With the slump of Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue (2010), that many fans saw it to be, hope was slightly redeemed when a year later Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels (2011) came out. The writing was a tad better and had some of the biggest gripes fixed many were not pleased with. However there were still things that needed correcting, as much as that movie had made its improvements. Fans would only begin to feel less concerned over the brand when this special was released. The reason for this were attributed to a few things. First, the narrow gauge engines return for this story and are more or less at the center of this plot as oppose to the standard gauge engines. Second, the movie focuses on a new interesting character as oppose to an old returning character. On top of that, other bits from the show reveal signs of restoration that was once questionable.
The plot for this special is when Thomas discovers an unknown narrow gauge engine by the name of Luke at the blue mountain quarry. Being that Thomas nor anyone else had ever seen this engine before, he makes it his mission to find out why nobody is aware of Luke. For a screenplay written entirely by Sharon Miller, it's surprising to say how much better of a job she did this time than the last two specials. No rhyming in the dialog ever comes about, the focus on Luke is a fresh take on a new character compared to how other new characters were introduced in the show. Plus with the narrow gauge engines returning, it gives a large throwback to the older fans of the show. Seeing this being done the right way is actually amazing and it tends to be forgotten that Miller worked on this project.
Occasionally the standard gauge engines are featured, but much of the time the story revolves around the narrow gauge engines. Either way, the voice actors for the standard gauge engines like Michael Brandon (as narrator and Diesel), David Bedella, Jules De Jongh, William Hope, Glenn Wrage, Martin Sherman, Steven Kynmam and Kerry Shale, all return for their respective roles. With that said though, having Keith Wickham and Matt Wilkinson voice majority of the narrow gauge engines was a good step forward. Both actors perform well and make the characters believable. Michael Legge as the newcomer to the show as Luke does a good job too. His voice makes quite a match to the mysterious and overly sensitive narrow gauge engine. Not to mention the back story that the little guy has. It's not a blow you away kind of history but it certainly is relatable.
However this does not leave this special without its problems. The biggest problem that seems to becoming more and more noticeable is the making of inanimate objects living. Prior to this feature, there were new characters being introduced but not to the point where it seemed to just to cash in on a new role credit. This was most noticeable in Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels (2011), with all the new diesels but none of the viewers having any clue who they were. The same could be said for three new characters introduced aside from Luke. Merrick and Owen are two new faces at the blue mountain quarry but are not engines. Then there's Winston, Sir Topham Hatt's new railway car where he can ride the rails easier. It's fine and all to have new faces, but some of them seem like they won't ever be used again. Sounds and feels kind of pointless.
This doesn't take away the quality of the animation or music though. Animation continues to look better and better for the specials. To see the narrow gauge engines finally rendered in their CGI forms is quite a sight. Seeing Skarloey, Rheneas, Rusty, Sir Handel and Peter Sam all on the same screen is cool. Although the thought of showing Duncan seemed to have slipped the mind of the film crew. Everything from the lighting and shadowing looks great. As for music, the score has continued to be underwhelming for the most part. Peter and Robert Hartshorne know how to make good music, but nothing seems to truly stand out in these specials except for the one or two songs at the end credits. The sad thing is, the score will probably never be released for these specials, which isn't fair to them.
While the music and introduction of most new characters is disappointing, the rest to this feature is well done. The animation is respectable, the return of the narrow gauge engines is quite welcome, and the writing for the story is much better than most specials written by Sharon Miller.