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Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy combo pack from Amazon.com Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue
Movie, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Director: Greg Tiernan / Writer: Sharon Miller (screenplay) / Creators: Rev W Awdry (The Railway Series books), Britt Allcroft (show)

Voice Cast: Michael Brandon (Narrator), Martin T. Sherman (Thomas), David Bedalla (Victor), William Hope (Edward, Percy), Togo Igawa (Hiro), Jules de Jongh (Emily), Kerry Shale (Sir Topham Hatt, Diesel), Glenn Wrage (Spencer, Rocky), Keith Wickham (Salty)

Running Time: 58 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Widescreen; DVD Anamorphic
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English), Dolby Surround (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 7, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (1 BD-25 & 1 DVD-5)
Blue Eco-Friendly Blu-ray Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Standalone DVD ($19.98 SRP)

Buy Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD Combo DVD


By Kelvin Cedeno

In the entertainment business, just about everything gets updated at some point to appeal to a new generation. For live-action films, that's typically achieved by remakes, reimaginings, and reboots.
With animation, however, it's usually a stylistic change. We're in an age where, one by one, classic children's characters are being revamped with computer animation to stay relevant. One of the latest to receive such a facelift is Thomas the Tank Engine.

Introduced in the 1940s as part of Reverend W. Awdry's Railway book series, Thomas gained popularity in the 1980s on the British television series "Thomas & Friends". In that program, Awdry's characters were brought to life via a mix of live-action models and stop-motion animation. They did not speak, instead relying upon narration from well-known personas such as Ringo Starr, George Carlin, and Alec Baldwin. Things changed in 2009, not only going the CGI route but also assigning voice actors to characters. This latest Thomas & Friends direct-to-video movie, Misty Island Rescue, follows in that vein.

Sir Topham Hatt proudly announces the construction of the Sodor Search and Rescue Center to an enthusiastic crowd including Thomas the Tank Engine. The Logging Locos (Bash, Ferdinand, and Dash) introduce themselves and their oddball ways to Thomas.

Thomas the tank engine and the rest of his locomotive friends live on the peaceful island of Sodor. When leader Sir Topham Hatt announces that the island will be receiving a new search and rescue center, the trains are all too eager to be the one to carry the rare Jobi wood to the site. Thomas feels he's the one who should get the honor of transporting it, a thought he doesn't bother to conceal.
Diesel, jealous of how Thomas always gets attention, decides to prove that he can be a useful asset to Sodor. He takes the Jobi wood over to the construction site but fails to realize in time that the tracks leading to it are incomplete. Thomas manages to rescue him, but the Jobi wood falls off the tracks and into the sea.

For saving Diesel's life, Sir Topham Hatt gives Thomas the honor of collecting more Jobi wood from the mainland. Unfortunately, the chain link carrying Thomas across the sea snaps, and the engine drifts away to the mysterious Misty Island. It is here that Thomas meets three eccentric characters known as the Logging Locos: Bash, Dash, and Ferdinand. The trio used to work on the mainland before they were sent to Misty Island for their ceaselessly hyperactive behavior. Thomas is taken aback by their oddities and tries to leave the island on his own, but when he discovers the island also has its share of Jobi wood, he has to swallow his pride and learn to work together with the Logging Locos.

It comes as a relief to know that this latest incarnation of Thomas & Friends is still faithful to the tone and ideals of the books and earlier series. It's becoming far too common for updates of classic characters to completely throw away what made those creations so delightful to begin with. Their original charm is often stamped out by modern pop culture references and an ironic, hip attitude. Misty Island Rescue avoids such things at all costs. Even with a voice cast, the program still relies heavily on narration. This has its own pros and cons. Having both narration and dialogue becomes redundant on more than one occasion, and the vocal work is often stilted. That said, the narration helps make plot points clearer and gets into the heads of the characters. Having a Thomas story without a narrator would feel jarring to those familiar with the franchise's long TV tradition, so the inclusion remains welcome.

The timelessness extends to the visuals, as well. Despite being CG, the designs of the characters and Sodor are all remarkably faithful to the original models of the series. The animation is also fairly decent given the nature of the production. The island's vistas show surprising detail, and lighting and effects work is convincing. A little less smooth is the character animation. Obviously when dealing with trains as protagonists, an animator is limited by how to instill a performance. That said, the actual facial animation seems a little too restrained to the point where it's occasionally difficult to tell how a character is feeling. On top of that, mouth movements seem distractingly off. Characters' mouths essentially open up and down with little in the way of actual shape patterns. Perhaps the original British voice cast match up better than the revised American one, but that doesn't seem likely.

Percy still tries to hold out hope for Thomas' return, but Salty isn't so sure they'll be able to find anything in all the fog. Repeating his mantra that he makes good decisions, Thomas cheerily tries to find his way off Misty Island without the help of the Logging Locos.

