As a dad, I tend to watch a few movies that I wouldn't normally be interested in. With Gabe they tend to center around a certain blue train more often than not. His favorite as of late has been "Misty Island Rescue" and so I have gotten to know the plot of that one pretty well, and I have noticed some interesting things about the underlying themes. I want to do a few posts on the various themes I see in Thomas, there's a lot there to look at, and I have watched it quite a bit.
The general plot (SPOILERS!) is that Thomas ends up lost on "Misty Island" off the coast of Sodor. He finds some strange engines there (the "Logging Locos"), who run on oil, not diesel or steam, and who spend their days playing on the tracks and logging, for no particular reason. Thomas discovers that what they are logging is a precious resource, Jobi wood, and so enlists their help to get some flatbeds full of the stuff and then find a way back to Sodor. He keeps insisting that he knows what's best. (I make good decisions, that's what I've been told). Eventually the logging locos end up trapped with Thomas in a tunnel, where they run out of oil. The engines of Sodor break through the cave-in, and they all get towed to Sodor with the Joviwood to finish the project they are working on. For the full effect of this post I would suggest watching the movie, especially if you have kids (Gabe seems to love it!).
The whole thing strikes me as allegory for colonialism. Thomas (the civilized engine) ends up in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar engines while taking a trip to the mainland. This is similar to Columbus' discovery of America while he was trying to find a way to India. From the get-go he is confident in his abilities to figure out where he is and what to do, but he soon becomes very concerned with how different this place is from Sodor, and becomes more concerned when he begins to hear strange noises from the mist.
It is then that he runs into the Natives, who offer up friendship to him in culturally significant ways. He rejects their friendship in that he doesn't want to play the games they play, which to him are unimportant. Here we see a difference in ethos between the two islands, Sodor which values "usefulness" or work ethic, versus Misty Island, which values fun and games, symbolizing interpersonal relationships. Later on the Locos say, "We weren't really useful, but we were really funny!" which sums up their value system. It seems that Misty Island is more relational, while individualism tends to reign in Sodor.
Once Thomas discovers that the wood they are logging is Jobi wood, he extols to the Locos the value of hard work, in order to convince them to help him acquire their resources. They are hesitant, but their interpersonal nature makes them eventually willing to help a "friend" despite the fact that it involves a significant amount of personal sacrifice ("We DON'T have enough OIL!"). In this, he keeps insisting that "he makes good decisions" and the Locos go along, even though they know he is wrong. Thus it is that in Thomas' ignorance he is doing harm to the native population, but keeps insisting it is for their betterment. He is imposing a socio-ethical system that may not be particularly suited to the life that the locos lead, but he won't do them the service of looking at it from their perspective. As a result, he depletes the end of their natural resources (oil) in firing up the log loading machine despite their protests, in order to provide luxuries to those back on Sodor.
This represents a turning point, because now the only way for the natives to survive is to adapt to the colonial way of life, because their natural way of living has become unsustainable. Thomas has forced their hand, and if they don't help him get the Jobi wood back to Sodor they are doomed. Thomas is of course oblivious to their plight, only concerned with getting them to help him with his plans. It is thus that subjugation is born.
He discovers there is a tunnel back to Sodor, which the Locos tell him is too dangerous. He disregards their opinion, and coerces them into going with him to Sodor, bringing along the Jobi Wood of course. They discover the tunnel is blocked, it caves in behind them, and the Locos run out of oil, making them completely dependent on the "help" of the Sodor engines. While in the tunnel the Locos try to explain to Thomas why their way of life is what it is. Thomas seems to understand a bit and integrates some of their viewpoint into his overarching Sodorian worldview.
In the end, the engines get rescued and transported into Sodor, where they are integrated into the fabric of the island customs and end up being "really useful". They keep some of their distinctive customs because their radical culture that cares little for being "useful" is no longer a threat, being subjugated to the culture of Sodor. They are saved from an unpleasant fate by being provided with oil from Sodor, making them reliant on their colonial overlords for their very survival, and thus making sure they don't resume their previous way of life, which would eliminate a free source of Jobi wood for Sodor.