Thomas and Parents: Tale of the Cinema

I remember well the experience of visiting the cinema as a small child. Back in the early eighties, things were very different to today. Home video recorders were still something of a rarity, never mind the idea of services like Netflix and Amazon Instant. There were only four television channels that broadcast limited hours each day and certainly no endless repeats! It meant that watching old films was rather more difficult than it is now and there was a good opportunity for cinemas to make extra money by showing old classics that weren’t otherwise easily watchable. This is how the first films I saw on the big screen came to be Disney pictures that pre-dated not just me in age, but my parents too. I remember, like many children the world over, seeing Bambi and being reduced to tears. I also have a very vivid memory of seeing the original animated version of 101 Dalmations and being petrified of Cruella De Vil. It was a petrification that I remember clearly enough to reserve some caution now about when I allow Thomas to watch that particular classic.

My local cinema was one of those beautiful, traditional picture houses, which borrowed much of it’s styling from the theatres of the West End and bore little resemblance to the big screens of today. It had big, swishy curtains of red velvet that covered the screen until it was time for the feature to start. There was a circle as well as stalls, and even boxes with ornate balcony carvings. The seats were deep, plush velveteen, and flipped up when you stood, like “proper” theatre seats should. The box office had a single window and the tickets were spun from a pre-printed roll and popped up with a satisfying clunk from a little slot in the metal counter edge. No pick-and-mix, or ice cream counter but instead usherettes selling from trays worn on their front.

A visit to the cinema these days may not involve so many traditional, romantic elements, but it’s still special. And the prominence of my own happy cinema memories (the tears and fears notwithstanding), tells me that those early visits are both an important and worthwhile part of childhood. And last weekend, it was Thomas’s turn to experience it for the very first time.

I’d been planning this trip for almost a year. That sounds like a long time in the life of a not-quite three-year-old, to be planning something essentially so ordinary. But I wanted to get it right. I wanted to take him to something that he would enjoy – and that wouldn’t reduce him to quivering heap of fear. He’s still unpredictable in his reactions to sudden, loud noises. It also needed to be something I could be pretty sure he would sit all the way through and be interested in, if not because tickets these days aren’t cheap, then because I didn’t want to put him off the idea of the cinema for ever more. And given that he’s still such a massive Thomas the Tank Engine (and his friends, of course) fan, a Thomas movie seemed like an obvious choice.

We briefly considered taking him last year when King of the Railway was released. But I was worried he was just a tiny bit too young to fully appreciate it, and be to be able to watch it the whole way through without wanting to run laps around the room. HIT Entertainment tend to release one feature per year, usually towards the end of August, and so we decided that, providing Thomas still loved Thomas, the 2014 film would be the one.

The Thomas films are a pretty good first film. Full of characters familiar from the TV series, with a simple storyline and lasting just 60 minutes, instead of the more usual full feature length of 90 minutes plus. I kept an eye out on the Vue websites (Vue exclusively screen the Thomas films in the UK) and we booked our tickets for Tale of the Brave almost as soon as they were available. At that stage, it would have been fair to say that I was more excited than Thomas!

I think, however, that it’s safe to say he loved it. We told him on the way there that we were going to see Thomas on a very big television screen. From the moment we walked in to the cinema lobby, he began asking “But where’s the big television Mummy?” He loved handing his ticket in to the man on the way in, and telling everyone that he was going to watch Thomas “on the big television”. Naturally, his own wooden Thomas also accompanied us for the trip.

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We bought a small popcorn, to complete the experience, and it’s fair to say that Ian and I didn’t get much of a look in on that one, although we’d intended it for us all to share! He sat, rapt, staring at the screen for the full duration, only dragging his eyes away to search for the popcorn bucket and grab another handful. Afterwards he declared “That was very good!”

Something that I didn’t think to anticipate when I became a mother was that I’d one day have opinions on children’s films. If you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d have a “favourite” Thomas and Friends film, I might have laughed. But when you’ve been forced to watch them all as many times as I have, it’s hard not to develop favourites. And honestly, the story in Tale of the Brave was somewhat weak. The songs were no where near as catchy as those in King of the Railway or Blue Mountain Mystery, and the new characters less engaging that Stephen and Caitlin, introduced last year. Not that Thomas cared, of course. And to be fair, it is a film aimed at small children! They do a pretty good job to spin out 60 minutes of story from characters more normally confined to 10 minute episodes. It was by no means a terrible film, and I’m quite sure the DVD will find its way in to our house at some point.

Well, it has to, really. It will forever be the first film that Thomas saw at a cinema. With the way entertainment is changing, I can’t confidently say that it will necessarily be the first of many. But it will remain a special memory, no matter what.

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2 Replies to “Thomas and Parents: Tale of the Cinema”

  1. They’ve definitely slacked a bit on the song writing front in recent films. King of the Railway re-used a song from Blue Mountain mystery, and I can’t even remember the song from the latest film. I have a soft spot for the Blue Mountain Mystery songs, and for Where oh Where is Thomas (from the Great Discovery film). Ahem… this conversation never happened.

    1. Yes, the Blue Mountain Mystery songs are still the best, but “Searchiiiiiiing, everywhere….” from King of the Railway is still a strong favourite here. And I’m not sure anything will ever quite displace “Accidents Happen” as the best Thomas song of all!

      I only worry about myself when I find I’m singing them when Thomas (the boy, that is) isn’t even around. And of course that never happens… *ahem* indeed!

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