Thomas & Friends: Holiday Express:
They just keep throwing DVDs at the kids. And I'm happy to catch them, as long as they include juicy extras like a diecast Holiday Thomas engine. Yet this insistence on keeping your kids glued to a screen - any kind of screen - can't possibly be good. As a parent, I've grown to know and love Thomas the Tank Engine; I know the programming is wholesome, entertaining, and has good life-lessons to teach the kids, but I'm seeing that a clampdown is necessary. I don't want my girl to end up like me, bloated, bleary-eyed, and critical of 'holiday collections' that just throw a handful of old Thomas episodes involving snow onto a single disc. Although, there is that diecast toy to consider.
This DVD features six short, old-fashioned Thomas The Tank Engine episodes wherein snow and holidays play a major role. Vintage episodes they are, barely eight-minutes apiece, (for a 48-minute run-time) utilizing the old ways of animation: model trains running the tracks, rolling their eyes from inside static faces, while stock still characters like Topham Hatt react with motionless lack of emotion, save for wonderful voice-work from longtime narrator Michael Angelis. Use of a single narrator for all voices has been said to recreate the storytelling process kids experience at home, while limited animation also fosters a little bit of imagination - as far as watching the screen is concerned. In that fashion, these slightly shorter episodes with limited animation are a welcome treat. Parents can cue up one, or maybe two, episodes at a time, knowing that they're working to minimize the damage of creeping vidiot-ization.
As usual, episodes focus on Thomas and his engine friends as they take on more than they can handle, or refuse to listen to instructions, causing inevitable confusion and delay. Piles of magical-looking snow, trains crashing into huge snowmen, and engines pulling giant snowman balloons represent the visually stimulating treats on display, many of which truly delight my daughter. Of course by story's end the engines have learnt their lessons; don't be too hasty, ask for help, obey your elders and don't ignore your friends - all perfect nuggets of advice for preschoolers.
Episodes included are:
Thomas and Percy's Christmas Adventure
Henry's Lucky Day
Don't Tell Thomas
Thomas, Emily and the Snow Plough
Thomas' Frosty Friend
As the Disney Corporation is set to begin refunding parents aghast at the fact that plopping their infants in front of Baby Einstein videos didn't actually make their kids smarter, I'm less inclined to recommend any TV time for kids. They'll burn their eyes out and develop fat deposits soon enough, simply due to the ubiquity of computers. However, it's clear that the Thomas series is full of heart, and maybe one or two episodes every other day or so isn't such a bad thing. As Holiday Express rumbles down the line you'll know your child's eyes and brain are in safe hands.
These older episodes, presented in 1.33:1 ratio, look fine. There's a little bit more grain than in newer episodes, some edge-enhancement, and slight posterizing, but generally the image is clear and sharp with bright colors.
Dolby 2.0 Digital Audio in English utilizes basic stereo tactics to enhance your experience, while chirpy little songs and great narration are loud and clear, but not too loud. No distortion or audio degradation is present, and dynamic range is fairly robust.
The smaller-than-standard Take Along Diecast Holiday Thomas toy won't fit on your average wooden train track, but is compatible with Take Along Thomas railway sets. It's a very nice $9 value that your kid will adore. Closed Captioning and optional French and Spanish audio tracks will help if your child is enrolled in some kind of immersion program - or is simply a native speaker, and two games are included as extras. Sodor Sounds game is a quite simple and short match-sound-to-picture affair, while the Cargo Challenge game, with considerably more questions and variables, actually had me break out the pad and pen at one point, thinking a particular puzzle was unsolvable. Luckily, Topham Hatt is there to provide hints, many of which simply amount to the correct answer, so you'll get to see if your child is able to follow instructions from a cartoon.
Though your kid should be exercising mind and body far from the TV, this collection of six short, holiday-themed Thomas & Friends episodes is a good option or respite for those rainy days when the parents need a break. The engines get into all kinds of preschool-type trouble (i.e. not listening, or thinking they know best) to which your child will relate. These old, non-CGI episodes possess a lot of charm, and the Take Along Holiday Thomas is a real bonus. Often retailing for about ten dollars, this DVD gift set is Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com