting.

There were also one or two dubbing errors as well. It's probably due to a last minute script change, but it's still a bit distracting.

New Characters
My new favourite antagonist. By far. PT Boomer probably would have been threatening, but considering his motivation to destroy a universe was solely because he couldn't get into a woman's pants (I'm not kidding), his motivations are ridiculous. Diesel 10's, in the final version was also pretty stupid: destroying the universe would have also killed himself. Meanwhile, Spencer would have gladly killed an engine he didn't know for absolutely no reason and Diesel's antagonistic role in Blue Mountain Mystery felt shoehorned.

Although Diesel 10 was written better in Day of the Diesels and James was brilliant in Tale of the Brave, John was fantastic, if a bit clichéd with the turn near the end. Also, he had little motivation apart from being a pirate, which was a shame. He was, however, extremely threatening and brilliantly voiced by John Hurt. Seriously, who'd have thought that we'd get someone as high calibre as John Hurt working on the show? On a side note, keep up the cancer fight Sir, here's hoping you manage to kick its butt soon.

Here's a spoiler: I now have a new number 2 favourite character. Granted, the change of personality between Amazon's description for him and the final draft of the film was disappointing, but what we got instead was still really nice. Sure, he's a bit like Stanley with his happy-go-lucky nature, it's also shown that he has flaws, chief among which being his lack of bravery, which makes him feel a bit more rounded compared to Stanley.

Not only that, but his design is a lot more real than Stanley's, being based solely on a GNR N2, a really nice design. As for his livery, I don't care. It reminds me of Cadbury's chocolate, one of my favourite brands. Also would you really want another green engine? Realistic it may be, but the TV series has kept its engines' liveries as eye catching and unique as possible, and Ryan is no exception. Besides, if we wanted "realistic" liveries for every engine, Henry would be black, Donald and Douglas blue, Duck and Oliver a darker green, Emily a lighter green, Bill and Ben would be green with yellow lining and the Skarloey Railway engines would be either be red or green. You can't have one rule for one engine and a completely different one for the rest of them.

With all that off my chest, Eddie Redmaayne delivers a great performance for Ryan. I've not seen him in any other projects, but if he was as good, or better, in The Theory of Everything as he was here, he deserved that Oscar win earlier this year.

This little guy is one of the most sympathetic characters to be produced in quite some time. You always wanted him to get away from Sailor John in the end, and seeing him with his Railboat Tours livery in one of the final scenes of the movie was so satisfying. It's going to be interesting to see how that works out in future episodes.

But then we get to his voice actor: Jamie Campbell Bower. I'm going to have to eat humble pie here. I thought that, because of his role in Twilight, he would've been pretty bad, since those films are terrible. But... his voice made the character as endearing as he was. This is, by far, his best role that I've seen him perform for, and I really hope he stays on to voice Skiff more in the future.

Who'd have thought that after 20 years we'd see "new" characters that originated from the Railway Series (I don't count Glynn since coffee pots were only mentioned in reference material, rather than seen in actual Railway Series books)? Their appearance also showed that the CG makeover was necessary. The model crew struggled with three gauges of models (standard, narrow and Pack), and considering how small the small engines are, the electronics needed for them would have made their inclusion nigh on impossible. Because of this, the Little Western didn't seem complete.

As for their appearance, I like it. Like I said, it was very much necessary, otherwise the line probably wouldn't have been built. Unfortunately, their personalities, as individuals and as a trio, don't really shine too much, but there are some good moments with them and they do tease each other once or twice, so they're not completely neglected. I do hope we see more from them in the future, though; it would be a shame if they, and the narrow gauge railway for that matter, only get two or three episodes per series.

Their renders are fantastic. I probably would have liked them to take more inspiration from their real life bases as they have more pipework and other details, but I also like that they stuck to Railway Series illustrations like the original model crews did when building the character models for series 1-4. I also like that their wheels are the same colours as their bodies. It suits River Mite (Mike's basis) and it suits these three.

Their voices are great as well. Keith Wickham, even though he's practically using his normal voice, is still a good fit (even though I'd have thought Bert would be the youngest engine as he was built the latest of the original three).

Tom Stourton is brilliant as Rex. He's probably the best of the three; it suits Rex's personality, and age, to a tee.

Mike's voiced by Tim Whitnall, which is pretty easy to tell as his voice is so recognisable and there's not much range to it. That said, it's still a good fit for Mike, since they're making him the oldest of the three.

Returning Characters
Despite my moaning about them getting that fanfare-y scene that re-introduced them, I'm really glad they're back. And it was very clever bringing them back here as their sizes made them two of the very few tender engines that could have helped the construction.

I love the added detail that Arc has given them, even if some parts (especially the tender) have been shrunk a bit. The accurate funnel is a nice touch as are the added rivets. Putting the nameplates back on their smokeboxes feels much more realistic than having them in the middle of their boilers. I'm also glad that they kept their black liveries. Yes, for accuracy, I'd have preferred the NWR blue, but they stick out a lot more in their black liveries.

Joe Mills does an excellent job voicing both of them, too. His Scottish accent is really convincing. I hope we get to see more of the twins, and hear more from Joe's voices for them, soon.

There's no doubt about it: Daisy was only really added so that they could set up the Harwick branch line for future episodes. But, in all honesty, I don't mind that. It did make sense to reveal that information in the opening ceremony so viewers, and those at the ceremony, would know what to expect in the future.

