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In 1984 Gullane Entertainment, owners of the Sooty television show, Guinness World Records and Captain Pugwash, launched the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series. Based on the Rev W Awdry's books about an island (Sodor) populated by steam trains, the series was filmed using a beautifully detailed, custom-made model of the Sodor railway network, built on a scale of 1:48. The show was narrated by Ringo Starr, the ex-drummer for The Beatles and featured many of the original tales, as well as some new ones.
One of the charming things about the television series is that, due to budget constraints and technological restrictions, although the engines move and talk and their expressions change from one scene to the next, their mouths' never actually move, thus keeping a tenuous link to the original illustrations.
From 1992 - 1995, fellow Liverpudlian Michael Angelis replaced Ringo as the voice of Thomas and his friends. Coincidentally, in 1968, Michael's brother Paul had voiced a cartoon Ringo for the animated movie Yellow Submarine. Meanwhile, when the show was broadcast in the USA, Thomas was voiced by American actor George Carlin.
Stars of the Silver Screen
In 2000, Gullane Entertainment released a full-length feature film entitled Thomas and the Magic Railroad. The word 'railroad' in the title is an instant warning that this 'quintessentially British' children's tale had been 'Americanised'.
The film was a mixture of live action, with real actors (including such Hollywood superstars as Peter Fonda and Alec Baldwin1), playing alongside the original TV models - the special effects were not at all upgraded for the cinema and the film was widely slated by the critics as being too slow, having a confusing plot and the human actors were 'more plastic than the trains'. In fact, it was said at one point that the actors were completely outclassed by a bunch of four-inch-tall plastic models.