Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Kids are notorious for becoming obsessive about the latest craze and surrounding themselves with it, at the expense of their parents’ funds. These days, it’s crap like Ben 10 and Bakugan, things that I wouldn’t understand if I was given a complete thesaurus on it, but they make perfect sense to kids.
I was no different. I was on the Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z bandwagons a decade ago, and they came and went just like all the others. The price of admission to an Anthony birthday in 1995 was Street Sharx. One year later, everyone was going nuts about Space Jam toys. Or maybe I was the only one. Point is; I had legions of those damn things.
If you delve earlier though, past Sonic the Hedgehog and the Ninja Turtles, you’ll find my simplest, earliest fascinations. It was basically things that roll when you push them. First off, it was generic cars. And who didn’t love cars as a kid? You’d give your stationary toys a shove, and they’d tumble over and crumple like wusses. But cars? Man, you push them around, and they roll with it. They were like us. They understood us.
Then, it came to branded products. Hot Wheels didn’t quite catch on with me for some reason, even though it would have been the natural progression. Instead, I aspired to collect the things I saw on the television; I wanted myself an assload of Thomas the Tank Engine goods.
Today, we shall premiere this beloved series, with help from my good friend, Duck the Great Western Engine.
Ahh, Thomas. Just hearing the opening tune makes me feel giddy and nostalgic.
For a kids show, it certainly had an odd way of teaching us morals. In every episode, one engine would be our protagonist, and one of two things happened; either he was an arrogant prick who would get taught a lesson, or he was being picked on by other trains and had to show them who’s boss.
And seriously, there was very little in the way of character consistency. It didn’t matter who it was, every train was a dick at one point. Even the titular character was known to tease that little tosser Percy every now and then.
So it certainly didn’t instill any feelings of trust amongst our peers. Through avid watching of Thomas, we learnt to fend for ourselves, to pull our heads in or else face the wrath of God, and that trains are mean fucks.
Who is this Duck, then? I remember the episode when he premiered, one of the other trains (typically) made fun of him for being called Duck. Apparently his real name is actually Montague, and he’s called Duck because he… waddles. I don’t know. I don’t know why being called Duck because you act like a duck is any nicer than actually being named Duck, but if that’s what Duck wants then that’s what Duck gets.
(Eight instances of ‘duck’ in that last paragraph. I tried to slip that many in my Turtlecycle review as well, but it didn’t quite pan out)
Duck featured the unfortunate fate of being a later addition to the series (albeit the second season, but later all the same). Kids had already chosen all of their favourites, and about 95% of us had based our favourites on our most beloved colour. I was a James kid, because he was red and red was awesome.
In Duck’s case, he was a pompous little train of green. Oops! Kids had already hitched their wagons on Henry or Percy, and it’s not like Duck was much more endearing than either of those two.
He was an outsider. A misfit. A dog of the house of Montague!
Had it not been for my obsessive collecting tendencies back in the day, I doubt I would have acquired Duck for any merits of his own. I don’t remember him getting any playtime, and even if he did, he would have been getting rescued by James. James would have also had all of the superpowers, the witty one-liners and sex appeal. I projected everything I wished to be on that train, by god.
Forgive the nonconformist’s dirty face; he was a garage acquisition after all. The very first Thomas toys had stickers as faces instead of being modeled into the toy, and they would inevitably peel away after years of play and bath time fun, revealing the horrific truth that, under the façade of a grinning mug, they were indeed mere trains.
In Duck’s case, he was a fancy-schmancy edition with a real live face (well, not real real, of course. That’d be fucking creepy), and as such, other than some faded paint in places, a host of chipped flesh and filth ingrained within his being, he’s fared better than most.
I never understood what ‘GWR’ meant as a child. A quick squiz at Wikipedia reveals it as being an acronym for ‘Great Western Railway’, and in a few brief moments I have solved a mystery that plagued me for years of my youth. It was almost as infuriating as how Knuckles’ name was abbreviated to ‘K.T.E.’ in early Sonic games. Made him sound like a goddamn robot.
I’m sure that that very first episode I mentioned would have told us the origins of GWR, but I was a dumb kid who was probably waiting for something funny to happen, or for James to do something cool, or for Ringo Starr to say ‘toot toot’. Clearly my attention span wasn’t at the level required for a sophisticated program about trains.
There isn’t really much more to be said here, because we all know Thomas. He’s been done before. It’s not like I can form a lore about him, and my fanfic would be very blasé and uneventful (and likely jam-packed with James action).
So instead, let’s ponder on something I never quite fathomed. Why were the trains always looking… somewhere to the side? Were they manufactured with the intention of sitting next to one another, smirking a creepy, knowing smile at each other? Were you indeed supposed to navigate them in that direction, thereby condemning them to an eternity of moving in circles?
I’m looking at Duck and looking at him hard, but he’s not telling me anything. All I know is I feel unsafe about the concept of getting into a train that refuses to watch where he’s going. …But really, would I board a talking, self-conscious train who’s often up to mischief and occasionally crashing into things? I suppose not.
You know what else I’ve only noticed from taking these photos? Those faces are damned scary. How were we not terrified by these trains as kids? The way they’d smile, and their eyes would dart around suspiciously? It’s quite eerie. It’s shit like that that got Mulligrubs canceled.
Unfortunately for Thomas the Tank Engine toys, because of their necessary length, they were smaller than our other usual toys. I always hated height inconsistency, particularly when people were larger than passenger vehicles. If this were Zoolander, I would slam the display to the floor in fury.
“Come on, you lot!” whistled Duck cheekily, roaring into the station hours ahead of time. If the Fat Controller found out about this, he would be very cross.
“Come aboard, come aboard!” shouted Duck to the passengers at the station, “We’ve got a long way to go yet.”
“How am I supposed to get on this train?” pondered Dracula Don aloud, shrugging in dismay, “I paid ninety quid for this ticket. Fuck that shit.”