As for her purpose in the series now, I think it's a brilliant move. Say what you want about the transfer, but on the Ffarquhar branch line, she was constantly overshadowed. In the Railway Series, she only really had two stories to herself while the rest went to the others with her being forgotten about. Even on TV, she was only used as either set dressing or for episodes she starred in. She was completely replaced in Mavis for no reason and while she was in Calling All Engines!, nothing ever came from that return. So giving her a branch line with only one other engine was a great way to have her play more of a part on the railway and in the series as a whole. She'll have Ryan to play off of, which could lead into an interesting dynamic, and she could have the Little Western engines (and, maybe, the small railway?) to interact with as well, meaning there's far more story potential for her now than there's ever been.

I also love her render, especially her face. I'll be honest, I hated her overly made up face in the model era; it's like they wanted to disguise how much it looked like BoCo's by turning her into a really cheap prostitute on wheels. Now though, she looks very pleasant on the eye. The other additions are great too, especially the white buffers being kept, but why the brake pipe faces upwards now I don't know. Why there's only one I really don't know. And I probably would have liked her headboard to actually show the locations that she'll be stopping at, but hey, she still looks great.

Hearing Teresa Gallagher voicing her though... was kind of disappointing. Don't get me wrong, she did a great job, and it may mean she will get more than one episode in the future, but she's like the Keith Wickham for the female members of the cast, only Teresa practically voices every single one. I wouldn't have minded if Rebecca O'Mara (she did do a great voice for one of the slip coaches) or Maggie Ollerenshaw had a shot at voicing her for more variety. But like I say, Teresa is fine as well, and it does increase the chances of her appearing more often.

I'm so glad these two were some of the first Pack members to be brought back. Oliver was a great gentle giant type character while Alfie was a fun little guy who got on with the job, yet was still rather self-conscience of his size. He was one of the most rounded characters for me, and he had a relatable personality. Now though, there's more to them since their faces are animated, and they were pretty funny throughout, especially when paired with Marion.

Their looks are... well, practically like their model series counterparts, only with a few more realistic parts here and there. They look brilliant.

Nathan Clarke Brown's voice for Alfie is fantastic. It sounds slightly more mature than I expected, but it still sounds great. It's a bit of a shame that he didn't have any more lines than he did, but at least he wasn't forced into having so many that it took away from the story.

As for Oliver? He's voiced by Tim Whitnall. In fairness, he did put in some effort by giving the excavator an Irish accent, but his normal voice still shines through regardless. That said, Oliver still sounds really good, and the effort is still there.

It's a bit of a shame that these two said nothing, but I'm glad they weren't there for no other reason than because fans wanted them back which, from what I can tell, probably isn't true as I never really saw fans clamouring for their return. They did a job and did that job well. And they look fantastic. Here's hoping that they're used in the future; with my constant wanting of more road-focused episodes, these two would be brilliant characters to feature in one or two of them. Heck, they could build a rivalry with an engine; there's quite a bit of potential there!

Voice Acting
Even though Annie and Clarabel's voices were swapped once or twice, the rest of the voice cast did a brilliant job. Even though Toby didn't say much, Rob Rackstraw did an excellent job with him here, and if The Truth About Toby is any further indication, he'll prove to be the perfect replacement for Ben Small as time goes on.

It came as quite the surprise knowing that this would be Keith Wickham's final outing as Percy. He's done a brilliant job with the character over the years, even if he did sound a bit nasally at points. While Nigel Pilkington has proved himself to be a worthy successor to voice the character, I'll always appreciate Keith for being the first to properly bring the little green engine to life.

But the stand out performance was, bar none, John Hasler as Thomas. I've said in my Adventure Begins and Who's Geoffrey? reviews that he's my favourite performer of the character, and it was this performance that consolidated that opinion. Every word that was spoken was given the right inflection and Thomas' showdown with John was probably one of his most memorable moments because of Hasler's line delivery. He's just fantastic.

I love that they were able to get a live orchestra to perform the music for this film. It made it feel unique, and they did an excellent job with each theme. There's not much more to say about it, really. It just fits brilliantly.

Final Thoughts (Film)
This is my favourite special so far. While Tale of the Brave had more character moments and heart, this had the much stronger, and better, story. Even though Henry's sub-plots was solely used to move the main plots along and was given no closure, the other two were brilliant. The pacing was great and the action was top notch. Everything else I mentioned was either nitpicky or borderline inconsequential.

It, again, calls into question why Thomas & Friends needs another theatrical film when these 60 minute offerings present as much quality, high enough stakes and as much action as a film with an extra 30 minutes could, if not more.
Film Rating: 9.5/10

Bonus Features
The DVD itself... lacks in the bonus features department. There are four Guess Who? puzzles featuring the new characters, as well as the Scottish Twins, and music videos for the songs in the film, but that's about it.

As usual, the presentation is excellent. If you decide to go HD through iTunes, it'll be even better, if the cinema screenings that I went to are anything to go by.

The RRP for this DVD is around £7.99, as that's what most retailers, and iTunes, are selling it at. Asda, however, are selling it for £7, so if you want to save yourself 99p, that's probably the best place to go. If you want it in HD, however, iTunes is selling that version for £1 extra: £8.99. It's a bit of a shame this release didn't get the Blu-ray treatment here; it deserves it.

Final Thoughts (DVD)
This DVD is the second best of the year. If it had slightly better bonus features, it probably would have bested The Adventure Begins. That said, the special itself is worth the price you'll pay as it's just that good. And, since it's more readily available than TAB, being released in all retailers nationwide rather than being an exclusive in one chain, you'll probably have a better chance of getting this for your offspring. I highly recommend you do so.