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Thomas & Friends (Andrew Brenner era, Series 17-21)

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Thomas & Friends
Season 17 Thomas.jpg

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🎵 They're 2, they're 4, they're 6, they're 8
This era is really great
This is what Andrew decided to do
He did have a really useful crewǃ
🎵
Genre: Children's show
Comedy
Running Time: 11 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Canada (Animation production)
Release Date: June 3, 2013 - December 22, 2017
Network(s): Channel 5
Created by: Britt Allcroft
Distributed by: HiT Entertainment (Seasons 8-20)
Mattel Television (Seasons 21-24)
Seasons: 5
Episodes: 124
Previous show: Last three seasons of the HiT model (Seasons 9-11; 2005-2007) and Sharon Miller eras (Seasons 12-16; 2008-2012)
Next show: Thomas & Friends (Big World! Big Adventures! era, Seasons 22-24)

From 2013 to 2017, the Thomas & Friends franchise massively redeemed itself in seasons 17-21 and 6 specials after experiencing seasonal rot during the 7 years. This era is referred to as "Andrew Brenner Era", simply "Brenner Era", even "Brennaissance" by fans since it's the Renaissance era for the show and sometimes even "Mattel CGI Era".

Note: This article will mainly focus on the seventeenth through twenty-first seasons.

Plot

The series follows the adventures of Thomas, an anthropomorphised train, on the fictional Island of Sodor with fellow engines Edward, Gordon, Henry, James, Percy and Toby, along with many other anthropomorphized engines and vehicles. Thomas usually gets into trouble by doing jobs best left to bigger and more sensible engines, but never gives up on being a "Really Useful Engine". Many of the stories from the first four seasons are based on real-life events from Wilbert Awdry's personal experiences.

