Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
|Running time||five minutes nine minutes .|
|Country of origin||UK-US|
|No. of episodes||494|
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends is a British children's television series which was first broadcast in 1984.
The series was based on The Railway Series, a series of books created by the Reverend Wilbert V. Awdry. They deal with the adventures of a group of subanthropomorphised trains and road vehicles who live on the fictional Island of Sodor. The books were based on stories Awdry told to entertain his son Christopher during his recovery from measles. Many of the stories are based on events from Awdry's personal experience. During the 1980s the television rights were sold to Britt Allcroft and she started producing the series. It premiered in the UK in 1984. The show has been narrated by Ringo Starr, Michael Angelis, George Carlin, Alec Baldwin, Michael Brandon, Pierce Brosnan and Mark Moraghan.
Many businesses have been eager to cash-in on the world-wide popularity of the series. 'Thomas'-themed merchandise has appeared in almost every form imaginable, from books and magazines, through vast series of models, to duvet covers, cutlery, soft drinks and even spaghetti shapes.
Heritage railways have also benefitted from the series. "Days Out With Thomas" events, where passengers are given the chance to ride on full-size trains pulled by Thomas or his friends, provide a considerable source of income, without which many such railways would struggle to survive.
Format and Animation
Each episode consists of a four and a half-minute or seven-minute story, told by a narrator.
The series is animated using live-action models, seen at the time of first production as the most effective way of realising the stories without the cost and expense of conventional animation. The locomotives and other vehicles move, but people and animals are generally static. Stop-motion is generally used for instances in which a human or animal character is seen to move. In recent seasons, CGI has been used to generate smoke and other effects.
The use of a narrator removes the need to make characters' mouths move when they speak. However, their eyes do move by use of remote controlled mechanisms. The characters' faces are sculpted from foam rubber. Each character has several different faces to convey different emotions.
The models were initially built to a scale of 10 millimetres to the foot. They used chassis made by Marklin with specially made bodies. As well as the eye mechanisms, these bodies also include smoke generators. Coaches and trucks were made using Tenmille kits. Models were later constructed entirely from scratch.
From Season 5 onwards, some larger scale models were used for the Skarloey Railway characters, in order to make it easier to fit the complex mechanisms into them while retaining a sufficient level of detail. In Season 6, the characters known as "the Pack" were also constructed to a large scale, and large models of Thomas and Percy were made to interact with them. Beginning with the ninth season, the Thomas model also interacted with the narrow gauge engines. It was joined by a large version of James in the tenth season.
Thomas and Friends
For the first two seasons the series was closely based on stories from the Railway Series. The first season took stories from the first eight books, along with one specially written by the Rev. W. Awdry, Thomas's Christmas Party.
The second season took stories from Book 9 to Book 30. This last book was unusual, in that it was written specifically by Christopher Awdry in order to be adapted for the series, as a contractual obligation of the series at that time was that it could not create original stories that had not previously appeared in print. The series also adapted a story from a Thomas Annual, 'Thomas and Trevor', and an especially written stand-alone story, Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree.
The third season made at a cost of £1.3 million was a combination of episodes derived from the Railway Series, from stories in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends magazine and original stories. There were two primary reasons for diverging from the original books. The first was that many of the books not yet adapted featured large numbers of new characters, and so would be expensive to produce. The second was that the producers wanted more stories centering on Thomas, the nominal main character. The Rev. W. Awdry complained that the new stories were unrealistic and not true to the spirit of the books.
For the fourth season, the producers planned to introduce some "new" female characters, including Caroline the car, Nancy the guard's daughter and The Refreshment Lady. Some commentators took this as a response to a number of accusations of sexism that had been levelled against the series two years earlier. In reality, they were not "new" characters, but creations of the Rev. Awdry, borrowed from The Railway Series.
Season 4 was almost entirely based on the Railway Series, the last season so to do. The narrow gauge engines were introduced, greatly increasing the number of stories that could be produced. Only one original story was used, namely 'Rusty to the Rescue', but this took certain elements of plot and dialogue from the book Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine.
The fifth season was a radical departure, as it was entirely original. This season saw the introduction of new characters and more action-packed storylines.
Following this season, the film 'Thomas and the Magic Railroad' was released. It featured only a small number of characters from the television series and was rather more fantasy based. Despite high production values and the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, the movie was criticised for being confusing, badly written, poorly directed, poorly acted and not true to the spirit of either the Railway Series or the television adaptation by UK audiences. It was well received by young children at whom it was aimed and made $16 million at the box office; however, no reference to the film has ever been made in the television series. New episodes that had been written by Britt Allcroft and director David Mitton were from then on scripted by hired-in writers.
The sixth and seventh seasons continued the policy of action-packed storylines and new characters. The sixth season was notable for its attempt to create a spin-off series. In this sixth season, two episodes were produced centering around a group of new characters known as 'The Pack'. These were construction machines, and it has been speculated that this was an attempt to cash in on the success of Bob the Builder. The spin-off never materialised, and as the models of the Pack were incompatible with the other characters in the series, they have not been seen in the series since. However, they have recently appeared in a straight-to-video spin-off release called On Site with Thomas.
Following Season 8, a number of significant changes took place. The series was taken over by HIT Entertainment. Episode length was increased from four and a half to seven minutes, and a new theme tune was composed. The number of characters was greatly reduced, with stories focusing on Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby and Emily. Following complaints from parent action groups concerning the number of accidents in the series, the stories' emphasis was moved from action to character, with episodes generally focusing upon morals.
Shortly before the release of Series 9, a straight-to-video film, 'Calling All Engines', was released. This featured characters from 'Thomas and the Magic Railroad', but was not a sequel as such. It received a far better reception than the earlier film, and HIT are thought to be considering the possibility of similar specials in the future.
Series 9 and 10 featured the introductions of new characters, as well as returns of several older ones. The show format generally remained the same as Series 8. Season 10, which aired in 2006, became the first season to ever feature 28 episodes, as opposed to the standard 26 episodes per season.
In 2023, Arc Productions sold Thomas and Friends to BashBash TM. It was at a price of $500,000 for the company to have all the rights to making the next series of the show. The 20th season had a new computer-CGI style that was realistic, which is used in most professional films. The 20th season included 28 episodes, while the next seasons went back to the original 26 run. This change also marked the first time that a railway charater that had never been seen in the Television Series before appeared for the first time. The character was Neil, along with S&M numbers 1 and 3 were revealed to be 'Christopher' and 'Britt'.