Once Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000) failed to make a lasting impression in theaters, HIT Entertainment, who recently acquired the rights to the show made their first experimental special in 2005. Thomas & Friends: Call All Engines! (2005) was a trial run for the studio to see if whether or not home video release movies would be profitable or not for the show. As time went on though, it was decided that the show would enter the realm of CGI and leave the practical sets and models behind. Entering the start of season 12 was the beginning of this next experiment where CGI was mixed with live- action. However HIT Entertainment released one more home video special. This would be their last special completely filmed with live- action models. And for what they were able to make, it is not vastly stronger by comparison to Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005), but the studio did make several improvements. This shows that they're listening to the people who watch the show.
Making this particular feature all the more unique was the inclusion of James Bond star Pierce Brosnan to narrate the story. At one point Brosnan was going to be the narrator to replace Michael Brandon and Michael Angelis respectively. However when HIT Entertainment moved fully to CGI production, his status was changed to temporary. The story for this special is about how Thomas ends up discovering the town of Great Waterton. An area on Sodor that had been lost to the ages. However with Thomas discovering it, Sir Topham Hatt gave him full reign over the reconstruction of it. Hatt also brought on Stanley to help out, a new tank engine that the rest of the engines found a liking too. This unfortunately causes Thomas to feel threatened. As an overall story, this kind of plot isn't unheard of. Nor is the story of Thomas feeling no longer like the number one engine that uncommon either. But being that this was Thomas' final adventure in physical model form, it's apparent the film crew wanted as much as possible.
The script to this special was written by Sharon Miller, a frequent collaborator with the franchise that would end up annoying many fans. Right now though, the work she completed here is harmless by comparison to her future work. The story may be somewhat cliché in certain areas but it isn't horrendous. This was also her real first feature credit. Directing again was given to Steve Asquith, which at this point was the most trusted hands that could and should handle the execution. So here's what has improved since Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005). Remember those learning segments placed in almost every major scene in said special? Well no longer! There are none of that here and that's great. Many of those learning segments contained no value and felt more like filler just to complete the hour. This special shows things like that are not a necessity. Making things even better was the wider use of all the characters introduced into the Thomas & Friends show so far.
In this entry, not only the main eight steam engines (the steam team) are used, but several other minor characters. Narrow gauge engines that belong to Mr. Percival are also featured as well as the Jack the Sodor Construction company. The set of characters that were to start the spin-off series, but would end being canceled. As for Thomas feeling threatened about the newcomer engine Stanley, that's understandable to some degree. The thing is though, Stanley never came across with bad intentions to begin with. So it's odd Thomas would make such an assumption without trying to further judge Stanley. Guess that's what happens when you're the number one for so long. These are easy misunderstandings but they are ones treated to the extreme. The real drawbacks to this film though are some real obvious things. That being the lack physical limitations. There's a derailment that occurs where an engine flips off the tracks. This is done so to not frighten little viewers but most trains are unusable after a full rollover.
The other is the use of flimsy bridges and engines jumping gaps. These kinds of things are to make the adventure exciting but this just feels improbable. A thinly constructed bridge will not hold a heavy metal tank engine. However, this does not take away from the set pieces used. Several sets and miniatures used within the running time are full of detail and make the visuals that much more realistic. There's also a collapse of a giant metal truss bridge and it looks awesome. Brosnan's narration of the story is also unique. He's like no other. His vocals are much smoother by comparison to anyone else and it works well. It's sad he didn't go further as the narrator. For music, the score and sing-along was composed by only Robert Hartshorne this time and not with Ed Welch. Everything there is done really well. The best of the songs are probably "Jobs a Plenty" and "Where oh Where is Thomas". Oddly enough the ending also includes a rap/pop song for Thomas. It's not bad but feels definitely like a fish out of water.
For the show's final special filmed in live-action, the plot itself isn't exactly the most unique. Also some scenes feel like the physics behind it aren't true. Yet with catchy songs, the use of as many characters as possible and having Pierce Brosnan narrate helps make this adequate to watch.