Why This Era Is Really Useful

  1. This era is a huge improvement over the Sharon Miller era, with improved writing and storylines as well as bringing back the charm of the classic era and the RWS books. In fact, the last 3 episodes of series 20 were adapted from the books, and the tone of the series began feeling more down to earth once again.
  2. Return of classic and fan-favorite characters like Duck, Donald, Douglas, Oliver, Toad, Bill, Ben, Harvey, Jeremy, Jack, Terence, Bulgy, and many others.
    • While several of them returned in season 12, they were handled much better than in that season.
      • In season 12, the returning classic characters were shoehorned into scenes seemingly just to satisfy fans by their presence, with little or no regard for those unfamiliar with them. The characters are formally reintroduced in this era, allowing newcomers a better understanding of who they are.
      • The characters that reappear in season 12 are given minor roles, mostly telling the main character what to do, that could be given to practically any character. This era, however, fully takes advantage their unique personalities and traits, such as Harvey being an engine with a crane, Bill and Ben teasing other engines as well as arguing with each other, and Duck trying to do things the "Great Western" way.
      • "Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure" even pokes fun at the two Oliver characters, with Marion thinking Oliver the Great Western engine had himself transformed into an excavator!
  3. Andrew Brenner and his team of new writers (even including a few veterans) have a much better grasp on the source material than Sharon Miller and her team of writers did a lot of times.
  4. Gorgeous CGI animation that is a massive upgrade from the CGI animation used in Season 13-16 (despite that animation looking decent).
    • While the animation in seasons 17 & 18 is still good, it got even better in series 19, with animation that could rival high-budget theatrical animated movies.
  5. Introduces new, better and funny characters like Connor, Caitlin, Millie, Gator, Stephen, Skiff and the list goes on!
  6. Return of classic and fan-favorite locations like Dryaw and Ffarquhar from Thomas' Branch Line, Crovan's Gate, Glennock, Valley View, Sodor Causeway and Rheneas Viaduct from the Skarloey Railway and Arlesburgh from The Little Western.
  7. The new theme, which is an electro pop remix of "Engine Roll Call" is really catchy and memorable.
  8. Many of the characters who got flanderized during the Miller era have had their original personalities restored in this era, (except Diesel 10 of his original evilness despite that him being manipulative is very good) such as Thomas, Edward, Henry, Percy, Toby, Emily and Sir Topham Hatt.
  9. There are some very funny episodes like "Pouty James", "Skiff and the Mermaid", "Lost Property", and "Dowager Hatt's Busy Day".
  10. This era relies on anything to be entertaining, from funny and hilarious jokes, to slapstick, to realism, to common logic, to even the show's old charm and its RWS glory.
  11. The introduction of characters from not just the Railway Series, but also inspired by other Awdry works relating to Sodor, such as the book, "The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways", such characters include Sir Robert Norramby, King Godred, and a "Coffee Pot" engine that book mentions, in the show named Glynn.
    1. Furthermore, the Arlesdale Railway and its engines, Mike, Rex, and Bert, make their TV series debut.
    2. Also actually refers to Sir Topham Hatt's railway by its official name, the North Western Railway.
  12. "The Adventure Begins", as a forty five minute special that had adapted the first seven episodes of the Thomas television series, and also the first two Railway Series books remained very 100% true to Season 1, and the original source material.
  13. There are tons of great episodes like in the classic era, such as:
    • "Kevin's Cranky Friend (which started this era in US airing order on a high note)
    • "Scruff's Makeover"
    • "Wayward Winston"
    • "Gordon Runs Dry"
    • "Henry's Hero"
    • "Luke's New Friend"
    • "The Switch"
    • "Not Now, Charlie"
    • "The Thomas Way"
    • "Percy's Lucky Day"
    • "Bill or Ben?"
    • "The Missing Christmas Decorations"
    • "Away From The Sea"
    • "Gone Fishing"
    • "The Smelly Kipper"
    • "No More Mr. Nice Engine"
    • "Old Reliable Edward"
    • "Not So Slow Coaches"
    • "Disappearing Diesels"
    • "Toad's Adventure"
    • "Duck and the Slip Coaches"
    • "Thomas the Quarry Engine"
    • "Thomas and the Emergency Cable"
