Monday, 30 May 2016

Philip (After the Fact)

When the Start Your Engines! DVD trailer was revealed, I wrote a post (now removed) about my initial thoughts on this little boxcab. But now that I've seen his two episodes and The Great Race, I think it's time to see just how much my opinion on little Philip has changed!

NOTE: This blog post contains spoilers. Reader discretion is advised

In the old post, I praised Philip for being a diesel shunter that looked a bit different, and considering there were three new class 08s seen in The Gtrat Race, that opinion has only strengthened. Yes, class 08s were in abundance on BR's books back in the day, and there are still quite a few around today, but it's becoming tedious for the writers to rely on them when thinking of new diesel shunters for the show. So seeing a little boxcab like Philip is a breath of fresh air, even if the show would benefit more with a couple of larger diesels here and there.

Another aspect that I praised was his voice and, again, I still believe that it's very fitting for the kind of character Philip is. Rasmus Hardinker does an excellent job bringing out Philip's childlike wonder and excitement in his voice in the same way the animators do a great job bringing that out visually.

However, the poor little guy came crashing down with The Little Engine who Raced Ahead, where he spends the majority annoying Gordon (and the audience) whist the other engines just appease his whims because... he's a childlike character? It's like I said in the review of this episode; Philip seems to have been based on the average child from this generation: one that still has a wonder about them, but they seem much more "in your face" due to lack of discipline or consequence for their actions. Granted, he was called out for being unsafe, something he took to heart, but his other traits remained the same.

His attitude didn't improve in Philip to the Rescue either. I'm not going to say that he was fully responsible for the accident that took place, as James should have known better than to let a little engine get to him after 32 years. However, I will say that he was a major catalyst for James' actions due to his annoying temperament. Had he been taught better, he would have mellowed out by the time this episode came around.

And then The Great Race came around. And, while I don't necessarily forgive his personality in his episodes, it made me realise exactly what the problem was: he has been written terribly throughout the show, as if Andrew Brenner doesn't really understand childlike characters (and, considering he played a huge part in The Cramp Twins, it's not a far-fetched assumption). Yes, he did a great job with Thomas in The Adventure Begins, but you can't really go wrong when you have the source material at your disposal.

So in TGR, Philip makes snide remarks about Ashima saying "she'll be trouble" - although, in fairness, some kids do end up making remarks when it comes to new (or existing) friends and family. This is resolved when she helps him against Vinnie, which was some nice, subtle development.

I also quite liked that the one time his "race" against Gordon was brought up, Percy remarks that Gordon didn't actually race, forcing him to get defensive. It feels very childlike without feeling too annoying, which is something that would have hugely benefited his episodes.

But... his positive developments are completely stifled by his confrontation with Vinnie. I won't go into too much detail with the climax of that little screw up, and the unfortunate implications that came from it, because I've already written a post about that. However, I will state that, throughout the story, the only reason Vinnie goes after him is because he accidentally gets in the way. And I mean legitimate accidents. And the sad thing is that he doesn't retaliate. Like I've said, I get the fear, but I think the overall moral would have been stronger if he'd have stood up for himself before he was helped out.

Overall, I think that Philip is a character with great potential and, in all honesty, there is a charm to him when they get him right. But each positive gets cancelled out with some huge missteps which end up making fans feeling more annoyed with him than drawn to him. I just hope that they iron out all of his flaws in the next series before it's too late and he becomes truly irredeemable...

Saturday, 28 May 2016


I don't usually do a full on critique of a future character like this, but because The Great Race has been shown in cinemas, and I don't think I can keep my feelings towards this character bottled up until September, here's what I think of Vinnie!

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Great Race, as well as strong language. Reader discretion is advised

I want to say from the get go that I'm not against the idea of a steam engine antagonist. In fact, with all of the goody goody steamers on the show, a dedicated antagonist would be a huge breath of fresh air. However, what I'm against is a villain (any sort of villain) doing evil deeds for little to no reason. That's why I've always thought that Diesel has been the best antagonist the franchise has had: nine times out of ten, his actions have solid reasoning behind them (Dirty Work and Diesel Does it Again being prime examples).