More troubling, though, is a plot point that's dropped altogether a third of the way in. At the start of the story, Thomas haughtily tells Diesel that steam trains are more qualified to carry lumber than diesel trains are. This is what sets Diesel off and makes him determined to prove that his kind is just as good as any other locomotive. Now, throughout the story, Thomas learns that his decisions are not always the best ones and that he needs to value the input of others. With such an undercurrent, it would seem obvious that during the last third when the stakes are high, Diesel could prove his worth and Thomas could apologize and make amends. Nothing like this occurs. After the Jobi wood is lost and Diesel is rescued, Sir Topham Hatt actually forces Diesel to wish Thomas luck on his excursion. That seems a slap in the face to the character and lets Thomas off too easily.

Even with a questionable subplot such as that, though, Misty Island Rescue provides a good moral to children about teamwork, and it does so without becoming nauseatingly preachy. Unfortunately, there's a certain spark that's missing here that was present in earlier works. Perhaps the addition of a voice cast has lent itself to awkward dialogue and minimal character animation. Relying completely on a narrator made certain technical qualities of the older seasons easier to forgive as they played out essentially as a moving storybook. Allowing the characters to speak invites more cinematic expectations, and thus puts a spotlight on flaws that were once masked. Still, the spirit and tone of Thomas remains intact, and children who've loved other incarnations of the character should be pleased with this.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Misty Island Rescue premieres on Blu-ray and DVD in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray's results are pleasing, and there's no reason they shouldn't be on a CGI production like this. The bright color scheme exhibits no noise or bleeding, and the image is mostly free of defects. Only a scene taking place inside a tunnel exhibits some crushed blacks, but nothing really horrifying. Due to the simple, rounded nature of the animation, it's difficult to judge sharpness and detail, but the more finely realized backgrounds look consistently sharp throughout. There are no qualms to be had with this solid transfer.

The 5.1 DTS-HD track isn't exactly needed in this case. The constant use of narration means the front center of the soundfield is what's mostly utilized, and that extends to the limited dialogue, as well. The light musical score creeps up in the surrounds but doesn't really stand out. Sound effects likewise are very low-key and are relegated to the front. Despite feeling like a basic stereo track, the presentation isn't one that the target audience will mind, and the most important elements do at least sound crystal clear.

Figuring out which of these three things enjoys grass is vital to locating our locomotive hero in The Search for Thomas game. Lady Hatt bestows a kiss upon her husband in a clip not from the movie but from the "Sir Topham Hatt" music video. The titular Misty Island is seen in the glistening horizon of the DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Packaged together in this combo pack, the Blu-ray and DVD contain identical bonus features. First up is "The Search for Thomas" game. Here, the player must pick the right answer from three options presented. The correct answer leads to a clue that, in turn, leads to another area in which another question and clue is given.
After going through several Sodor locales and following all the clues, the player locates Thomas and... that's it. No reward is given for this rudimentary activity.

Next come two "karaoke" music videos. Labeling these as karaoke is misleading as the vocals are still intact, making these sing-alongs more than anything else. The first is the "Misty Island Rescue" theme song performed by Stefan Ashton Frank (2:08). It's the exact same montage presented at the end of the main feature, but with animated lyrics. Another one appears for the tune "Sir Topham Hatt" (2:09). Where this song originates from is anyone's guess as it presents clips from various episodes of the series, not just this special. The singer of this number also goes uncredited.

Both discs open with trailers that are also accessible via the bonus features menus. These promote Alpha and Omega, "Timmy Time," Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails, and "Barney & Friends." Oddly, the DVD's "Auto Play" hands-free playback feature doesn't bother to play the music videos, instead following the movie with a reply of the same collection of previews that opened the disc.

The Blu-ray menu shows the expected montage of film clips. The pop-up menu expands upward utilizing the same box on the right hand side for all submenus and selections. The DVD menu replaces the montage with a simple shot of Misty Island and its surrounding waters. Both it and the submenus feature score and limited animation.

The combo pack's discs come in an eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase with a cardboard slipcover outside. No inserts of any kind are included.

Logging Locos Bash, Dash, and Ferdinand get a chuckle out of Thomas' pretentious and overly confident ways.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Fans of Thomas the Tank Engine will be happy to know that Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue doesn't destroy the legacy set up by Awdry's books and the long-running television show. It's gentle and harmless, but not much more than that. The inclusion of voice actors and spoken dialogue isn't as jarring as one would expect, but its awkward execution isn't exactly ideal, either. The story also leaves a slightly sour taste over how Thomas treats another character without recourse. Still, one could do much worse in regards to children's entertainment. This is recommended for newer fans of the franchise, but older fans may not find this quite as charming as what they remember.

More on the Blu-ray + DVD Combo / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy just the DVD

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Reviewed September 7, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Gullane (Thomas) Limited, Nitrogen Studios, HIT Entertainment, and Lionsgate. Screencaps from DVD.
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