    • "Duncan and the Grumpy Passenger"
    • "Missing Gator"
    • "Toad's Bright Idea"
    • "Last Train for Christmas"
    • "Duncan the Humbug"
    • "Emily Saves the World"
    • "Millie and the Volcano"
    • "The Truth About Toby"
    • "Lost Property"
    • "A Cranky Christmas"
    • "Snow Place Like Home"
    • "Toad and the Whale"
    • "Very Important Sheep"
    • "Den and Dart"
    • "Slow Stephen"
    • "Reds vs. Blues"
    • "Best Engine Ever"
    • "Diesel's Ghostly Christmas"
    • "No Help At All"
    • "Goodbye Fat Controller" ("Goodbye Sir Topham Hatt" in the US)
    • "Wild Water Rescue"
    • "Sidney Sings"
    • "Henry Gets the Express"
    • "Diesel and the Ducklings"
    • "Bradford the Brake Van"
    • "Ryan and Daisy"
    • "Pouty James"
    • "Blown Away"
    • "Letters to Santa"
    • "Love Me Tender"
    • "The Railcar and the Coaches"
    • "Mucking About"
    • "Cautious Connor"
    • "All in Vain"
    • "Buckled Tracks and Bumpy Trucks" ("Buckled Tracks and Bumpy Cars" in the US)
    • "Tit for Tat"
    • "Mike's Whistle"
    • "Useful Railway"
    • "Skiff and the Mermaid"
    • "Over the Hill"
    • "Springtime for Diesel"
    • "Dowager Hatt's Busy Day"
    • "Runaway Engine"
    • "P.A. Problems"
    • "Cranky at the End of the Line"
    • "New Crane on the Dock"
    • "Unscheduled Stops"
    • "The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor"
    • "Terence Breaks the Ice"
    • "Daisy's Perfect Christmas"
    • "Confused Coaches" (Which ended this era on a good note)
  14. Some episodes reuse concepts from the Sharon Miller era and execute them better.
    • "Very Important Sheep" is considered to be "Wonky Whistle" done right, with Percy neglecting a hole in his van, and not having his brakevan coupled in the former being more sensible as opposed to Thomas running off while in the middle of getting his whistle fixed in the latter.
    • "The Thomas Way" is similarly "Up, Up, and Away" done right, not only due to a helicopter in the former being a more realistic load than the balloon in the latter, but also because Harold's oversize proportions justify the need for an engine in the rear of a rather light load.
      • With that said, these seasons are basically done right versions of said seasons.
  15. The voice acting is still good for both the US and UK dubs.
  16. More geographically accurate, acknowledging the island being set between England and the Isle of Man, and the engines actually crossing over a drawbridge to the British Mainland and back.
  17. Made its official BBC Children in Need video in November 2018.
  18. Mark Moraghan's narration is brilliantly soft, smooth and calm, and sounds very similar to Michael Angelis in his prime.
  19. References to episodes from The Classic Era and the RWS are made perfectly with recreated flashbacks included.
  20. Good songs such as:
    • "It's Gonna be a Great Day"
    • "On a Journey Today"
    • "Monsters Everywhere"
    • "It's Christmas Time"
    • "There's Snow Place Like Home"
    • "Let's Go!"
    • "Race with You"
    • "Spring is Here!"
    • "Never Overlook a Little Engine"
    • "We Make a Team Together"
    • "Glynn's Christmas Wish"
    • "It's Halloween"
    • "Will You Won't You"
    • "Streamlining"
    • "You Can Only Be You"
    • "Be Who You Are, and Go Far "
    • "Set Friendship in Motion"
    • "The Hottest Place in Town"
    • "I Want to Go Home"
    • "The Most Important Thing is Being Friends"
  21. This era acknowledges that Henry's issues have been remedied and he no longer needs special coal.
  22. Clever and self-aware humor, as this era constantly makes jabs at the Miller era, like "Dowager Hatt's Busy Day" as an example of this.
  23. Redemption and development for characters that were badly introduced in the Miller era like Flynn, Belle, and even Charlie (albeat, to a lesser extent).
  24. Henrietta gained a face and a personality in this era from seasons 18 onwards, and works well with Toby.
  25. It brought out some new story concepts like a great railway show in England, the steelworks, Dowager Hatt being a railway controller for the day, a railway coffeepot engine, a brakevan with a Welsh accent, etc.
  26. Big Mickey from the obscure 1980s series TUGS gains a face and finally speaks!
  27. The pop culture references are quite simple. For example: Thomas being described as "Santa's little engine" is a reference to The Simpsons' family dog, Santa's Little Helper.
  28. Less focus on Thomas, Seasons 17, 18, and 21 have episodes where Thomas does not appear at all, and even when he does appear in episodes not focused on him, his presence is minor and not overbearing.

