A Thomas The Tank Engine Halloween Special Was Once Deemed Too Scary For Kids in the US
Turns out, while the Brit kids ain't afraid of no ghost, the US kids might be
British kids’ TV has a fairly solid tradition of being really f-ing harrowing. If you’re old enough to remember The Boy From Space, Zelda from The Terrahawks, or Mister Noseybonk, you’ll know what we’re on about. You need only to check out the public information films of the 70s and 80s to understand how little regard for youngsters’ mental well being our broadcasters had. So, you know, Brit kids: double hard.
This, however, is not an actual example of Brit TV being terrifying, but one of a Thomas & Friends Halloween special which ended up with a slightly bizarre difference between its UK and US versions:
Thomas and his fellow engine Emily are sent to the smelter’s yard for a nighttime collection of some iron, but get spooked by pranks set up by diesels Harry and Bert, and become convinced there’s a g-g-g-ghoooost! Emily ends up with a sheet stuck on her head chasing a terrified Thomas back to the sheds, thinking the ghost is after him, before the sheet falls off revealing it was Emily all along, and Harry and Bert admit to their mischief.
In the UK version above, you’ll see the episode ends with Michael Angelis narrating ‘After all, there is no such thing as ghosts, it was all silly make-believe’ just as an adorable little ghost pops up from behind some old scrap. Frankly, we’ve seen scarier episodes of the Great British Bake Off.
When the episode originally aired in the USA, however, that ghost is nowhere to be seen, and is replaced by an extra scene with Thomas and Emily. According to Thomas the Tank Engine Wikia, it was done so as not to scare the children.
Apparently, in subsequent DVD releases in the States, the original version was eventually dared to be used, ghost and all. We have as yet to hear any reports of children being scarred for life, so fingers crossed it all turned out alright.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about American versions of British TV shows being edited as the UK version was deemed too scary: there’s an infamous Teletubbies episode featuring a segment called The Lion and the Bear which was banned in several countries because the cinematography and voices were deemed too frightening for children. The BBC eventually created a revised version, but the US still found it unsuitable for children and it was never aired.
What’s particularly funny is that the Halloween Thomas the Tank Engine ending was changed, but for some reason it was deemed perfectly acceptable to air this utterly bleak Thomas the Tank Engine episode, understatedly named ‘The Sad Story of Henry’:
When Henry refuses to leave a tunnel while it’s raining in case his beautiful red and green paint gets spoiled, an angry Fat Controller points his little fist at Henry and says ‘We shall leave you here for always and always and ALWAYS.’ We then see an agonisingly slow stop-motion sequence where the Fat Controller instructs his henchmen to build a brick wall trapping Henry in the tunnel, with only his tortured little face visible over the top. The other trains mock him as they chug by, and he wonders if he’ll ever be let out. The final, chilling words of the episode also sound like the narrator is trying to make the children watching complicit in this cruelty: ‘But I think he deserved his punishment. Don’t you?’