Tuesday, May 27, 2008

TV Tuesday: Thomas the Tank Engine & His Friends

My boys, who are 5 and 3, LOVE Thomas the Tank Engine and His Friends. We own five Thomas DVDs, along with countless engines, cars, tracks, bridges and other accessories. My kids entertain themselves for hours looking at brochures that display the thousands of Thomas toys we do not already own, including several versions of the same character. (For example, besides Percy, you can purchase Coal Dust Percy, Chocolate Covered Percy, Jack Frost Percy, Battery Powered Percy, Lights & Sounds Percy, Take Along Percy, and the Limited Edition Silver Percy.)

While my oldest son has a few other interests, my 3-year-old is pretty much engrossed in a world of Thomas. His dream life would involve playing with trains all day, every day, only taking a break now and then to watch Thomas videos.
In fact, that dream is not so far from his reality. Of course there are those pesky interruptions. Taking his brother to school. Eating. Drinking. Sleeping.
Even his bedtime routine revolves around Thomas. First, we read one or two poorly-written books about Thomas and Friends. Then we turn out the lights and I make up a story about the Thomas characters. Finally, when he’s good and sleepy, we finish up with this little lullaby:

Rock-a-bye, Thomas, in the Engine shed/
You’ve worked real hard; now it’s time for bed/
All of the engines are going to sleep/
So close your eyes and don’t make a peep
(repeat with various characters' names)

Feel free to use this song for your own Thomas fan, but just keep in mind, everything on this site is copyrighted.

I still remember the first time I saw a Thomas and Friends movie. My friends had told me how obsessed their sons were, so we checked a video out from the library.
My initial reaction was: Kids actually sit still to watch this? It’s not exactly a slick production, just some rough animation with toy trains and a narrator.
After that experience, we didn’t watch Thomas again for a very long time. Eventually, though, my oldest son developed an interest through his experiences with wooden trains at the doctor’s office, the bookstore, and his friends’ houses. Before long we had purchased our first set of tracks and a few engines.

I’m not sure when we gravitated from merely playing with the toys to watching the show, but Thomas has grown on me. The boys enjoy the humor, the crashes, and the adventures. I like the storytelling element, the simplicity of production, and sometimes, I have to admit, it is pretty darn funny. Everyone in the family has developed favorite characters and episodes, and we quote extensively from the Thomas series:
“You have caused confusion and delay!”
“Luckily, no one was hurt.”
“Fastest and best, fastest and best!”

As a result of this show, my boys use the word “cross” in everyday conversation, as in, “Why are you cross, Mom?”

“Cross” is cute. “Shut up,” on the other hand...

Some kids’ TV shows provide a pristine example of how people should act and how we should treat each other. Thomas and Friends is not one of those shows. While there is generally some sort of moral to the story, the characters are far from perfect, and they exhibit realistic personality flaws.
For the most part, I prefer this type of show because I think kids can relate to characters who make mistakes and don’t always treat each other with utmost kindness. Overcoming conflict is what life, and most entertainment, is all about.
That being said, I wish I could edit out one scene, in which James the shiny red engine says, “Shut up! It’s not funny!”
A 5-year-old can understand that, even though James says “shut up," that does not mean it’s okay. My 3-year-old hasn’t quite made that distinction. He quotes large portions of episodes with intense emotion, so I’ll often hear him say forcefully, to no one in particular: “Shut up! It’s not funny!”
Stifling laughter, I tell him, “We don’t say ‘shut up,’ okay? That’s not nice.”
“Okay,” he says.
An hour later I hear him downstairs: “Shut up! It’s not funny!”

But still. As they clean up after a storm, deal with those ornery troublesome trucks, or argue about which engine is the most useful, Thomas and his friends are passing along valuable life lessons about consequences, kindness, and cooperation.

To see what I'm talking about, watch this hilarious five-minute episode:
Busy Going Backwards

1 comment:

kersten campbell said...

Oh my! That lullaby is too awesome! I love it! So cute!