Bad Qualities

  1. Not all the new characters are as good as some others introduced such as Ashima, Vinnie, and Gina. They are FAR from being terrible characters, though you might want to admit that Vinnie is pretty much the weakest character introduced in "The Great Race". Ashima is likable but needed some fleshing as she did in "The Great Race". Gina however has some of the greatest development given.
    • With the reason why Vinnie is unlikable in "The Great Race" is because he acts like a complete bully towards Philip, which he thankfully got his comeuppance during the last couple minutes.
  2. The animation in seasons 17 and 18 isn't as good as that of seasons 19-21, which is understandable since Arc Productions had just taken over for the series, and some of the CGI models and sets were not completely intact when transferred from Nitrogen Studios, like Duncan, Duck, Oliver, Toad etc, though some fans don't mind it.
  3. Henry still has his wimpy flanderization until Season 20, where he finally got his original personality back. Though it was portrayed a bit better with more understandable reasons for Henry to be scared such as him being afraid of chicken pox, rain (as shown in the RWS and Classic Series), the so-called "beast" of Sodor, and even the flatbeds of fear (despite the latter actually turning out to be one of Salty's stories). The only seasons where this was absent were series 17, 20-21 which shows that the writing team knew this was hardly working for Henry in the first place.
  4. The majority of Toby's episodes in the Brenner era still focuses on him with his wimpy flanderization instead of his original personality of being wise and knowledgeable despite finally getting it back from seasons 18-21, much like Seasons 8-16 which is disappointing to some fans. Even through there are some episodes that doesn't focus on Toby being a wimpy coward and show his original personality like "The Lost Puff", "The Truth About Toby", "Den and Dart" and "Philip's New Friend." Even his interaction with Hannah in "Hasty Hannah" started out with him blanking Hannah in a funny conversation like in the RWS and when Hannah is disobedient, he tries to be firm, even forcibly stopping her before Hannah pushes him very fast, reducing him to a wimpy wreck.
  5. Some classic interactions aren't reintroduced in CGI during the Brenner era such as Duck and Diesel's rivalry since they haven't encountered each other since the Classic series and Edward and Trevor's friendship. There even isn't a single episode focusing on both engines appearing together on screen in CGI to references their rivalry from the classic series by Andrew Brenner or the other writers which is very disappointing to most fans.
  6. Arry and Bert didn't get any speaking or spotlight roles during most of this era compared to Seasons 14-16, apart from two episodes, "Diesel and the Ducklings" from Season 20 and "Springtime for Diesel" from Season 21 and that's pretty much it which is disappointing to most fans since it would be interesting to see how Andrew Brenner and his writing team handled the scrap diesel twins better and maybe having them back to their grim scrapping traits during this era.
  7. Diesel didn't get his classic traits from the classic series retained in the CGI series besides devious like his distaste for steam engines and his other traits like slyness, manipulative and sneaky weren't expressed much in CGI from both eras though his devious trait remains intact thankfully.
  8. While not as bad as in seasons 13-16, Thomas appears in EVERY episode of Season 19 and 20, the former coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the original books, and he speaks in every episode of that season, which makes some sense as long they did not make him the main role of every episode. He does not speak in every episode of Season 20, and some of his appearances in that season are extremely brief and minor, but still jarring to some fans nonetheless.
  9. Some occasional weak/creepy songs such as:
    • "Searching Everywhere"
    • "Hey, Hey Thomas"
    • "Let's Be Brave"
    • "The Best Friends Express"
    • "Full of Surprises"
    • "The Shooting Star is Coming Through"
    • "Who's Thomas?"
    • "We Can't Do Anything"
  10. These seasons aren't always perfect and have some hiccups:
    • While season 17 is good, it's considered to be the weakest season of the Brenner era due to that season being left underdeveloped in some areas despite that it's just getting started.
    • Season 21 has some jump-the-shark moments, like having the engines bounce when they move (though it's not as noticeable as in seasons 22-24) and Edward leaving Tidmouth Sheds and the Steam Team in "A Shed for Edward". Though the latter had a reason that makes sense since the reason why Edward left Tidmouth was because Wellsworth Sheds is part of Edward's Branch Line after all. But still, this was also because Tidmouth Sheds was used as a limiting factor for a core of main characters and not a roundhouse of sheds for all engines to visit. That itself make exception episodes where non-Steam Team engines slept at Tidmouth Sheds. Philip in his first two debut episodes, Hugo in "Engine of the Future", Spencer in "The Beast of Sodor", and Duck in "Duck and the Slip Coaches".
  11. More characters are introduced in more non-British (or European) locomotive designs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for Sodor, or the show in general for that matter, though engines like Connor and Caitlin, who regularly go onto the mainland (AKA, the UK), would in real life be too large for most railway tunnels in Britain, which are quite limited in size.
  12. There are still instances of fish, produce, and other perishables being carried in open wagons, but these instances are fewer and are greatly reduced over the course of the era.
  13. From Seasons 21-24, Rob Rackstraw, who had voiced James in the US dub, would voice him in the UK as well. As such, some of his lines spoken with an American accent would mistakenly be used in the UK dub and vice versa, which is a little distracting.
  14. Some reintroduced characters have not made many appearances since returning, Donald and Douglas, in particular, appeared a total of 4 episodes following their return in "Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure", 2 each in seasons 20 and 21, one of the episodes in each season being merely a brief cameo, and were largely background characters in "The Great Race", "Journey Beyond Sodor", and "Big World! Big Adventures!" Their profiles on the official Thomas & Friends website still show their model forms!
  15. Characters like Lady, Molly, BoCo, Mighty Mac, Murdoch, Neville, Patrick, Byron, Kelly, Ned, Bertram, Old Slow Coach, Arthur, Buster, Nelson, Dennis, Splatter, Dodge, Stepney, Duke, Hank, Hector, Flora, George, Thumper (even after the Classic era), Fearless Freddie, and a few others have not reappeared and sadly never will since All Engines Go! was announced along with changes happening.
