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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

'Tale of the Brave' Spoiler-Free Review: The Verdict

There is much reliability to make a special good then to up the stakes for what comes after. But can it disappoint? Sometimes...

This is where it is better to be secretive to others who have yet to see a finished product. If there is a shock or a twist or a joyous moment, it can be a better feeling to be surprised and to have that thrill every now and then. The proper viewing experience, how its meant to be. This is where this review falls, no spoilers. You pay to see the film for the excitement and not to be a complete show-off to the world.

So, be inclined to agree to those who do tend to open their mouths that you would like them to keep schtum. Tagging a first TV debut for Season 18 at the end, here is the Roll Along Thomas spoiler-free review for the Tale of the Brave.

From the moment the first visual appears, it is already fan service, and this is only through an extended pre-titles sequence clocking in at five minutes. The first two visuals in question have already been advertised, but they fit in so perfectly that it is as if the film is saying that you won't be disappointed for what else is in store, and thankfully, that is where Tale hits the mark.
We follow Thomas to re-introduce the Clay Pits, which looks spectacular, and it is here that Arc Productions and Rob Silvestri's guidance show what they can do creatively with the now much bolder and visually dazzling animation. Bill and Ben are back to their tricky selves, the start of Railway Series references, as Thomas struggles to rendezvous with them, leading to a few moments of camera following engine with no narration for 40 seconds!

All that is heard is the chuff chuff environmental soundscape and the atmospheric music by team HartshorneRobert and Peter. Timothy, voiced with a brummy dialect by Tim Whitnall, is given an introduction from a mishap involving his trucks and Thomas, so Bill and Ben are here to stay. This leads to Thomas taking a load away and moving towards the start of an avalanche, one of a few ensuing trouble for the engines.

The footprints discovery is made, but this discovery is not the same "finding a lost or new engine or place and ending with a grand opening", this special is different and has many surprises along the way. But the blue engine gets into trouble, so are they any heroes about?

What follows in the title sequence is something that will certainly make the long-term fans be in awe of, not necessarily in the illustrations, but with the font and the 40s style work to the night theme used. Its a real coo, it promises a lot to come. We find the Steam Team, the clay twins and silent input from a singular Rosie cameo and eventual three timer Stanley in the yards with The Fat Controller encouraging the engines to work down to the coal.
We say hello to Marion in the pits who is informative with her presence. It is as if the pen of Andrew Brenner wants to really educate the audience and he does that a few more times later on. Marion shows colours of bubbliness and companionship while singing songs during work. The BAFTA winning actress voicing clearly had to have a lot of fun with her, not in her occasional screen time, but to provide all that bubbly. Wait for the end credits to learn her name!

The silhouette of our big new accomplice Gator creeps past the screen by a glittering pond and horizon, tied in with in the moment CGI, a fearful piece of soundtrack, a scared frog and again no narration for 25 seconds, this is heavenly spooky direction. Percy gradually takes over as the lead with the start of a scene at a busy workplace involving the mail run.

Moving through the misty hills and hitting the bottom, it is here that the green little un' develops the continuous scared-ness upon finding the moving silhouette creeping towards him. With probably a sense of railway rule forgetfulness, we're back at The Docks to say a humble greeting to the alligator gentle giant, thrown in with a few bits of humour from an accidental Cranky and Thomas.

Gator assures us of his being and having the brave-ness to get on with life, a theme that is reminded in many ways through the hour. But Percy is still unsure of the brave as he fears for his protection in a Tim Burton-esque musical sequence of Monsters Everywhere, boldy going where no Thomas production has gone before, most notably at the end of the interval involving some cartoon-ish imagery.

Percy misses the mark of time and severely affects punctuality, something that Topham Hatt acknowledges. James is back to his teasy ways not long after the events of The Phantom Express, but plays it out as if its an extended version of Scaredy Engines. Gator tells Percy of his past, in another treat from Arc, reminding of his issue with gravity.
Percy takes this into account and, at some point during sunset, tells Thomas about what he feels he should do. If you saw King of the Railway and appreciated the downplay of the special coal issue, wait till you hear Thomas' reply. Its a whoofer of a throwaway line and it will make you laugh!

