Thomas & Friends (Big World Big Adventures era, Seasons 22-24)
Thomas & Friends (formerly Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends and also referred to as Thomas the Tank Engine) is a British children's television series. It had its first broadcast on the ITV network in 1984. It is based on The Railway Series of books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry.
It started airing in the United States through Shining Time Station on January 1989. Eventually, after a few complaints about the show not being diverse enough, the show was rebranded into Thomas & Friends: Big World! Big Adventures! during Seasons 22-24, which this article will cover. During this era, Thomas & Friends experienced its first decline in quality since Seasons 12-16, because of this, the era has been generally disliked by many fans.
- One of the main criticisms of this era is that it had removed Edward and Henry and even Toby from the main cast and demoted them to side-characters in a rather rushed way. Edward left in the last 30 seconds of "A Shed For Edward" in Season 21, where none of his friends even said goodbye to him when he left Tidmouth Sheds and Henry was written off with a single line of dialogue in "Forever and Ever", meanwhile, Toby literally didn't get any sendoff at all. This angered many fans, as Edward and Henry were some of the first engines to appear in The Railway Series books. Just because Edward and Henry left Tidmouth and that Toby has a shed of his own doesn't mean you should demote them as secondary characters.
- On top of that, Edward and Henry and Toby barely make any appearances in Seasons 23 and 24, and Edward and Henry themselves have next to no lines in the former season, which is disappointing. And also, Edwards last word uttered in the long-running series is nothing but a mere "Ouch!"
- It's also been inconsistent if Toby is still in the Steam Team, as Toby is still in the updated Engine Roll Call and sometimes the official Thomas Twitter account says he is still in the Steam Team, but Toby is still not mentioned in the opening listing all the main characters and the Mattel Twitter stating that he is not in the Steam Team.
- The new theme song is pretty generic and isn't as good as the original theme song from the Classic Era or even the "Engine Roll Call" from previous seasons. Worse, it's a lazy rehash of another song, "Set Friendship in Motion", with the addition of new lyrics.
- The animation in these seasons, while not terrible, is a pretty big downgrade from that of Seasons 17-21. Though to be fair, Jam Filled had just acquired the bankrupt Arc Productions, and Mattel apparently did rush them during these seasons:
- The textures look low-resolution and unfinished.
- The lighting is very inconsistent. Sometimes it looks way too bright in some scenes, while in others, it looks non-existent.
- The colors look unrealistically bright, which was most likely done to attract younger viewers.
- The liquid effects look awful and unconvincing, though they have improved in Season 24.
- The new rivet designs in Season 23, while a nice attempt at looking realistic, have the rivets far closer together than a real engine would have them, which can be distracting.
- Due to budget reasons, some of the other countries locations are obviously just redressed Sodor areas, which is understandable as the animation team might not have the budget to make them actual railways from their separate countries, but would lead to criticism about geographic inaccuracies though.
- The infamous "bouncing" is exaggerated, even more than in the Journey Beyond Sodor special. All the characters make their bodies move in a Cars-like fashion, which can be very distracting. It also goes completely against the rules of the franchise, as the characters moved realistically in previous seasons and the Railway Series books, even if it is just a detail and doesn't contribute to any of the stories. This was toned down a bit in Season 24, thankfully.
- Due to (of course) budget reasons, some of the background engines in the other countries, as well as some of the supporting engines seen in those countries are obviously just Edward, Henry, and other Sodor engines repainted, and would be, particularly in the Americas, locomotive classes not native to the country portrayed.
- Around half of the episodes of each season focus on Thomas's adventures abroad, leaving less time to focus on other engines on Sodor.
- Most of the remaining episodes are set after Thomas returns, as opposed to events on Sodor during his absence.
- The narrator has been completely removed in favor of Thomas himself being the narrator. This is completely unnecessary because the narrator has been well known since the show's first season. They could have done both for when the original narrator narrates the Sodor episodes, and that Thomas would narrate the episodes set in other countries.
- Nia and Rebecca are also incredibly shoehorned into the main cast, not to mention while these characters are decent additions, they also have incredibly generic personalities with Nia being the foreign type and Rebecca being the happy-go-lucky type. While Nia did get a whole special to introduce her, she is simply thrown into Tidmouth Sheds in Season 22 without any explanation other than Thomas bringing her to Sodor. Meanwhile, Rebecca shows up out of literally nowhere in a weirdly out of the box way and is in Tidmouth Sheds in the very next scene, again with no scene explaining why she is in there. It's painfully obvious that they replaced Edward and Henry simply for the sake of being "woke".
- The international episodes are pretty stereotypical. For example, in the China episodes, instead of using this opportunity to teach kids about the famous bullet trains or rapid transit systems that can be found in China (or any other Chinese culture for that matter), the China episodes just teach kids that pandas live there.
- Even outside of Nia and Rebecca, many of the new characters aren't even that well-written (except for Yong Bao), with them having little to no personality, such as Hong-Mei, Isla, Ranger Jill, and others. Even returning characters from The Great Race still barely have much personality. Because of how little personality these characters have, they just feel like they were only made to sell merchandise and not to make an entertaining story.
