THOMAS & FRIENDS: DIGS & DISCOVERIES
Written By Becky Overton
Directed By Joey So
Ever since Thomas The Tank Engine first arrived on the Island Of Sodor, he had always wanted to see the world...and through the encouragement of the dangerous thrillseeker Ace, he saw his chance as he journeyed across five different continents with the help of his new friend Nia through deserts and jungles and climbing mountains in an attempt to become the first railway engine to go all the way around the world before he returned to help out on the railways of his international friends that he met at the Great Railway Show. But what big world adventures will Thomas get up to when he and his construction friends travel to Italy? Let's find out and go go go on a big world adventure to the Eternal City for some 'Digs & Discoveries'!
THOMAS & FRIENDS - DIGS & DISCOVERIES: Thomas and the Sodor Construction Company discover a new world of wonder as they explore the buried history of Italy!
Season 23, Episodes 15-16: All Tracks Lead To Rome
Written By Becky Overton
Directed By Joey So
ALL TRACKS LEAD TO ROME: Thomas tries to prove to Gina that he is an expert in all things Italian
- The animation-even if they had to reuse a lot of assets from Sodor in order to create the railways of Italy like they did for the movie such as the Ulfstead Castle Mine and Maron Station, you can't deny that the team at Jam Filled still did an amazing job in capturing the beauty and serenity of Italy from the lush green valleys filled with trees to the magnificent mountains and beautiful beaches even going as far as animating the Leaning Tower Of Pisa and the Colosseum...I may not have ever been to Italy myself, but I adore how gorgeous it looks and authentic it sounds in the music department thanks to the compositions by Chris Renshaw-what else can you say except 'bravo, bellissimo'!
- Teaching Italian culture-some or even many fans might be turned off by this due to feeling like that they are back in school learning things that they don't want to (as if they didn't want to learn anything before), I'm all for learning new things about different cultures because I have been to many Italian-inspired restaurants throughout my time even if it is mostly for pizza with family...and with the much anticipated return of Gina from 'The Great Race' as Thomas' tour guide in her homeland of Italy albeit without a reintroduction from Thomas like he had with Yong Bao and Raul, it is clear right from the start that she is very proud of the heritage in her homeland though she is quick to correct anyone who has misunderstandings about her homeland's heritage especially from Thomas in this episode which we will get to discussing soon!
- The fantasy sequences-with this now being one of the major selling points for the series, this sequence of Gina and Thomas in a horse drawn chariot race while a rather excitable Sir Topham Hatt as a great Roman emperor cheers Thomas on from his throne was amazing to witness and quite a lot of fun with how authentic it looked through the many different camera angles being animated by Jam Filled...although I have to wonder why we haven't received a Wood or TrackMaster version of this fantasy among the merchandise coming out for this new movie-I know that we have the TrackMaster Armored Thomas and Gina in their own three packs, but it would be cool if they released a Colosseum set of Gina and Thomas racing each other in a similar style to the one they released for 'The Great Race'!
- The introduction of Stefano-just from his legendary beach landing alone, Stefano has certainly made a grand entrance into the Thomas & Friends universe since we've never had a 'super cruiser' as Mattel calls him in Thomas before-in fact as his character bio states, he is quite charming and gentle despite him being a bit of a showboat who loves to wow everyone with his amphibious abilities and revels in their surprise...but I really wish that a majority of the fandom would stop making D-Day jokes about Stefano every time that he enters and exits the beach when talking to Thomas-guys, it's flat out insulting to history and to those men who gave their lives so that we could continue to live ours!
- The introduction of Ester-although she doesn't appear on screen as much as Stefano does, Ester still makes for a pretty enjoyable character since we have never had a female excavator in the world of Thomas before seeing as we've only had Alfie and Oliver from The Pack who we will be seeing make their return in the second part of this special and we can see that she gets very excitable about the archaeological dig that she is working on with Gina...and as we will soon see in Part 2 of this special, she is gonna get a big surprise both with her digging and who she has to help her out!
- The story-while I was blown away by the animation and authentic sounds of Italy, it couldn't hide the fact that the first part of this adventure isn't all that original since it is mostly an Italian rehash of Season 22's "Outback Thomas" as well as every single time within the series where Thomas claims he knows all about something when he really doesn't and you're just waiting for the moment where Thomas realizes his mistakes and makes things right with whichever engine he had originally angered or upset-all you really have to do is replace Thomas wanting to be a fun tour guide like Shane from Australia with thinking he knows more about Italian than Gina does and you're all set on top of having a majority of the episode being spent on Thomas and Gina arguing with each other about who knows more about Italy than the other engine! It's not funny, it's not suspenseful and it's not dramatic because we know everything that's going to happen...but for a lot of people, they somehow don't mind this kind of story and I can understand why
Overall despite being an Italian rehash of Thomas' first adventure in Australia during Season 22, 'All Tracks Lead To Rome' still manages to be a pretty great start for Thomas' new adventures in the Eternal City with some gorgeous animation and plenty of new friends to meet from the amphibious Stefano to the excitable excavator Ester...so for that, 'All Tracks Lead To Rome' also led to a rating of an 8 out of 10 and this big world adventure has only just begun!