  16. While the drivers and firemen are more active in the series compared to seasons 11-16, there are still inconsistencies regarding them, with some characters seeming to not need them, and the engines doing some things that, realistically, a driver would have forbade them to attempt.
  17. In "The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor", James leaks brake fluid, which makes him unable to stop, and he crashes into the back of Tidmouth Sheds. Engines do not have hydraulic brakes, they use air, or in the case of British railways, vacuum brakes, which would leak air, that, in most cases, would cause the brakes to set.
  18. Some Character Developments are completely undone as the episodes go on for example:
    • In "Springtime for Diesel" Diesel is shown to finally change his ways and act nicer but in the very next episode "A Most Singular Engine" he's back to being rude and devious for the rest of Season 21 though some fans are pleased with it since they like Diesel being a devious antagonist.
    • In "Tale of the Brave" and "Missing Gator" Percy is shown to learn how to be braver but in the episode "Three Steam Engines Gruff" his cowardly nature makes a comeback.
    • In "Pouty James" and "All in Vain" James has moments where he learns to act nicer and more considerate but in "The Fastest Red Engine On Sodor" and "Journey Beyond Sodor" that is all completely undone as he goes back to being arrogant and vain though to be fair, the writers are doing their best to mantain classic traits of characters and not remove them all together.
  19. Some characters (Mainly Gordon and James) have their main character traits much more exaggerated to the point where they rarely show good moments. James acts much more cocky and vain and Gordon just acts much more grumpy, boastful and cynical which is really disappointing because in the Classic Series they have shown moments where they can be likeable and compassionate despite their flaws though it's a minor issue.
  20. Some occasional bad episodes (especially in production order), such as:
    • "Steamie Stafford" (which started Season 17 and this era on a mediocre note in production order)
    • "The Phantom Express"
    • "Too Many Fire Engines"
    • "The Afternoon Tea Express" (which ended Season 17 on a sour note in DVD order)
    • "Flatbeds of Fear"
    • "Signals Crossed"
    • "Samson At Your Service" (which ended Season 18 on a sour note in US airing order)
    • "Emily Saves the World"
    • "Samson Sent for Scrap" (which ended Season 18 on a sour note in DVD order)
    • "Who's Geoffrey?" (which started Season 19 on a sour note)
    • "Henry Spots Trouble" (also considered one of the worst)
    • "The Beast of Sodor"
    • "Salty All at Sea"
    • "Helping Hiro"
    • "Rocky Rescue"
    • "The Other Side of the Mountain"
    • "Saving Time"
    • "Diesel and the Ducklings"
    • "The Way She Does It"
    • "Three Steam Engines Gruff"
    • "Engine of the Future"
    • "Hugo and the Airship"
    • "A Most Singular Engine" - (Which retconned the ending to "Springtime for Diesel")
    • "Stuck in Gear"
    • "Hasty Hannah"
    • "Philip's Number"
    • "Emily in the Middle"
    • "A Shed for Edward" (considered the worst episode of Andrew Brenner era; which ended this era on a sour note in production order)
  21. Norman, Captain, Ashima and Stanley haven't gotten spotlight episodes, due to the cancellation of the 1984-2020 series and throughout the era.
  22. From seasons 19 onwards, the narrow-gauge engines were reduced to minor roles and didn't get more spotlight episodes focusing on them which is really disappointing to most fans.
  23. The 1-hour special: "The Great Race" wasn't that good. Despite having a pretty good story which features the return of Flying Scotsman, the special cannot decide how some of the characters should act because of its inconsistent tone.
    • For example: Thomas acted a little out of character when he first met Ashima, especially when she unintentionally bumped into him.
    • The special also has loads of filler in some parts you'd wish they can get to the point.
  24. The way the show is aired in the US can make it hard to watch for a lot of Americans.
    • In 2017, the show was moved from PBS Kids, a channel that is available for free since it can be watched on its own website to Nick Jr., a channel not as many people or parents will have for their kids. Though, to be fair, Nickelodeon wasn't any better because the scheduling they gave Thomas was mostly terrible. Although they improved with the scheduling when newer episodes were released every two weeks starting in Seasons 22-23, it doesn't make up for Mattel's poor episode scheduling. To make matters worse, after 2019, the series stopped airing on Nick Jr. due to their partnership with Thomas & Friends ending. However, you can still watch this era on Prime Video or through unofficial uploads on YouTube (if you want to watch for free).
    • Mattel also stopped releasing DVDs of the show in the US after 2017. Though even before this, the show would air pretty early in the day on PBS Kids and would air on Nickelodeon later.
  25. Of course, the show went downhill again with seasons 22-24 (also known as "Big World! Big Adventures!"), which ended the original series on a sour note. While the recently announced Marc Forster Thomas the Tank Engine film may have some hope in being good or spectacular (despite the story and release date not yet being announced), the recent reboot Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! is a different story and is actually even worse than seasons 22-24.

Reception

This era of Thomas and Friends received positive reception, due to having the same charm as the first seven seasons of the show (and to some extent, the HiT Model era (Seasons 8-11)), redeeming the characters who used to be flanderized and the better writing, along with improved animation and great voice acting in the UK and US.

Trivia

  • Andrew Brenner left the series in August 2018 after production of series 23 ended the following year. However, as of December 25th, 2019, David Stoten has become the new head writer for the series starting with the two part special, "Steam Team to the Rescue", despite the fact that series 24 came out in 2020, the same year The Railway Series celebrated its 75th anniversary of its own books that started in 1945 during World War II (after World War II in Europe and the United Kingdom).
  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has banned reruns of the nineteenth season episode, "Henry Spots Trouble", due to complaints about the episode presenting chicken pox "as a mild disease that is nothing to worry about" and conveyed an anti-vaccination message. Although the episode is banned on television, it was still released on the Australian "Whale of a Tale" DVD.
  • Rachael Miller, the voice of Rebecca, is married to Christopher Ragland, Percy's American voice actor.
  • Thomas is the only character throughout the series to be voiced by Joseph May in the US voice cast.

Videos


Comments

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