- Yet many of these characters aren't merchandised that much, if even at all.
- The designs for the international characters also make it blatantly obvious that they're from another country to the point where it is kind of offensive. To make this worse, even the Sharon Miller era, the worst era at the time, handled the concept of international characters better with Hiro and Victor by having them just painted normally, but then give them a backstory about when they where in their original country.
- A lot of episodes are so boring to watch such as "Number One Engine", Forever and Ever", "Cyclone Thomas", and "James the Super Engine".
- On the topic of "Forever and Ever", this episode literally takes shots at the era's detractors in a rather disrespectful way.
- On top of the international episodes being stereotypical, they also have no explanation for Thomas being in the other countries, except for one line from him stating: "I once had a job in Italy!"
- The same trucks/freight cars are used in the other countries, whereas in real life, particularly in North America, larger rolling stock would be used and of course, the engines and cars in the USA and other North American territories don't have buffers or coupling hooks (apart from engines built by American builders that were exported to the UK and abroad). In fact, many of the countries had switched to some variant of the US knuckle coupler design by the time of Thomas's visit. Hiro has a knuckle coupler, making this even less excusable.
- Some of the humor is unfunny and forced. There is even toilet humor that is unfitting for the Thomas franchise, like a dog urinating on James' wheels, an elephant shoving its butt on Thomas and even a bird pooping on Thomas.
- Lots of unrealistic moments, such as the wheel bouncing around in "The Water Wheel", the many scenes of Ace doing an unrealistically long jump off a small ramp, the infamous scene of Thomas somehow gaining enough uphill momentum to be lifted off the track at the top of the hill in one of the opening sequences and the very infamous crash scene in "Emily to the Rescue".
- The two-part special, Marvelous Machinery, was poorly received by many, as it made the series even more unrealistic by having concepts that do not fit in the Thomas lore at all such as flying cars and robots, and also having a scene that blatantly rehashes "Thomas and the Jet Engine" from Season 6.
- To be fair, the lack of realism was done before Seasons 22-24, but not to the point of this.
- There are a lot of bad episodes, much like in Seasons 12-16, such as:
- "Forever and Ever"
- "Apology Impossible"
- "Trusty Trunky"
- "The Water Wheel"
- "Panicky Percy"
- "Thomas Makes a Mistake"
- "Gordon Gets the Giggles"
- "Thomas' Not-So-Lucky Day"
- "Too Loud, Thomas!"
- "Thomas' Animal Friends" (which was the final regular episode of Season 24 and the original show in general broadcast-wise)
- "Rosie is Red"
- "Emily's Best Friend"
- "The Inventor's Spectacular Bridge"
- "James the Super Engine"
- "Out of Site"
- "Thomas in the Wild"
- "Grudge Match"
- "Cleo the Road Engine"
- "Thomas Goes to Bollywood"
- "Ace's Brave Jump" (the most pointless episode in the series in general, no excuses)
- Average at best writing (with the exception of the episodes written by Michael White and others to name a few). The loss of head writer Andrew Brenner in Season 24 didn't make things that much better. To be fair though, Mattel did make some pretty unreasonable requests, such as kicking off Edward without making the fans mad. We got David Stoten, who did still try to follow what Andrew Brenner did.
- Introduced pointless life-lesson segments only there to try and hammer in the moral of the story more into the kid's brain. Not to mention that these segments have Thomas breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience, which goes against the realism the series previously had.
- In Season 24, the only characters who get lead roles are the Steam Team members and Yong Bao in one episode and seeing the Steam Team in every single episode gets old very fast.
- This era introduces fantasy sequences, showing what's going on in the engines' imagination. However, they are usually very painful to watch because of how cringeworthy they are, are almost never used to actually benefit the plot, and are just used to sell toys or try to make kids laugh.
- Jonathan Broadbent left the series, with Rasmus Hardiker and Matt Wilkinson replacing him as the voices of Bill and Ben, respectively. Their voices are passable, but lack the wit and charm of Broadbent's.
- The distribution has barely improved due to Mattel's lack of care, DVDs are still not being released in the US, the show was still aired on Nick Jr, which not as many people will have as when it was on PBS Kids and it still takes an absurd amount of time for an episode to first be released in the US. Eventually, the show was switched from Nick Jr to Netflix with season 24, but before that, the only real way to watch the episodes in the US was through unofficial uploads on YouTube.
- The laid back pace that the previous seasons had has been abandoned and the show is now very fast-paced which is ill-suited for the stories and could make the show hard to enjoy for kids who have a hard time keeping up with fast-paced stories.
- Some episodes could mistakenly teach kids bad lessons as well, mainly in the movie where Thomas abandons his friends to go on a big adventure around the world without telling anybody, Ace the race car (and Cleo the Road Engine somewhat) also gets no kind of punishment whatsoever for driving on the railway track, which is illegal in real life.
- On top of that, it makes no sense that Thomas would go on an adventure around the world without telling anyone when he just learned about the dangers of leaving home without informing others in Journey Beyond Sodor.
