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Thomas & Friends (previously known as Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends) is the name of the television series based on the Railway Series by the Reverend W. Awdry. It was adapted for television by Britt Allcroft using the original stories from the Railway Series before using television-exclusive stories written by independent writers. The series has been broadcast in over 185 territories and has spawned nineteen television seasons, a theatrical movie, one 44-minute special and nine hour-long specials.
In April 2008, it was announced that filming of the series would transfer to Nitrogen Studios in Canada and that it would be CGI animated. CGI was first used during the twelfth season for the faces of the engines, people and animals, although characters in background shots would still have the traditional clay faces. The first fully CGI production, Hero of the Rails was released in Autumn 2009. The remainder of the series will be CGI animated. In February 2012, it was announced that Arc Productions would take over animation duties starting with the seventeenth season in 2013.
Thomas & Friends is a television series mainly based around railway engines that live on the Island of Sodor. The show is mainly about the title character, Thomas, a cheeky little blue tank engine with six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome. Thomas & Friends takes place on the standard gauge North Western Railway, the narrow gauge Skarloey Railway and the 15-inch gauge Arlesdale Railway. The head of the North Western Railway is Sir Topham Hatt, affectionately nicknamed "The Fat Controller" by the engines and staff and the Skarloey Railway is operated by Mr. Percival, "The Thin Controller".
The first known attempt to make a television adaptation of the Railway Series books was by the BBC in 1953. It was decided that Hornby Dublo models would be used and everything went ahead but the project did not succeed. During the live airing of the first episode, Henry derailed and a hand was seen coming down to put him back on the tracks. Nothing else is known to remain of this project. There have been several other attempts, however. The first somewhat successful run was on the children's show "Jackanory" in 1970. The Railway Series books were read out loud by host Ted Ray. Five books were read in all until October 2nd, 1970. The current television series got its start in 1979 when the Reverend Awdry was interviewed on the Bluebell Railway for a feature on steam engines. The producer, Britt Allcroft, had read some of the books before the interview. She had become fascinated with the characters and after getting funding from her local bank, acquired the series so she could adapt it for television.
Allcroft rounded up a production crew, which included model director David Mitton, narrator Ringo Starr and composers Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. The first season premiered in October 1984 and with its success, came another in 1986. After the huge successes of Season 1 and Season 2, Britt Allcroft set another goal: bringing Thomas into the United States. Due to stricter broadcasting schedules, Britt had to create a half hour program to go with the five and a half minute episodes. The result was Shining Time Station, starring Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor. This was another hit for Allcroft and was the beginning of the "Thomas craze" in America.
When the television series returned in 1991 with the third season, there were some big changes. Instead of following closely to the Railway Series, Allcroft and Mitton loosely adapted many of the Reverend's stories as well as loosely adapted magazine stories written by the current head writer Andrew Brenner (who unfortunately did not get credited for these adaptations), they even wrote their own episodes, much to the Reverend's disdain. The fourth season, airing in 1995, only had one original episode however and featured many new characters such as the Skarloey Railway engines. The series was doing incredibly well after that and a full-length theatrical film soon loomed ahead. Britt Allcroft decided to drift completely away from Railway Series stories and in 1998, the fifth season, contained all original storylines. This was so Britt could showcase the series as her own before the upcoming film.
The full-length theatrical film gained the title of "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" and after many changes from the original script, it premiered in July of 2000. The film had mixed views and despite being well received in America, the film was a huge box-office failure and Allcroft was forced off the series. Her company was sold to Gullane Entertainment and they, in turn, were later sold. In 2001, the idea for a spin-off focusing on the non-rail vehicles was being tossed around at Gullane. It is possible that this idea later became Jack and the Sodor Construction Company. During the process, the sixth series was produced and aired in 2002, as was the seventh in 2003. The buyer turned out to be HiT Entertainment and the eighth season, that aired in 2004, came with drastic changes. The episodes became more formulaic in plot with the focus on morals and education. Since Season 8 this format is still being carried out for all the following seasons with great success. 2005 saw the broadcasting of the ninth season as well as the release of the first direct-to-DVD special, Calling All Engines!. The tenth season aired in 2006 and was the only production to contain twenty-eight episodes unlike the usual twenty-six. The first broadcasting of the eleventh season took place in 2007 and this marked the final series to contain twenty-six episodes, until Season 17.
The second direct-to-DVD special, The Great Discovery was released in 2008 and this marked the final production to fully use only models on screen. One of the most revolutionary steps in the show's history also took place in 2008, when it was announced that Thomas & Friends would be produced using computer generated imagery (CGI). The show would be produced in Canada at Nitrogen Studios and season twelve used CGI for the faces of the engines, the people and the animals alongside the traditional model format. This was also the first season to contain twenty episodes and this format continued until the seventeenth season. The first fully CGI animated production was the 2009 direct-to-DVD special, Hero of the Rails, directed by Greg Tiernan. This was also the first time the engines and people had individual voice actors since Thomas and The Magic Railroad. The voice acting continued for all seasons and specials hereafter.
