While there's so much packed in it, a lot cannot be said here. This is a stark comparison to those many (who know who they are) who were nauseate enough to leak cryptic spoilers across the net following a Polish TV broadcast.
People vouching out to express their excitement even on the Twitter-sphere or on Facebook communities clearly were out of touch with Hit's policy and proved a wreckless disregard of spreading crucial information.
For more on this, please read The SiF Blog's article on why the nature of the fanbase must change.
Now that that's been said in a gut wrenching fashion, let's talk through the seventh feature-length special and the eighth movie overall in the franchise.
What follows is a trek through Sodor type title sequence in the style of a map, lovingly crafted by the dynamic people at Arc Productions, all of whom immediately tease the viewer that so much is to come. This is coupled with the special's theme tune by Robert Hartshorne which is actually quoted in a key scene from Henry's Hero and is majestic enough to give you chills. Its a theme you may not be able to help but hum to.
Mark Moraghan, who lends some vitalised energy to the narration, then talks us through the early days of Sodor's history. This utilises the medieval aspects which is certainly intriguing, but none more so than the mention of a king called Godred. Faith comes to bite back in many ways. The Earl of Sodor's introduction is so comical that it lends perspective to the more authorial figures like The Fat Controller. Sir Robert's humour is used spaciously.
What follows just a few minutes later is Millie's introduction, where her persona is established to Thomas, then, she ends up becoming underused. While she is further explored in greater form in The Switch, it is actually The Steam Team that are used in equally sizeable roles to help drive parts of the plot through, something which has become a problem in previous specials.
The engines get in on the interplay to understand Sir Robert and the special's central newbie, Stephen. Stephen allows viewers to be educated on not only his and his railway's history, but also on the history of how real life railways developed from their inception to comparing to The Fat Controller's engines.
When a scene involving two diesels references the debate between vintage and modern engines, you know that it can be challenged in a future episode. In scenes with Sir Topham and his engines, his attitude is justified so rightly that he is more believable as a railway controller than ever before, something that the early series was able to achieve.
Its no secret that Jack makes a return to the franchise, but in a more, shall we say, proper tractor form. His change of appearance is mostly successful, partly due to the the latter, the way he is utilised in the script and the youthful voice given to him by someone long term fans will be able to recognise.
Spencer and Gordon get to match off against each other in several races, but the rematch is done so sparingly that Spencer is only there for the jealously and the humour. An end to one race may send repercussions of Happy Birthday, Sir! up peoples spines when some risky speeding almost leads to some peril.
Connor and Caitlin's offer to race the two pompous engines is sadly not taken on for full effect until a brief pickup at the end, but one that could leave potential for another outing.
The action shifts to the friendship of Thomas, Percy and James many times so much so that it dominates the plot as much as Stephen's quest to be really useful and Ulftsead Castle's construction. Their bickering and cheeky demeanors towards each other are put to the test in various ways that it harks back to the grounds of the first few series' characterisations, primarily Series One.
Upon finding his new job, trouble arrives for Stephen after the Troublesome Trucks' capers mark a welcome return. This leads to a Searching Everywhere sequence where even the underused Captain and another safety equipped character (who is given a line earlier in the story) play a part in the search alongside Connor and Caitlin et al.
By the time Stephen's trouble is resolved, taking a vital piece of a steam engine into account, it is all cheers and smiles with the grand opening of Ulfstead Castle. Cue the end of special music video. For those who listened to an early version of that song... well, that's the clue.
There is so much packed into King that you just can't help but take into arms and adore it. The strong characterisations, the greater use of characters, the suspense, the workings of railways. There is even some things for older fans that will leave you filled with smiles all round, in particular, references to past episodes. There is even a line of dialogue that puts the prolonged debate of a certain engine's type of function to rest and an explanation for Hiro appearing.
Despite some minor qualms, the story is strong enough that you are attached to embrace the richness of it, more so, Arc Productions' animation. Just don't trust low quality internet clips! There are sublime messages of working together, trusting one another, being sure of yourself, how to get the job done and old vs. new.
Andrew Brenner's pledge to take the series to more grounded territory and back to its roots is filled with promises in this solid special coupled with Rob Silverstri's fast paced direction and sharp angular visuals. It may well be as good as Hero of the Rails or Blue Mountain Mystery whatever's your poison, but King of the Railway stands on its own feet to offer things old, new and exciting.
King of the Railway gets an...
8/10King of the Railway: The Movie arrives in Vue cinemas nationwide across the UK from August 23rd to September 1st, with its DVD to follow a day after on the 2nd.
The US will receive the DVD on September 17th followed by Australia on October 2nd.