Generation after generation has fallen in love with the stories of Thomas the Tank Engine since it was first created in 1913. But someone has a very different take on some of the older episodes of the TV show adaptation, Thomas & Friends, which began airing in 1984.
Jia Tolentino wrote an article for The New Yorker that “exposed” the darker side of the characters and plot lines, and people of all ages are dismayed by the negative impact this is having on treasured childhood memories.
Tolentino calls particular attention to The Sad Story of Henry (retitled in the US as Come Out, Henry!). The proud and vain green train is reluctant to exit a tunnel in case the rain ruins his paint job. When the Fat Controller can’t extricate Henry forcibly from the tunnel, he chooses to punish the train.
“We shall take away your rails, and leave you here for always and always,” the Fat Controller says, before having the tunnel bricked over until only a small amount of Henry’s face is visible. While Henry’s fate was a temporary one in the US voiceover, it was harsh and permanent in the original UK version.
“What moral lessons are kids supposed to learn from this?” one person commented on a YouTube video of the episode. “Do as you’re told or you will be entombed forever in the darkness to die?”
Tolentino’s article goes on to analyse the origins of Thomas the Tank Engine, speculating on how and why such harsh punishments were deemed acceptable for such a young audience, paying particular attention to the way many trains are repurposed for seemingly cruel fates such as having “their body parts … sold or cannibalized for repair”.
While children’s entertainment can often seem silly or irreverent, most stories have an underlying moral message to impart to the viewers; some lessons are harsher than others, but this view makes it seem like Thomas & Friends has gone a little too far.