Sir Topham Hatt Is MiscastPosted: February 13, 2012
Sometimes, back when my son was little, he’d watch the show Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends. I don’t suppose he is still watching now that he is outside the show’s target audience.
For those of you who’ve never seen it, the show centers around the steam engines on a railroad on an island called Sodor. The trains (and a few other, vehicles) are the only things that move in the stories. People and animals are figurines that remain static. As the engines work around the island and interact with each other they learn about things like manners and being a good friend.
A man called Sir Topham Hatt operates the railroad. Sir Topham Hatt is portrayed as a benevolent manager who patiently directs the activities of the trains. From time to time, he provides gentle verbal reinforcement of the lessons the trains learn. He can play benevolent, but I think he has another side.
Sir Topham Hatt’s Dark Side
The part of Hatt that the show’s producers don’t feature causes me a lot of concern. I think he is a harsh, violent man.
I remember watching one particular episode with my son. There was a reference to a train called Smudger. I don’t recall what the engine did to offend Topham Hatt, but I know the response was really harsh. Hatt had the engine’s wheels removed and converted him to a generator. They showed the former steam engine sitting behind a building, sadly chugging away, doomed to never travel the rails again.
Recently, someone told me of another episode where Sir Topham Hatt planned to dismantle a coach because it was old and slow. Is that the proper response to “old and slow”? Did the man forget respect for the aged?
It’s clear that Sir Topham Hatt has a dark side. Demons within, perhaps from some repressed emotional trauma, control that dark side. It bubbles within him. Sometimes it boils over. Despite his best efforts to keep a lid on it, it overwhelms him. When it overwhelms him, his desire to inflict injury in the name of railroad efficiency manifests in horrible ways.
What To Do? What To Do?
The Thomas show is a great vehicle (see what I did there? Thomas, vehicle. Boom) for helping children learn about the value of things like cooperative work and being humble. But Sir Topham Hatt’s “issue” threatens to derail the series as surely as Keith Moon’s drug use presaged the end of The Who’s reign as the world’s greatest rock band. The only way to handle what insiders call “the Hatt problem” is for the producers to acknowledge it and use it to their advantage.
It may be time to consider splitting Sir Topham Hatt off from the kids show and let him be cast in roles more suitable to his harsh personality. Fred Astaire didn’t play cowboys, that wasn’t his type. Topham Hatt should also play to his type. Hatt’s acting career might be better suited to roles in zombie movies or tales of simple men descending into madness.
Wherever he is cast, in whatever role he takes, Sir Topham Hatt can thrive if he is allowed to play the sort of role he is best suited to. Those of us who’ve seen glimpses of the harsh man he is know that he is not suited to teach gentle lessons.