Home to Thomas and his merry band of locomotive friends, the sleepy island of Tolkien-sounding Sodor suddenly becomes alive at the prospect of the Great Race, an annual global event for the world’s pre-eminent trains; a loco-Olympics if you will. Thomas is naturally desperate for a chance to participate but all of his ideas get picked up by the Fat Controller (now politically corrected as Sir Topham Hat) and applied to other engines. Thomas meets attractive Indian shunter (three words rarely concatenated) Ashima as she tries to find her way back to the mainland for the event and the two gradually get acquainted as Thomas’s plans become increasingly bizarre and desperate. Diesel adds some pantomime villainy to proceedings with his hackneyed plan to win the strength trophy which quickly unravels.
Anyone expecting any character or plot revelations is going to be in for a disappointing ride. At the risk of a spoiler-alert, apart from the shocking disclosure that Gordon’s brother is actually the Flying Scotsman (gad-zooks!), the chances of an illicit affair between Percy and Emily or the Fat Controller having a suspicious fall from a water tower are unlikely. The underlying message here is one of global cohesion, a stereotype defying fist-pumping love for one another (apart from the grumpy, aloof French one and the big bullying American one).
John Hasler’s Thomas (UK only, the US bafflingly get Joseph May instead) is slightly annoying, but then he always was a little snooty and self-important. Gordon’s self-righteousness eventually gets him into a pickle, and insecure Percy does his best to keep out of the limelight (a throwback to his picket-line jumping scab leanings during the big engine’s strike of the late 1920s – seriously, look it up). Mark Moraghan takes the Ringo baton and the scouse-fest continues with the somewhat peculiar wrapper of a jangly brit-pop mop-heads Cast soundtrack.
The animation is nicely restrained and keeps the sleepy mood of the original model based series. The fully animated faces of some of the engines are now a little nightmarish in places, but possibly only to the grown-up’s with memories of Total Recall’s Kuato’s under-developed conjoined twin.
At just over an hour, The Great Race feels more like an elongated episode rather than a feature film with the screen time mysteriously padded out with completely unrelated Fireman Sam safety videos at the outset. Given that the movie is aimed squarely at pre-schoolers, it’s running time feels about right, and in an era of children’s films being stretched to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets levels of dead horse-flogging, it’s good to experience some common sense in duration.
The Great Race is what it is; an easy going, safe, uncontroversial extension of the Thomas cartoons which will keep the sugar craving terrors cheerfully engrossed while mum and dad grab some shut eye.
3 / 5
Dir: David Stoten
Scr: Andrew Brenner, Britt Allcroft, Rev. W. Awdry
Cast: Mark Moraghan, John Hasler, Tina Desal
Prd: Ian McCue
Run Time: 64 minutes