With more recent specials receiving better ratings and appreciation among fans, the Thomas & Friends brand at this point was beginning to have a comeback. Not only were older characters returning, but the plots were becoming more crafty. This attracted more of the older fan base and began making people feel more optimistic about the show's future. However there were still a number of changes being implemented that further distanced the brand from its origins. A big one was dropping Michael Brandon and Michael Angelis and replacing them with Mark Moraghan as universal narrator for the show. Adding to that were other things being altered that demonstrated the creative team behind everything was looking for new ways to bring in old and new fans.
The plot to this story has a mix of threads that intertwine into one. With the Earl of Sodor arriving on the island, Sir Robert Norramby looks to rebuild an old castle that had been abandoned for some time. Along with that he brings an engine to the island named Stephen who was one of the first railway engines around. From what's been told though, there's a possibility of the king's crown of the old castle lying around the land somewhere. The direction and writing for this feature was handled by a whole new set of people this round. Directing went to Rob Silvestri, an animator to other films like 9 (2009) and Gnomeo & Juliet (2011). The screenplay was written by Andrew Brenner, a long time fan of the show and writer to shows like Fireman Sam. These were things that made fans look forward to what this feature was going to offer.
What makes the plot to this feature more engaging than previous ones is how it merges all threads together at the end. The Earl of Sodor voiced by Mike Grady is about the second most significant human being aside from Sir Topham Hatt on the island and his personality is quite energetic. There's also some new engines being introduced. Stephen voiced by Bob Golding as the new old fashioned engine is great. His voice is enthusiastic and makes the old timer engine quite a peppy guy. Accompanying Stephen is another small engine called Millie (Miranda Raison) who has her own spunk and will not be pushed around by other engines. Then there's two streamlined engines Conner (Jonathan Forbes) and Caitlin (Rebecca O'Mara) who play the exact opposite of what would typically be expected by such an engine. They are mold breakers.
And for these characters mentioned, they at least have purpose in the development of other characters. Unlike the other specials where there were several newly introduced characters, they ended up not being used in the execution leaving them as background characters. Even Jack the bulldozer (David Menkin) from the sodor construction company returns and is utilized in the plot to some degree. These are the reasons why multiple fans from the classic era returned so they could witness the upcoming strides the new features were showing. The interesting thing is too, these actors voicing these new characters play their roles like they've been a part of the show for a long time. When in fact, they have no other acting history in the show to begin with. Either way, it's impressive to how well they do.
|Caitlin & Connor|
The animation to this feature is also well done. The motions the engine characters make look more realistic in their physics and it's believable. With various people in the animation department having experience in other films like Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil (2011), The Backyardigans, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) to name a few, it certainly feels like the people working on the film knew what they had to do. Not to mention all the great looking sets like Ulfstead Castle, the Vicarstown Bridge and the Sodor Suspension Bridge all look well detailed. Music unfortunately has remained anonymous as usual like the past several specials. Composed by Peter and Robert Hartshorne, the music has respectable tunes but lacks the identity that the older series had so well. The sing-along songs though help make up a little of that, but that's it.
Points Earned --> 8:10