The venerable British children’s series Thomas and Friends has been a consistently high quality children's program since its inception. The train-themed show has also spawned a renewed interest in model trains. Already into its 12th season, the latest DVD of Thomas and Friends adventures is Engines & Escapades.
I know as an adult I couldn’t review this on its own. I needed some experienced help, so I recruited my two daughters. My five-year old made it about 1/2 way through the first episode only to ditch it for a Disney Princesses DVD. However, my 2 year-old daughter was more receptive, laughing and pointing at the TV and sitting through most of the disc. So from my super-stringent scientific study I have concluded that this DVD is good for 2-3 year olds, but I also know that many of the boys in my older daughter’s pre-K class are big fans of Thomas. Another important observation was that I was able to sit through this DVD with ease. Escapades is not SpongeBob-hip, but its not Teletubbies-cringe inducing either.
The episodes on this release are part of the Season 11 crop of shows, but these six were never aired on television, which makes them an essential addition for any young Thomas fan. They are narrated by actor Michael Brandon, who joins the esteemed list of former Thomas narrators, including Ringo Starr and Alec Baldwin. The DVD also features a music video for the kids to sing along with.
The episodes introduce a few new trains and trucks to the show. In fact, Thomas rarely appears in these shows, leaving most of the action to a varied cast of supporting characters. Each episode has a life lesson for the viewer. Not heavy-handed in its approach, the underlying messages in the show are handled well. In “Duncan Does It All,” Duncan the engine tries to do everyone’s job to show off his skills, but fails to complete any of them. The importance of keeping your word is the moral of this episode. “Cool Truckings” introduces Madge the snub-nosed truck, and her realization that being responsible and not reckless is the right way to act as she tries to transport coal across the island of Sodor following a snow storm. “Ding-A-Ling" brings the red-hot green message to the young tykes of the world. Recycling is the issue here and kids learn the importance of not wasting resources and trying to reduce the amount of garbage they generate. And “Wash Behind Your Bumpers” brings home the eternal message relayed by moms everywhere-wash behind your ears.
The animation is good and the writing is generally sharp and rarely dull. Though the constant narration can get a little tiring, the short running time keeps things moving along. All in all, Engines & Escapades is a winning kid’s DVD.