Continuing to bully No. 6, James finds himself in a diversion and encounters, to quote Blackadder, a twisty turny thing. Reg is unfortunately severely limited in this feature and is just there... just there, its a disappointment. This also applies to Timothy, who even talkative at the first quarter is later relegated to a sleeping scene in the third quarter. Gator however guides Percy through and plays a dominant supporting role in the assurance of confinement.

But Gator's residential status and origins are questioned. Another musical interval follows with the duo travelling together and assuring one another, with the aid of peaceful instruments similar to Blue Mountain Mystery and the return of a vocalist that will make you whoop a little cheer, Tale of the Brave will make you smile and take things in your hearts.

During this, Gator becomes cautious over a long section of track. When Percy passes it, Gator succeeds in brave-ness, then comes an extreme wide shot of the referred location last seen in the 16th Season. It is a big beautiful shot, thank you Arc.

But No. 5 has none of Percy's beliefs and is helped by a considerable sort of henchman to frighten him. He mercilessly taunts the small engine back at sheds, leading to the tender engines to tease him more. It is Emily's moment to shine and a one line delivery will make you love and believe in her more, its brilliant.
Enough is enough for Percy and he proceeds to take matters into his own buffers by lifting his ego away at Brendam. He is cross just like in Day of the Diesels, but he's on form here. With Topham wanting a word, Thomas realises the worst. A punished James is reunited with The Smelly Kipper and lands into a trouble at float, mirroring a highlight from James to the Rescue. Arc this time provides the thrills, and it looks terrific.

Cranky gets his most caring scene ever before a plan is quickly forgotten. The crane is tasked with his strength to commit and is therefore threatened. Its a tense minute and will leave you on the edge of your seat. The climax takes place in the large landscape of... well, that would be telling. Big trouble arrives and the lives of three engines are at risk when one is simply not scared of things, until...

The action steps up a gear and gives Arc a lot to do, a lot. The end of it references a classic 90s episode before an engine is once again in threat. A move by a character, who treads boards early on in the film, becomes a saviour and quotes an ironic line from Shakespeare before a celebration is attended by a recent popular addition for a cameo. One mistake however involves Topham exclaiming two words when someone leaves, shoehorned in and out of character.

The farewell scene becomes a bittersweet moment and hits you in the centre, and it makes one character find an improvement in their-self, it fulfils them and it is heart warming. No end of special music video this time, instead we have Eggplant LF giving us a fast mix while delightfully, the voice cast are given the exposure they've needed for years, perhaps something you might have recalled in The Simpsons Movie.

There's a lot to look forward to in this credible instalment but really the special is about the actions made between Thomas, Percy and James which come full circle. Concerning new blood, Gator is the most prominent and acts as the big friendly giant in directing Percy through. While Marion is given beginning coverage before quietly dropping out until providing faith in the third act, Timothy is limited. The worst offender is Reg who is there for just a few lines.
However, minor quibbles aside, what makes Tale so absolute is the amount of heart that is in the story, the characters, the drama and the throwbacks to old, classic and new material. Blue Mountain succeeded in delivering those goods but Tale doubles it up incredibly. In terms of Arc Productions, it is probably the best ever animation to ever feature in a Thomas & Friends episode and it makes the story worthwhile. Many complex angles, originality and depth.

There are scenes which could well scare younger viewers but it does so in a good way as the whole hour challenges the un-confident to be assertive, and it works. One mystery is the sights of reptile footprints which do tease what's in store for the next endeavours on Sodor. This is the definitive start of a better life for the show and packs many surprises and heart. Its lovely, it really is the Tale of the Brave and its as if the film is saying "and we're back".

Tale of the Brave gets an...

Tale of the Brave: The Movie rolls into Vue cinemas across the UK from August 22nd to 28th. The DVD is released in the UK on September 1st, the US triple play Blu-ray on the 16th and in Australia and New Zealand on October 1st.

Thomas & Friends' 18th Season premieres on Channel 5 milkshake! in the UK on August 25th at 7:35am, with the episode, Old Reliable Edward.

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