mituns: (towers)
For many small children, particularly boys, Thomas the Tank Engine is an absolute favorite. Asher is no exception. For little boys, there is something particularly fascinating about machines and machinery and watching things do work. Even with all the cute faces, it's no surprise that the Thomas stories (actually called "The Railway Series") were originally created by a man (the Rev. W. Awdry) for a boy (his son, who was quite ill).

Now, I know Thomas has been criticized by some for, among other things, being "imperialistic", "patriarchal", "capitalist", etc. There is even the charge that the compliment of "really useful engine" is somehow a right-wing conspiracy to get kids to believe that their worth lies in their usefulness (though, personally, I'd have to argue that that is more in line with Marxist ideology, and it certainly isn't Christian).

In any case, even though from Season 3 on, the television show has wandered further and further afield of Rev. Awdry's stories, and now at Season 18 or so, many of the storylines have gotten very thin, I consider Thomas, in general, to be pretty harmless fare, and typically suitable for the little ones.

However, after watching the Thomas film "Day of the Diesels", I can tell you that if I can help it, the movie will not get shown again in this house.

On the surface, it seems like the story is one that has been an integral part of children's storytelling for ages. Thomas' best friend is a little green engine named Percy. Upon the arrival of two new engines to the Island of Sodor (where the engines live and work), Percy is sad because he feels like Thomas' time is being monopolized by these two new engines. Sensing his weakness, Diesel comes over to Percy to convince him that the Diesels all want to be his friend.

Percy knows he ought to be wary of the Diesels (after all, he's always been warned "Diesels can be devious") but he decides to follow Diesel to the Dieselworks, where he is apparently accepted into the Diesels' circle of friends. However, for the most part, Percy is being used, particularly by the terrifying Diesel 10, in order to wreak havoc on the steamworks and get to Sir Topham Hatt.

From the synopsis here, it's still a storyline that could be pulled off. However, there are a lot of disturbing elements which are thrown in the mix of this film. (Yes, there are "spoilers" in the coming paragraphs.) First of all, the Diesels are portrayed as an oppressed race. Despite the fact that the Steamies (Thomas, et al.) are on good terms with diesels such as Mavis and Salty, and they don't like most of the diesels because of the way the Diesels treat them, the movie really seems to try to push that the Steamies don't like the Diesels simply for the fact that they are Diesels, that is, the Steamies are discriminating against the Diesels. This is reinforced by all of the Diesels whining about how Sir Topham Hatt "only cares about" the Steamies and how much nicer the Steamies have things than the Diesels do, and how the Diesels have to make do without a repair crane, etc. Percy then feels it is his job to try to "rectify" the situation by doing things such as convincing Kevin (the Steamies' repair crane) to sneak away to help the Diesels.

Now Diesel 10 is the ringleader of the Diesels' devious deeds. Once Thomas comes to see the Dieselworks, he is locked up in a shed and Diesel 10 "accidentally" manages to set a fire that will be the end of Thomas if it's not put out. (Why the filmmakers thought this was appropriate for preschoolers is beyond me.) While the Steamies are busy trying to fight the fire at the Dieselworks, Diesel 10 leads a troop of Diesels to the Steamworks to "take over", though in reality, they are just trashing the entire place. Once the Steamies have taken care of the Dieselworks, they have to confront the Diesels over at the Steamworks. Once the Diesels have been taken care of (to some extent) Sir Topham Hatt makes an appearance explaining that it was always his plan to fix up the Dieselworks, but that these things take time.

There are so many weird messages in this film, it's really hard to note all of them. First of all, if the Diesels are really being discriminated against, why did the film portray them, ultimately, as fitting into every negative stereotype that the Steamies had of them? Why, then, does the movie end with a "new era of understanding and cooperation" between the Diesels and the Steamies? Apparently, the problem wasn't that the Diesels continue to be devious, but that they were simply misunderstood. Despite nearly causing Thomas' demise, Diesel 10's only punishment is that he has to clean up the mess in the Steamworks. Would not a more logical punishment have been either to permanently bar Diesel 10 from Sodor or to "send him to the smelter's"? Instead, the Diesels get their new Dieselworks, and since the old one has burnt down they get it right away as well. The only lesson here is that the next time they want something that they don't get immediately, all they have to do is terrorize Sodor, and eventually they will get it. That's a lesson we surely want all children learning, isn't it? Unfortunately, it's a lesson that too many people around the world are using to their own ends.

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mituns

September 2013

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