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DVD Review – “Chuggington: Explorer Koko”

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Chuggington is to Thomas and Friends what the GoBots were to the Transformers, or Cracked (the print edition) was to Mad. The BBC’s answer to HiT Entertainment’s venerable Thomas franchise has its following – there’s certainly no shortage of Chuggington merchandise at Toys “R” Us – but for most children, it’s their second-favorite animated series about talking trains.chuggington

Watching Chuggington: Explorer Koko, a compilation of six episodes newly released on DVD, I couldn’t help comparing it to Thomas at every turn. Chuggington is faster-paced and more “modern” than Thomas and Friends; it’s set in a big city and features streamlined diesel engines.  Thomas’s setting is rural England and old-fashioned steam engines. Chuggington even has a Japanese-accented bullet train.

But Chuggington comes across as a lower-quality product. The animation, in particular, is grossly inferior to Thomas and Friends. Although Thomas purists bemoan the switch from models to less expensive computer animation a few years back, Chuggington looks much cheaper and less detailed than its main competitor.

Even the plotlines seem ripped off from Thomas. (Maybe there’s only so much you can do with talking trains – but then again, Thomas and Friends has been doing this for thirty years with seemingly no end in sight.)

One episode has Koko tasked with carrying some VIP passengers, including the mayor and even a king, to meet up with a tour group, but she ends up having to make several detours. They end up failing to make it in time, but the mayor assures Koko that the scenic journey they wound up taking was better than they tour they’d planned in the first place. Watching Thomas and Friends with my train-obsessed two year-old, I think I’ve seen about a half-dozen variations on this plot already.

Mind you, my little one did enjoy watching Chuggington: Explorer Koko, so I guess it did its job. But since then, he’s remained loyal to the little blue steam train. If your child is already a Chuggington devotee I guess this DVD belongs on your shopping list, but its unlikely to win over any young converts.

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