That's the best title I could think of. Sorry.
The Thomas & Friends franchise has been alive for 70 years, and you better believe that the little blue engine has been immortalised by many different companies for merchandising purposes. Some have been good, some bad, but here are my top 10 favourites. I don't own all of them, nor would I really want to own all of them, but they're the 10 that I like the look of the most.
There are a couple of rules to this list:
- The merchandise has to have been sold and endorsed by HiT Entertainment. So, despite the fact that they're are many excellent variations of Thomas for train simulators, they're made by fans for fans as a hobby, so they're omitted.
- One per brand. Many different companies have made different variations of Thomas, so only one will be featured from each.
I won't be including honourable mentions, so let's just head straight into it!
10. Trackmaster Green Thomas
It's fair to say that Trackmaster has received some very harsh criticism recently, and I can understand why; in their (what seems like) desperation to keep kids of this generation interested, Fisher Price have tried to make the brand more "exciting" by making their sets and track more and more gimmicky. As for the engines? Well... saying they're "hit and miss" could be considered a huge understatement.
To be honest, I think the one that doesn't look too bad is Thomas. Sure, the wheel arch is really small and is much too far forward, but the shape, proportions and number (and positioning) of the wheels is pretty spot on. And, on the 70th anniversary, they produced a Walmart/Asda exclusive to coincide with The Adventure Begins, and it looks lovely. It feels special, and that is great.
9. Turbo Flip Thomas
Speaking of gimmicky toys..!
Out of all the merchandise on this list, this probably has the least detailing. However, its gimmick is actually really fun and that metallic blue paint is rather appealing, making it look unique compared to other bog standard Thomas merchandise on the market.
Also, that face looks really devious. It's brilliant.
Out of all of the variations on the list, this is probably the best detailed, especially for the model's size. Sadly, though, it never really made it outside of Japan. And when foreign retailers did get a hold of them, they were very expensive. A shame, too, as I'd love to have owned one of these sets.
On a slightly unrelated note, it's also one of the only ranges to actually depict Clarabel's guard compartment, which is brilliant. And also kinda sad...
A classic toy that, even to this day, looks really good. Not one that I'd want to buy, but it still looks as good now as it did then.
6. Thomas Christmas Ornament
It's a real shame that these have never made it to the UK, at least from what I've seen. There's always a new design every year, but this year's is probably the most adorable. Based on Santa's Little Engine, the detailing is brilliant and it just looks fantastically festive.
Like I said though, it's a shame they aren't sold in more countries. And even if you can find one on eBay, they cost quite a bit.
5. Bachmann Large Scale Thomas
While I think the HO version is alright, it feels rather dated now, although that could be because Bachmann improves constantly year on year. That and the fact that they aren't sold in the UK is rather disappointing.
The large scale model, however, looks spot on compared to the TV series version. The face is far superior to the HO version, as is the lamp, as is the addition of the front coupling.
If money, and room space, was no option, I'd love to own one of these. But alas, they're huge and rather expensive...
4. Minis Classic Thomas
On the opposite end of the scale..!
It's truly amazing how popular the Minis range has become in such a short space of time, and it's easy to see why. They're really cheap. it gives you an urge to collect them all and they look amazing despite being so small. The amount of detail applied to these puts many of the other ranges to shame.
Even though all of the variations look brilliant as well, my favourite is probably the classic one as... well it's just looking even though it looks "plain".
3. Hornby Thomas
This is gonna be fun!
I've always said that, given the choice, I would choose Hornby's models over Bachmann's (for the most part). While I have a lot of respect for Bachmann's TV series approach (and I much prefer their Edward, Emily, Annie, Clarabel and Troublesome Trucks), Hornby's feel like miniature versions of what you'd see in real life, And Thomas is one of their best examples - even though no E2s were preserved. And while I do like the original versions from 1985-2011, their recent re-release looks even better.
I originally had my reservations about the CG style face, but it actually looks really cute, and I'm really growing to like it. And yes, I love that, at least, the front of the running board has been painted. It lifts the look of the model greatly.
So yeah. Hornby > Bachmann. At least when models of the number 1 engine are being compared.
2. Fisher Price Collector's Edition Thomas
This thing is absolutely gorgeous.
Sure, there are a few details that aren't painted or missing, and the side tanks look a bit short (there's quite a lot of boiler showing), but for me, it has tons of charm. And it actually does feel like a special Thomas as Fisher Price don't make merchandise like this, unlike Bachmann and Hornby who think that applying metallic paint is enough to make their contributions feel "special", when so many ranges have done that for special releases long before they did.
Oh yeah, and it's £15 from Asda in the UK. That, for me, is great value for this, especially when you can take it off the gold coloured plastic plinth and roll it around wherever you want with moving side rods.
Oh, and despite what anyone says, it's die-cast metal and plastic, not wood. I have one, and have been gushing over it since I bought it a few days ago (at the time of writing).
1. ERTL Thomas (2003)
Who didn't see this coming?
I grew up with ERTLs, so my choice may seem to be based on nostalgia or bias, but even as a 25 year old adult, I can see this as the wonderfully crafted, utterly charming toys that Take Along and Take-n-Plays have never been able to replicate (although the 2013 TnP is really good)
Anyway, the only real issues the ERTLs had when I was young was the coupling system, which was really... fragile and restrictive. If the stalk attached to the rolling stock broke, you'd be pretty screwed. And you couldn't couple the engines up to anything; you had to couple the rolling stock.
That's why my favourite is the one from 2003, as ERTL changed the coupling system to a U-hook. While the first toys to use them had really thin "U"s, meaning they were really fragile, from '03 until they stopped production, ERTL thickened them, making them a lot more sturdy. They also didn't uncouple if they were rolled along a carpet which, let's be honest, most kids would probably do with them, meaning they were less frustrating to play with.
Whichever bog standard ERTL Thomas you got throughout the years though, you would always get a quality toy, and it's one that I'll love until the day I die.
Agree or disagree with this list? Leave me a comment below, tweet me (@ChrisTomson2013) or reply to the journal that this post will be included in on DeviantART!