- What makes even less sense is that his driver, fireman, crane operators, and other workers responsible for transporting him would do so without authorization from Sir Topham Hatt and the other railway officials.
- The entire concept was a kneejerk reaction to Thomas & Friends, losing a good portion of its market share to PAW Patrol. Mattel, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the best course of action was to copy it, rather than make something truly unique like they did before. Quite a few fans suggested bringing the live-action models back to make the series stand out, which would be unlikely considering taxation in the United Kingdom has already went up years ago in terms of live-action children's shows and animated TV shows made in the UK.
- With the confirmation of All Engines Go being a complete reboot opposed to the series instead of Season 25 from what everyone hoped, this era ended the original show on a somewhat sour note in TV order.
- Worse, the final episode of the original series, "Thomas' Animal Friends", is not only one of the most annoying and cringeworthy episodes of the whole show, but it was also a bad way to end the original show.
- Thankfully, "Thomas and the Royal Engine" is the last episode made in production order. So you don't have to worry too much about "Thomas' Animal Friends" being the last episode aired if you think of the real production order for Season 24.
- Out of all the characters introduced in this era. Ace is the least tolerable of this era because of how it's pointed out by fans that he is a race car who obnoxiously acts like a Lightning McQueen wannabe, has little character redemption in him, has a fear of animals for some unexplained reason, gives Thomas bad advice, and only cares about himself judging by the way he screwed Thomas over plenty of times during his trip around the globe with Nia (whom he picked up from Africa).
- Not even rewriting his character is any better considering the one episode he was given completely disregards the events of "Big World! Big Adventures!" altogether.
- The animation has improved a bit in Season 24.
- There are still a few good songs like "All the Girls Around the World", "Party Train", "Don't Stop" (depending on your view), "We're Friends" (depending on your view), "Where in the World is Thomas?", "Free and Easy", "Legend of the Lost Engine", "Let's Dream", etc.
- At least the more outlandish elements are confined to the fantasy sequences for the most part.
- Some episodes from Seasons 22 and 23 are devoted to side-characters like Rosie, Merlin, Bill and Ben, Samson, Duck, Jack and Bulgy, which showed hope that the steam team wouldn't be the only characters who get a lead role in an episode.
- There are still a handful of good or even a few amazing episodes, mostly the ones written by Michael White and a few other writers, such as:
- "Heart of Gold"
- "An Engine of Many Colors"
- "Free the Roads"
- "Seeing is Believing"
- "Hunt the Car"/"Hunt the Truck"
- "Wish You Were Here"
- "School of Duck"
- "Nia's Bright Idea"
- "Thomas' Animal Ark"
- "The Great Little Railway Show"
- The Dinos and Discoveries two part arc.
- "Yong Bao and the Tiger"
- "Gordon and Rebecca Coming Through"
- "Thomas and the Royal Engine" (the final episode of the original series in production order)
- "Thomas and the Royal Engine", in particular, had it been the last episode to be aired, would've ended the original series on a high note, but that episode just did since that episode was the last episode aired in production order. Thus it may mean the series has ended on a good note in production order after all.
- There are some jokes that do actually work, such as this scene and this scene.
- The English voice acting is still great, especially with Joseph May, as Thomas. The Japanese dub is still great, too.
- Some international characters who had minor or no speaking roles in "The Great Race" received proper voice actors and speaking roles, Examples include Carlos, who had a single line voiced by David Bedella in that special, is voiced by Gabriel Porras in "Big World! Big Adventures!", and Yong Bao, who didn't even have a single line in "The Great Race". That's not to say that these characters have received any character development, as some are still bland and uninteresting, except for Gina, Yong Bao, Ashima, Shane, and a few others.
- Thankfully, unlike Seasons 12-16, the characters aren't flanderized and still have their original personas maintained and are still likable, Thomas included.
- At least the designs for the characters made are still look interesting.
- A lot of the continuity is common mainly due of the writers being true to Thomas as possible, though the same can't be said with All Engines Go!.
- Season 24 is the last season of the show to feature 3D animation and to follow the continuity established from season 1 up to that point, as the next series, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! has been confirmed to be 2D animated and act as a complete reboot to the show.
- In a leaked trailer for Season 22, Thomas is shown video calling the audience via a smartphone to tell them about his journey around the world, but is shown through the perspective of the smartphone camera. It's possible this was originally going to be an alternate introduction segment for the episodes not taking place on Sodor.
- Season 22 was originally going to be streamed on Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu, but was dropped in favor of the show being aired on Nick Jr. However, Seasons 23 and 24 were only released on Netflix due to Nickelodeon's contract expiring.
- Christopher Ragland, Percy's American voice actor, is married to Rachael Miller, who voices Rebecca in both UK and US English dubs.
Episodes With Their Own Pages
While at first, this era of the show received mixed reception, with some claiming it wasn't as bad as they thought, it has now received extremely negative feedback from fans after The Unlucky Tug made a video explaining why this era is terrible. However, some fans do still claim this era was not as bad as the Sharon Miller era.