2010 saw the first year to have two seasons, the thirteenth and fourteenth. Another feature length special, Misty Island Rescue, was released that Autumn. Season 15 premiered in early 2011 and the next direct-to-DVD special, Day of the Diesels, was released in Autumn 2011. During that October, Mattel won HiT Entertainment in an auction by Apax Partners, HiT's owners and in February 2012 the money was transferred. February 2012 also saw the premiere of the sixteenth season in the UK. It was the last season animated by Nitrogen Studios, the last to have Sharon Miller as the head writer and the final season to contain twenty episodes. Blue Mountain Mystery was released in September 2012. It was the last special to involve Nitrogen Studios and Miller.
A second theatrical film, supposedly titled "The Adventures of Thomas", was set to be released in 2011, but years later and still with no news on any further developments, it is unknown whether the project will actually move on. Although there has been no official confirmation of the project's cancellation, it is presumable that the film has been scrapped.
2013 saw Andrew Brenner take over as head writer and Arc Productions take over the CGI animations, animating the seventeenth season as well as all following seasons and specials to date. The seventeenth season also regained the initial twenty-six episode format and implemented a new writing style that promised to focus on the original charm and appeal of Thomas & Friends. This format is presently being used with great success and unanimous fan approval. Ten episodes of Season 17 aired in the UK in June 2013 followed by five episodes in September / October 2013. Another episode aired in November and four more in December. Also released in Autumn 2013 was the seventh direct-to-DVD special, King of the Railway. Season 17 began airing on October 7th, 2013 in the US. The remaining six episodes of the seventeenth season, featured on Spills and Thrills aired between July and November 2014 in the UK. In Autumn 2014, the eighteenth season aired and the following feature-length special, Tale of the Brave was released. The remaining six episodes of Season 18 featured on Dinos and Discoveries, premiered in the UK in July 2015.
Thomas & Friends celebrated their 70th Anniversary in 2015. To celebrate this milestone, a 44-minute special, The Adventure Begins was released in Spring 2015, the first feature to include original stories by the Rev. W. Awdry since 1995. Furthermore, a special 28-minute documentary, titled 70 Years of Friendship was released exclusively on the Thomas & Friends YouTube channel on July 14th, 2015. Also, in Autumn 2015, the second direct-to-DVD special, Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, was released. The first four episodes of the nineteenth season premiered in the UK between September 21st and September 24th, 2015. Season 19 also first aired on October 13th, 2015, in the US.
In January 2016, three more episodes from the nineteenth season aired in the UK, followed by another five episodes in March 2016. Autumn 2016 will see the release of the next direct-to-DVD special, The Great Race. The landmark twentieth season will also be broadcasted sometime in 2016. Hit Entertainment and SiF released a poll in which fans voted for what they wanted to see rendered in CGI for this season.
The twenty-first season has also been confirmed to premier in 2017.
- Season 1 (1984)
- Season 2 (1986)
- Season 3 (1991-1992)
- Season 4 (1994-1995)
- Season 5 (1998)
- Season 6 (2002)
- Season 7 (2003)
- Season 8 (2004)
- Season 9 (2005)
- Season 10 (2006)
- Season 11 (2007)
- Season 12 (2008)
- Season 13 (2010)
- Season 14 (2010)
- Season 15 (2011)
- Season 16 (2012)
- Season 17 (2013-2014)
- Season 18 (2014-2015)
- Season 19 (2015-2016)
- Season 20 (2016)
- Season 21 (2017)
Specials and Films
- Calling All Engines! (2005)
- The Great Discovery (2008)
- Hero of the Rails (2009)
- Misty Island Rescue (2010)
- Day of the Diesels (2011)
- Blue Mountain Mystery (2012)
- King of the Railway (2013)
- Tale of the Brave (2014)
- The Adventure Begins (2015)
- Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (2015)
- The Great Race (2016)
Presumably titled "The Adventures of Thomas" was the second theatrical Thomas & Friends film that was planned for release. Little was ever known about this film and the full state of this film is still currently unknown. As of 2016, it has most likely been cancelled. It would have been set in World War II-era London.