It's also why I've never been a fan of Diesel 10; his main antagonistic roles have either been stupid (if he'd have destroyed Lady, he'd have surely killed himself, too) or downright petty (The Missing Christmas Decorations). The only time he was a threatening villain was in Day of the Diesels, but that was stifled by so many other problems that he couldn't have been savoured there, either.

The only time they tried with a steam powered antagonist was Spencer in Hero of the Rails which was, actually, almost there. The only problem there was that we're never told anywhere why he wants Hiro scrapped, and his cold, calculating behaviour is only really there because the plot demanded it as they didn't want to put in more resources to make a new character to fit that role. At least Sailor John's vendetta was explained in his character bio on the official website.

And then we come to Vinnie.

I'm gonna be frank, Vinnie is an arsehole. Not the kind that you love to hate like Diesel, nor a comedic villain like Diesel 10. Every time I see him on screen, I just imagine him burning in a fire. No other character ever has gotten that reaction out of me, and the fact he's a one-off is a huge relief as I don't think I could handle any more of him.

Look, I hate characters who throw their weight around, bullying smaller ones constantly, as it is. But with Vinnie, the feeling surrounding him is much worse than any other character of this type. Simply put, he's an American stereotype that seems to have been written by a Brit whose opinion of Americans stems from bad TV shows and tabloid newspapers rather than actually talking to some real Americans. Only it was written by a man who was born in Florida.

Not only that, but his whole character arc leads to nothing. With the way he acts in the trailer towards Thomas, you'd think that he'd end up learning something about how useful smaller engines can be. But no. His nastiness in the trailer only leads to him bullying Philip. And it was their conflict that made me realise the problem with the little boxcab: he's been written so poorly throughout his time on the show, to the point where I feel sympathy for him. But I may end up doing a post about that in the future.

Anyway, at the show, Vinnie competes in the strength test (which means that the Wooden Railway line referring to him as "Racing" Vinnie is stupid, but that's beside the point) and, once that's over - by the way, we never know who won that competition, only that Henry came last - he ends up tormenting Philip and almost forces him into a turntable well. And it's here where the moral (which, in every other area, has great execution) loses some of its oomph, to the point where it could lead to some unfortunate implications.

Now I'm not going to say that Philip's reactions to Vinnie aren't understandable; the boxcab's almost ant-sized compared to Vinnie. However, if they wanted to teach kids to be proud of who you are and not let anything get to you, the logical thing to do would be to have Philip stand up for himself and, at the very least, try and force him back. But no, it had to be Thomas and Ashima doing all the work whilst Philip cowered and, once he was out of the way, trundled off taunting the huge engine despite doing nothing. What would he have done if they weren't there? Hell, what would that teach kids to do if they were in a similar situation when there's no one else around?

Yes, Vinnie does end up getting some sort of comeuppance (hitting an electronic pylon), but his attitude remains exactly the same, meaning he's learned nothing either. Then again, why should he? The only reason he left Philip alone was because two other engines saved him and the boxcab ran off. Maybe if Philip had been more brave, there would've been a better pay off than a slight tap into a pylon?

Overall, Vinnie is one of the worst characters the show has ever produced, if not the worst. At least Lady has some charm to her when you take a step back. Vinnie's just a hateful, American stereotype.

Friday, 27 May 2016

DVD Reviews: Whale of a Tale and Other Sodor Adventures

May 23rd saw the release of Whale of a Tale! I'll be honest, with The Great Race showing in cinemas and the fact that I went on a weekend break to London on the 20th to the 23rd, I completely forgot this had been released. But here's my review of it!