Season 23, Episodes 17-18: Mines Of Mystery
Written By Becky Overton
Directed By Joey So
MINES OF MYSTERY: In an attempt to impress his friends, Thomas finds a discovery beyond his expectations
- The return of Jack And The Pack-I don't know how many fans in the community really wanted to see Jack And The Pack again in the series especially ever since the Big World Big Adventures revamp first started, but I am probably in the minority when I say that I loved Jack And The Pack during the model era of the series as well as in Season 20's "Mucking About" since they were a very cool concept albeit only having one or two episodes in the series every so often...also if you really think about it, Jack And The Pack will be having more appearances and screen time in this one season than they've had in the entirety of the series prior to this unless you count the half-completed spin-off series that happened between Seasons 7 and 8 of the television series! Also, there have been quite a few changes to the construction crew from Nathan Clarke no longer voicing Alfie The Excavator after Season 20's "Mucking About" as well as Thomas meeting a new member of The Pack that he had never seen before among his old friends...but we'll get to her in a moment!
- The fantasy sequences-with this now being one of the major selling points for the series, this sequence of Thomas imagining him making an exciting discovery like his friends from The Pack a la referencing the Indiana Jones classic 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' was friggin' amazing since Thomas has been known for referencing television shows and movies in the past along with adapting classic media...and with Indiana Jones being one of my favorite film franchises, this sequence was an absolute blast in how on-point it was in adapting this classic film series from the careful extraction of the ancient artifacts to being chased out of the closing walled caverns while being chased out by boulders which turns out to be in Brazil where Thomas almost crashes into the collapsed bridge that he crossed with Nia and Ace while delivering coffee in the Big World Big Adventures movie before being woken out of his fantasy by Max's horn in present day reality...while I can see Mattel making a TrackMaster or Wood set out of this particular fantasy, what surprised me the most was that I never thought I would hear Thomas say the word 'booby traps' which I'm sure is gonna awaken the immature fans in the community!
- The introduction of Lorenzo and Beppe-through a beautifully crafted mosaic tiled backstory of 'The Lost Engine' from Stefano to Thomas in 'All Tracks Lead To Rome' and then to Jack And The Pack in the second half of this special, it is here where we finally meet the legendary best friends duo of Lorenzo and Beppe who both have amazing designs and we can see right from their introduction that they love being the center of attention while having a love for singing opera which not only leads to an unfortunate cave collapse leading to being rescued by Stefano but will also play a part in two upcoming episodes of Season 23 when we return to Italy to meet up with our newbies for this special again and follow them on their own adventures. While not much is known about Lorenzo and Beppe as of this moment, but I look forward to seeing what adventures these two will get up to with Thomas in the future...
- Brenda-as I have stated countless times ever since Season 23 first started with 'The Other Big Engine/Grudge Match', I am going off of the broadcasting schedule for the United States and I don't know for sure if this is the correct order to view the season...but as for Brenda herself while she does have a very cool design, her personality however is not all that original since all I see with Brenda in this case is the show staff trying to give the audience (particularly the older fans) the character development that Byron The Bulldozer from the original version of The Pack the character development that he was lacking during their two-part debut back in Season 6 and the half-completed spin-off series. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of trying to make a gender balanced version of The Pack like with the Steam Team...but Brenda while having a cool design like I said earlier is basically just a female version of Byron The Bulldozer and it would've been better had we fleshed out the personalities of the other Pack members like Byron yet to be re-introduced into the television series!
Overall while the concept of the engines making exciting discoveries through their misadventures is nothing new for the series since we've had both good and bad examples from throughout the series even before the international revamp, 'Mines Of Mystery' is definitely a shining example of how this concept can be done right and I'm proud to give this episode a 9 out of 10 and give 'Digs & Discoveries' in general a rating of a 8.5 out of 10.
The Other Big Engine-9.5/10
Gordon Gets The Giggles-8.5/10
Laid Back Shane-8.5/10
Free The Roads-10/10
Heart Of Gold-10/10
Wish You Were Here-9/10
Diesel Glows Away-7.5/10