Did you know that in
both shops at the National Railway Museum display more Chuggington merchandise than Thomas merchandise? I would know. I have
been volunteering there every other week for several months. To some this shift may be of little surprise. After all, that
brand has been positioning itself for its whole existence as the “next big thing”, the “Thomas
Toppler”. I guess it's really happening now. Sure, the Thomas brand is probably raking in more dough due
to higher awareness and penetration, but any greater soul has dried up long ago.
an example, look at leokimvideo's stuff. Particularly when he compared the Thomas and Chugger toys. Now the Thomas sets and
swag may be better designed and constructed, but look at the trains themselves. Sure, they may not be accurate, as an Awdryite
might sniff, but compare them with the older, simpler Thomas models, and you will find the missing, and thus inspiring element:
every inch of them is soaked in character. These detailed, multicolored models seem to come from a magnificent world of wonder
and whimsy. Compared with these bubbly, bright buddies, what do Thomas and his friends have to offer?
what about that fabled Island of Sodor? What kind of place is it like, really? Well, based on the simplicity of the models,
who can really say? Of course we hardcore fans know, but who else?
I'm not really
bothered by Chuggington's popularity per se. It can have all the toys and models and kits it wants. But what truly saddens
me about the NRM shops is what is not there. The average little kid walking into the shop would probably not miss it; neither
would their parents. But someone like me, someone like us would notice immediately.
has kept me from being afraid of Chuggington's dominance of the shops is those books: the fact that no matter how superior
their toys may be, they are still, ultimately, a RECENT corporate media creation, with commerce as its ultimate--sole--goal.
It has no history to build on, so it will soon disintegrate like a flash in a pan. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Not at all. In fact, that is what the Thomas franchise has become.
it has always been commercial to a great extent, but what makes the Railway Series so important is that it had a home that
was--just a little--beyond that profit impulse. Unlike so many of the franchises being lauded, nerd-ed, geek-ed and Youtube-d
throughout this great internet of ours, the world of Thomas the Tank Engine did not originate in a boardroom or marketing
department. It was the product of one man's living passion.
past couple months I've seen movies that have breathed new life into old franchises, in particular, Tintin
(which would be a great direction to look in for revitalizing Thomas but that's for another time), Winnie
the Pooh, and the new Muppets movie. Notably, these last two movies were produced by Disney.
What stuck out about them, and what truly enhanced their quality, was their ACKNOWLEDGEMENT and EMBRACE
of the past. I think the core of what I find so...repulsive...yes, repulsive...about how our franchise is headed is the complete
failure on the part of the current rights holders to do either of those things.
that served as tributes to the works of Georges “Herge” Remi , A. A. Milne and Jim Henson respectively showed
the passion of their creators. So did the Allcroft and Mitton Seasons of the Thomas TV series. So does much of the work that
comes out of the Thomas Fandom now, wherever it may be produced. I sincerely doubt that it can be found within the official
Thomas franchise unless serious changes are made. The Chuggers are waiting in the wings. I cannot say if they have more passion
in their stories. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But their boardroom origins give them a flexibility to fill Thomas' missing
elements. And that could spell doom for the franchise.
inspired me to write this was the acquisition of HiT Entertainment and the Thomas franchise by Mattel. Some are cautiously
optimistic about this change. Some have noted that Mattel would be a vastly superior overlord to the Disney empire. About
this latter point I cannot disagree more strongly, and it all comes down to the role of passion.
many, many things wrong with the Walt Disney Corporation. But, considering the type of brand that Thomas the Tank Engine is,
one that is HISTORICAL and TECHNICAL, and aimed at younger children, it was the best choice for the franchise
to be respected on both the global and local level.
put it plainly, the 'Mouse' has more in common with the works and worldview of Reverend Awdry than anything by Mattel, or
Saban for that matter. As I posted in this very thread years ago, Walt Disney was a contemporary of Awdry's, a rail enthusiast
himself with a stickler for aesthetic accuracy in his drawings, if not his writings. Most important, though: the man had passion,
and vision to see it realized.
of 2008 I would have indeed feared owning HiT and Thomas. But like everything else, things have CHANGED.
In the years since, Disney has rediscovered, in some small way, its sense of the past. The return to line-drawn animated musical
form in The Princess and the Frog in 2009 demonstrated this return to a respect of old form. The
release of Winnie the Pooh and The Muppets, with their recognition and
respect for their product's history, did the same for old content.
Yes, Disney did
not treat the Power Rangers franchise well. But I fail to see how this is relevant. This franchise
has its origins in the 1970s with the Super Sentai series, aimed at kids about 6 and up, based in science fiction and fantasy,
and containing cartoon violence with swords, guns, robots, etc. I don't know if this can all be linked to a single passionate
individual. How can this at all compare to the Railway Series, with its origins in the 1940s, younger audience, basis in technical
accuracy and containing little, if any, violence.
Which franchise do you think fits better with
Disney's brand image? This is not a defence of their treatment of Saban's property, though it may be an explanation.
the treatment of Winnie-the-Pooh offers a surprisingly positive picture of a Disney-ruled Thomas. Yes, A. A. Milne's family
has had a long series of disagreements with them, and it is Disney's style of the characters that still dominates. But the
original books have always remained in print; the alternative remained, and in 2009, was allowed to see an addition to the
library of Winnie the Pooh books. And their adaptations have maintained the broad strokes of Milne, as evidenced by the latest
movie, which took previously unused material from the original work.
a shame that the same cannot be said of the recent developments in our own children's book series? In this year where it seems
like everything has changed, especially nostalgic children's entertainment, it's incredible that this franchise has remained
mired in the bad old ways of ignoring its heritage while everyone else who can has moved in the opposite direction. In this
year of revolution, is it going to be our time in 2013 with Andrew Brenner at the helm of writing and Producer, Ian McCue,
pushing for a return to the railway roots of Thomas?
makes Thomas the Tank Engine so unique amongst ALL children's properties is that it is so welded
to its original historical time and place. Outside of the occasional heritage railway, who is exposed to steam engines on
a regular basis? In the United States, most people hardly see any railways at all. What makes the Railway Series so special--and
so challenging--is that it actively engages with its real world context. HiT has constantly run away from this challenge.
You cannot really blame them, they don't know that world. But Disney does. It is relearning what it has forgotten. Can the
same be said for Mattel?
But now I'm offering too
many questions and too few answers. Here's one, though it is in the form of a question. What can be more contemporary than
the e-reader tablet? Guess where else you can't find the Railway Series.
Maybe we at
the SiF, in our second decade, can change that.