Series 19 returns in this release with 6 episodes.
  1. Toad & the Whale
  2. Who's Geoffrey?
  3. The Truth About Toby
  4. Lost Property
  5. Henry Spots Trouble
  6. Salty All at Sea
Considering there's only one episode on this release that I'm not keen on (ironically, it's the additional one for the UK release), I'd say this was a very good release... if it wasn't another example of a DVD released in the UK almost a whole year after the US. This really needs to stop. If it meant that we'd get the exact same content as the US, I don't care; HiT needs to do more to get every DVD released in both territories at a similar time. The only time this actually happens is with the hour long specials and the DVD exclusive episodic releases. These long waits just put people off getting these DVDs as they'll have either aired the episodes on TV or they'll have seen them on YouTube or Demand 5. There's very little incentive to pay for them. This release is even worse for incentivising parents to part with their cash because... well...

Bonus Features
40% of the bonus features on this DVD are recycled from The Thomas Way. I'm not even kidding.

The Perkins' Story Time segment consists of him re-telling the story of Trucks!, edited images and all. Not only that...

Yep, Perkins' Postcards this time around focused on the Blue Mountain Quarry... again. Now I'm all for Mr Perkins segments, but if HiT don't have any new ones to put on a DVD, they shouldn't put any on! It just feel pointless to do so, especially considering most parents usually get every release for their kids until they end up growing out of the show.

All that said, not all of the bonus features are repeats. Really Useful Engines features Edward and Emily this time around. The characters were described really well and it was nice to have the mention of Edward having the Welolsworth-Brendam branch... even though he's hardly seen there and Edward's branch is pretty much irrelevant these days as everyone goes to Brendam docks. Still, a nice little mention.

The Earl's Quiz was fine. It featured Pingy Pongy Pick Up and Double Trouble. It follows the same formula as usual and... like I said, it's fine. Itt's not for me, but it's a nice segment for kids. That's all I really have.

Who's That Engine? featured Toby this time. I've always rather liked these segments even though they're basically those really badly segments from series 8-10 where they slowly revealed the engine. Here though, they're far less condescending and far better in the animation department. The only gripes I have here is that they don't mention his cowcatchers and sideplates by name (which is kind of inexcusable when a) Andrew Brenner really likes Toby and b) they have a railway consultant) and Henrietta is nowhere to be seen. It could've been so as not to completely give it away in the same way Thomas didn't pull Annie and Clarabel in his segment, but it's still a tad disappointing.

The episode after the reveal was Signals Crossed, which I like. Not only was the description for it better than the episode itself, but it's still one of his better episodes since HiT took over.

There's also an actual trailer for The Great Race, which will be released on DVD here on September 5th. Or, if you're from the UK, it's in cinemas now. And... it's OK. I'll post a full length review when the DVD is released and I've written my initial thoughts here, but all I'll say here is that the story is a tale of two halves; one being superb and the other bad, most of the newbies have no character to speak of, Ashima's the best female character of the lot, Vinnie's in line for top spot of the worst characters ever and the songs are great.

Like Start Your Engines!, this DVD features some of Arc's best animation up to that point (The Great Race has since improved on it even further). The glossy models are stunning and the camera angles show off their amazing work so well. However, the pacing on the DVD feels very wonky as, like last time, every episode includes the intro and end credits. It would be nice if, in future, the intro and end credits appeared on the start and end respectively in future as it would improve the flow of the programming.

The RRP for this DVD is £9.99. Most retailers sell it at £5.99. If you wish to get these episodes in HD, iTunes is offering them all (not the bonus features) for £7.99.

Final Thoughts
This release annoys me. Yes, the episodes are good for the most part, but there's literally zero incentive to get it as they're all online somewhere. Some may have kept recordings of them as they aired. The year long gap really hurts these releases in the long run and while, yes, they will sell copies, they probably won't sell as many as they probably should because of the year long wait!

Also, why is it called Whale of a Tale & Other Sodor Adventures? No such episode exists on the DVD. Why didn't they just call it Toad & the Whale & Other Sodor Adventures? Or just cut the ...and Other Sodor Adventures bit and call it Whale of a Tale?