For my son’s first birthday we bought him a train set. While we were shopping for accessories to go along with the wooden track pieces and generic cargo train that came in the box we noticed Thomas the Train and friends. How could you not notice them? The display spanned an entire wall in Toys R Us and had about forty little boys flocking to the display table in the middle of the aisle. It was like Thomas was the pied piper for toddler boys. I was amazed by his strange ability to control the minds of any and all testosterone producing creatures. Even my husband was tempted by its siren call. Ooh, Thomas!
As a girl, I was completely unfamiliar with the Thomas and Friends books, television show, or movies. I gathered it was about trains. I couldn’t see the harm in letting my son develop an interest in these adorable little engines with the smiling faces and brightly colored paint. We shelled out the $15 dollars the toy store had the nerve to charge for a three inch piece of painted wood and patted ourselves on the back for being such good parents.
Let the obsession begin.
From that day forward my son wanted nothing else. He ate, slept, breathed, and played exclusively with Thomas. By Christmas, a mere three months later, he had acquired quite a collection of “friends” to go along with Thomas. Each of these engines came with two numbers: the one painted on the side of the engine, and the one on its price tag that seemed to go up with each purchase we made. $24.95 for one train? Does it do laundry?!
Next my little trainspotter discovered the Thomas and Friends television show. The episodes lasted about an hour, which just about held his attention long enough for me to cook dinner in the evenings. It was clear from the moment he laid eyes on that little blue engine that this was not going to be a casual relationship: it was love at first sight, and it was about time I introduced myself to his paramour.
Over the past year I have watched every Thomas and Friends television episode, movie, holiday special, or YouTube video of weird people showing off their toy collections. These are countless hours of my life that I will never get back and just to save any other interested parties the trouble, I’ll give you a brief summary of what I’ve discovered.
Each episode follows a very specific formula. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
First, the head of the railway, Sir Topham Hatt, visits his engines. He announces that he has a very important job for them: real world stuff like delivering cakes for a little girl’s tea party, building a new playground for the school, or delivering soft straw for the farmer’s pigs to lay on. Whatever it is, it’s always of the highest priority and needing to be done as quickly as possible. Seemingly, the head of the railway is rather scatter-brained and leaves all his crucial tasks to the very last minute.
All the engines enthusiastically volunteer their services, including Thomas.
For reasons unbeknownst to me after watching approximately 9,000 episodes of the show, Sir Topham Hatt always chooses Thomas to do his extremely important bidding.
He then gives Thomas very specific instructions about how he should complete the job: go the long way around so you can avoid the icy hills, make sure to drive slowly with your carriage full of soda so you don’t shake it up, when transporting a very large balloon don’t speed through any tunnels. Sounds like somebody has trust issues.
Thomas brags to the others about being “the most very useful engine” with apparently the most very useless grammar.
He is then coupled up to whatever load he is meant to be pulling and sets off. Approximately five minutes after pulling out of the station, Thomas forgets everything Sir Topham Hatt warned him about and proceeds to do exactly the opposite. In a hurry? I’ll just stop and drive through puddles for an hour or two. Drive slowly and carefully? I’ll instigate a race with another engine. Go straight to you destination without stopping? Oooh, shiny. Deliver an important package to The Duke? How about I release a swarm of bees instead?
Inevitably, thanks to Thomas’s insane shenanigans the task goes horribly wrong and the job remains unfinished.
Sir Topham Hatt is cross. I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever heard the phrase Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Thomas feels bad and promises to do the job correctly and in half the time.
Either Sir Topham Hatt has the worst time management skills known to man or his expectations have been tempered over the years, but there is somehow always just enough time for Thomas to redo whatever job he screwed up and be home in time for tea. If you ask me, someone could do with an efficiency audit.
In the end, Thomas always learns some sort of important lesson about listening to others, asking for help, the importance of remembering instructions.
He then forgets said lesson before the start of the next episode and the whole fiasco repeats itself like a broken record.
I now understand why my son loves Thomas more than life itself. He is Thomas: cheeky, scatter-brained, impatient, slower than dirt when you’re in a hurry, faster than lightning in the parking lot, petulant, and distractible. Thomas the train is basically a toddler with wheels. So if you were hoping your child might learn a few lessons about discipline and work ethic from this cheerful cartoon, think again.
Thomas could definitely benefit from a time-out or two himself.