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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Thomas & Friends: Journey Beyond Sodor is a spirited adventure, with lots of music, in which Thomas travels beyond the safe harbor of his own island. Excited and optimistic, his wish to have new experiences doesn't quite work out the way he'd hoped. Thomas gets himself into a lot of trouble, but with the help of his own ingenuity and some new friends, he is rescued and learns important lessons about competitiveness and about being responsible and useful. Expect more action, more scares, and more spookiness than usual for a Thomas story. There are many train accidents -- a derailment, a plunge from a bridge, bumps and crashes -- and two train engines who are up to no good hold Thomas in a steel mill against his will. Molten steel spills, slag heaps, and a tall fence are obstacles the little blue tank engine must handle. Messages abound, about friendship, rivalries, a can-do attitude, and each person's own specialness. The movie also introduces some brand-new train engines, both distinctive and amusing. Naturally, many are immediately available for sale along with the old favorite franchise toys. Because of the jeopardy in this movie, it may not be suitable for kids who aren't comfortable with real versus pretend scares.
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What's the story?
Train engine James is such a know-it-all when THOMAS & FRIENDS: JOURNEY BEYOND SODOR opens. He's positive that he's Sir Topham Hat's favorite engine. Why else, he tells Thomas, would he get all the best jobs? Naturally, Thomas disagrees, and when James is given another great chance for an adventure, Thomas tricks his boastful friend, gets up very early in the morning, and takes that opportunity for himself. He's off to the mainland for an important delivery. Unfortunately, while the mainland is filled with wonderful places to see, Thomas gets distracted. All at once, he's hopelessly lost. He meets several interesting and friendly trains, but no one seems to be able to help him find his way. Only two engines, Hurricane and Frankie, offer their assistance. But be careful of strangers who might have selfish plans. Thomas is soon trapped in a place that makes him long for the joys of home. Back on Sodor, the fact that Thomas hasn't returned has everyone frightened. And it may be that only James, whose friendship with Thomas matters much more than being Sir Topham Hat's favorite, is the one who can bring him back to Sodor.
Is it any good?
A suspenseful adventure, positive messages, and the addition of some spirited new characters who add fun to the tale make this franchise entry a solid choice for fans of the little blue tank engine. There's lots of lively music in Thomas & Friends: Journey Beyond Sodor, and vocal performances are top-notch. The only caution for family viewing is that the popular little trains, and particularly Thomas, are in jeopardy throughout this story. Shots of molten steel threatening the engines in a dark and strange setting, along with a shady plot by two mischievous trains, bring more danger to the fore than the usual train accidents, which are quickly resolved. As always, movies like this one are important marketing tools for Mattel and licensees of Thomas. Introducing new characters is a sure-fire way to keep the catalogues fresh and desirable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how movies like Thomas & Friends: Journey Beyond Sodor help sell all the Thomas & Friends toys and products. How does introducing new characters like Merlin and Hurricane and Frankie help build the Thomas brand? How does your family handle the introduction of so many new toys?
It's hard to admit mistakes sometimes. Why was it important for Thomas to admit he'd made a mistake when he tricked James? Why is it important to apologize?
Do you think it's true that as this movie says, "You can't make new friends by making them stay, you have to be nice so that they want to be friends." What do you do when you want someone to like you?
At one point in the story, Thomas says he feels useless, that he "does everything wrong." Do you ever feel like that? Think of some ways in which you can change those thoughts.
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