- Jack and the Sodor Construction Company (filmed 2002; released 2006)
- The Thomas the Tank Engine Man (1995)
- Hashire! The "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" Steam Locomotive is Alive! (Japanese; 2005)
- Original 70th Anniversary History Time Travel (Japanese; 2015)
- 70 Years of Friendship (2015)
- Secret Journey of Thomas the Tank Engine (Japanese; 2015)
- Thomas and the U.K. Trip (1992)
These are the narrators of the show in the United Kingdom and the United States:
- Ringo Starr (UK narrator for seasons 1–2; 1984–1986; US narrator for Seasons 1-2, 1989–1990)
- Michael Angelis (UK narrator for seasons 3–16; 1991–2012, US narrator for the New Friends for Thomas and Other Adventures VHS/DVD)
- George Carlin (US narrator for seasons 3–4, re-dubbed seasons 1–2; 1991–1996)
- Alec Baldwin (US narrator for seasons 5–6; 1999–2003)
- Michael Brandon (US narrator for seasons 7–16, re-dubbed six season 6 episodes; 2003–2012)
- Pierce Brosnan (UK/US guest narrator for The Great Discovery and the original cut of season 12; 2008)
- Mark Moraghan (UK/US narrator for seasons 17–present, re-dubbed one season 13 episode and two season 15 episodes; 2013–present)
Around the World
- Main article: Other Languages
English is by no means the only language in which the series is broadcast in:
- Wales: Tomos a'i Ffrindiau, narrated by John Ogwen and often broadcast on S4C's "Planed Plant Bach"
- Scotland/Gaelic: Tomas is a Threud, usually broadcasting on BBC Alba.
- Japan: きかんしゃトーマス (Kikansha Tōmasu), broadcast on Fuji TV
- Norway: Lokomotivet Thomas/Thomas og Vennene Hans
- Germany: Thomas die kleine Lokomotive/Thomas Und Seine Freunde
- Greece: Τόμας το Τρενάκι/Tomas to Trenaki
- Finland: Tuomas Veturi
- France: Thomas et ses Amis
- Israel: תומס הקטר/תומס הקטר וחברים
- Italy: Il trenino Thomas e i suoi amici
- Poland: Parowóz Tomeki i jego Przyjaciele/Tomek i Przyjaciele
- Portugal: Thomas o Trem Azul
- Romania: Locomotiva Thomas și Prietenii Săi
- Sweden: Thomas och Vännerna
- China: 火車頭日記 (lit: "Locomotive Diary"), broadcast on CCTV.
- Taiwan: 湯瑪士小火車
- South Korea: 꼬마기관차 토마스와 친구들
- The Netherlands: Thomas de Stoomlocomotief
- Mexico/Latin America: Thomas y sus amigos
- Brazil: Thomas e seus amigos
- Hungary: Thomas a gözmozdony
- Russia: "Томас и друзья" (Tomas i Druz'ya)
- Ukraine: "Паровоз Томас і його друзі" (Paravoz Tomas i y̆ogo druzi)
- Denmark: Thomas og vennerne
- Iceland: Tommi togvagn og vinir hans
- Ireland: Thomas agus Cairde
- Thailand: โทมัสและเพื่อน ๆ
- Indonesia: Thomas dan Teman
- Latvia: Tomass un draugi
- Nominated - British Academy of Film and Television Arts - Best Animated Film, 1985 and 1987.
- From 1986-2008, the show was filmed at West London's Shepperton Studios. The layouts were expansive and fitted in a hangar-sized room. The trains were at the scale of Gauge 1 and filmed using a 35 mm camera, in order to get quality shots from such small objects. More information can be found at Sodor Island Fansite's Behind the Scenes page.
- The seventh season was the last to use 35 mm film and the original theme tune.
- Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, songs and incidental music from 1984 to 2003. In 2004 Robert Hartshorne took their place as composer, while Ed Welch wrote the new theme tune and the songs.
- Every UK narrator of the series has narrated at least a few episodes for the US.
- Three real engines have been featured in the show - Stepney has made a number of appearances and City of Truro and Flying Scotsman (tenders only) played minor roles in two third season episodes. The latter will also be featured in the 2016 special The Great Race. City of Truro also briefly cameoed in one sixteenth season episode.
- Beginning with the twelfth season, production moved from the UK to Canada and in a revolutionary step, CGI animation (provided by Nitrogen Studios and later Arc Productions) is now used to allow the faces on the characters to move with their speech and have their eyes blink as well. The human characters and animals are also able to move on their own. However, the models were still filmed in Shepperton Studios.
- 2009 was the first year since 2001 not to feature a new season.
- In the third season episode, Escape, the Fat Controller clearly states that steam engines are rare, but from the sixth season and onwards more and more steam engines have appeared in the television series. To date, over twenty new steam engines have been introduced.
- Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, Henrietta, Bertie and Sir Topham Hatt are the only characters who have appeared in every season of the series.
- Out of all of them, Thomas, Henry, Gordon and James are the only characters who have appeared in every special. In addition, Thomas, Henry and James are the only characters to have at least one line of dialogue in every special.
- The rolling stock seen from season 1 to season 5 were made out of modified Tenmille gauge 1 kits. Tenmille still make some of these wagons today. From season 6 onwards, they were all scratch built.
- There are over 400 episodes of Thomas & Friends, the 400th episode being The Thomas Way.
- In 2005, the series ranked 26th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows vote. In 2013, the series ranked 34th in Channel 5's 50 Greatest Kids TV Shows vote.
- Several models from seasons one to twelve have been put up on display in the UK, the US, Canada and Japan.
- 2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the television series.
- 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the entire franchise and the first time that two direct-to-DVD specials were released in the same year.