In my house you’ll find several Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirts, Thomas storybooks, Thomas toys, Thomas toothbrushes and Thomas toothpaste. And yet, even though pretty much everything in my home that doesn’t have Elmo or Lightning McQueen on it is official Thomas & Friends merchandise, I had never seen the TV show or any of the movies until we watched Blue Mountain Mystery.
Now that I’ve seen the newest direct-to-video Thomas movie, I do have some idea of what the fuss is all about. The world of Thomas & Friends is completely charming, especially for a child who wants to watch when a train rolls by (that is, all of them) and Blue Mountain Mystery is a welcome addition to any young family’s growing Blu-ray library.
Thomas, a hard-working blue steam engine who runs a branch line on the island of Sodor, is assigned to work in the Blue Mountain Quarry when another train is damaged in a bridge collapse. Thomas jumps at the chance to help out his narrow-gauge friends, but becomes curious about a mysterious green locomotive that hides in the tunnels and flees the scene when Thomas tries to talk to him.
It turns out that the train, named Luke, blames himself for an accident that occurred as he was being lifted off the ship at the Sodor docks, knocking another locomotive into the sea. The other narrow-gauge trains keep him hidden, It fear that Luke will be sent away forever. Thomas then tries to find out what happened to the other engine, and clear his new friend’s name.
Thomas & Friends is set in a world where most of the locomotives are still powered by steam, the train stations and other buildings look like they’re from the ’30s, and the head of the railroad dresses like his name – Sir Topham Hatt – would suggest. The series is now produced with CGI instead of stop-motion animation, but real care went into creating the rich, comforting world of Sodor. (It’s a bit jarring to hear Thomas and the narrator speaking with American accents, though. Sadly, the Blu-ray disc doesn’t provide the U.K. audio track as an option.)
Blue Mountain Mystery is set mostly in a rock quarry, but it still looks terrific on Blu-ray. The animation isn’t close to Pixar or even DreamWorks, but it’s a step ahead of most television or direct-to-video productions. (You can even make out the grainy patterns on the rocks.) A couple of scenes did look slightly blurry at the corners – perhaps a consequence of the running time for the U.S. release being inexplicably stretched from 62 to 64 minutes. There are no problems with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound.
The Blu-ray/DVD set includes a handful of special features: two “karaoke” music videos for songs featured in the film, a “hide and peek” game that might be a bit too commitment viewers young enough to enjoy it, and a short but informative feature on the difference between standard- and narrow-gauge railways.
Now that one Thomas & Friends Blu-Ray has made it into my house, I suspect there will be many, many more to follow. Hopefully, they’ll be as good as this one.