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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 twenty one television seasons (and with a twenty-second season also confirmed), a theatrical movie, one 44-minute special and eleven one 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. Since then, the series has been CGI animated. In February 2012, it was announced that Arc Productions would take over animation duties starting with the seventeenth season in 2013. In August 2016, Arc Productions closed down after filing for bankruptcy. Jam Filled Entertainment, however, entered into an agreement, looking at acquiring the entirety of Arc. On 22 August 2016, it was confirmed that Jam Filled Entertainment had successfully acquired Arc Productions, and thus taken over the animation for Thomas and Friends.
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, the Skarloey Railway is operated by Mr. Percival, "The Thin Controller" and the Arlesdale Railway is operated by Fergus Duncan, "The Small 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 2 October 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 (possibly loosely adapted from unsed TUGS scripts). 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 7 October 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 14 July 2015. In Autumn the same year, the next 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 21 September and 24 September 2015. Season 19 also first aired on 13 October 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. March 2016 also saw the release of six more nineteenth season episodes released on the annual mini-tentpole, episodic release, Start Your Engines!. These episodes later aired in the UK on July of 2016. A special 4-D theme-park exclusive production was released titled, Thomas & Friends in 4-D: Bubbling Boilers on 9 April, in Boston. In August 2016, Arc Productions closed down after filing for bankruptcy. After entering an agreement, Jam Filled Entertainment looked to acquire Arc Productions under a new management. On 22 August 2016, it was confirmed that Jam Filled had successfully acquired the entirety of Arc Productions, and some former Arc staff regaining their jobs, resumed working on animation for Thomas and Friends under the new management and organisation name. September 2016 saw the release of the next direct-to-DVD special, The Great Race. The twentieth season began broadcasting in the UK on the 5th of September 2016 with the first five episodes of the season, and in the US on the 21st of October, 2016. HiT Entertainment and SiF released a poll in which fans voted for what they wanted to see rendered in CGI for this season.
In 2017, a special entitled Journey Beyond Sodor aired in the fall. The twenty-first season has also premiered in fall 2017, and it is the first season entirely animated by Jam Filled Entertainment.
- 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 (2016-2017)
- Season 21 (2017)
- Season 22 (2018-2019; known as Big World! Big Adventures!)
- Season 23 (2019-2020)
- 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)
- Journey Beyond Sodor (2017)
- Big World! Big Adventures! The Movie (2018)
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 2017, it has most likely been cancelled.
- 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 (Japanese; 1992)
- Hello Thomas and James (Japanese; 1996)
- A Wonderful American Journey with Thomas and Connie (Japanese; 2000)
- Thomas & Friends in 4-D: Bubbling Boilers (2016)
- 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, 2004)
- George Carlin (US narrator for seasons 3–4, re-dubbed seasons 1–2; 1991–1996)
- Alec Baldwin (US narrator for seasons 5–6; 1998–2003)
- 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 17–21, re-dubbed one season 13 episode and two season 15 episodes; 2013–2018)
- John Hasler (UK narrator for season 22–present; 2018–present)
- Joseph May (US narrator for season 22–present; 2018–present)
Around the World
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 Television (Seasons 1–8), TV Tokyo (Seasons 9–11,13) and NHK (Seasons 14–present)
- 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/Tuomas ja Ystävät
- France: Thomas et ses Amis
- Israel: תומס הקטר (Tomas HaKatar)/תומס הקטר וחברים (Tomas HaKatar VaChaverim)
- 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: 托马斯和朋友, 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 gőzmozdony
- 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: Tomas un draugi
- Slovakia: Thomas a jeho priatelia
- Serbia: Tomas i drugari
- Estonia: Toomas ja sõbrad
- 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.
- 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.
- Four 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 is also featured in the 2016 special The Great Race. City of Truro also briefly cameoed in one sixteenth season episode. Also, Stephen, more famously known as The Rocket, belongs to Sir Robert Norramby in the TV series universe, and is subsequently a regular character in the series.
- 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.
- When the first two seasons came out, the font that was used was Bevin. From Seasons 3-7, the show's font was Rockwell, from Season 8-present, the show used Flange BQ (Bold).
- 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. Thomas appears and speaks in every episode of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and nineteenth seasons. He also appears in every episode of the ninth, sixteenth, and twentieth seasons, despite not speaking in all of them.
- Tidmouth Sheds is the only location to appear in every season of the series.
- The engines and rolling stock seen from season 1 were made out of modified Märklin gauge 1 models.
- 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 500 episodes of Thomas & Friends, with the 500th being P.A. Problems.
- 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 the series have been on display at the Discover Thomas and Friends exhibition at Drayton Manor Theme Park in the UK, Explore the Rails in the US, Nitrogen Studios in Canada, and the Thomas Town and Hara Model Railway Museum in Japan.