Thomas and the Magic Railroad – Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)
Directed by: Britt Allcroft | 85 minutes | family, fantasy | Actors: Alec Baldwin, Cody McMains, Russell Means, Peter Fonda, Jared Wall, Laura Bower, Didi Conn, Mara Wilson, Lori Hallier, Michael E. Rodgers, Edward Glen, Neil Crone, Colm Feore, Linda Ballantyne, Kevin Frank, Susan Roman, Shelley Skinner, Britt Allcroft, Robert Tinkler, Robert Black, Robbie Bugbee, Mike Lazorcik
Thomas the Tank Engine’ is a popular TV program for toddlers. The five-minute films are produced by Britt Allcroft and based on the stories of Wilbert Vere Awdry, who wrote 26 books in the last century about the locomotives that live on the fictional island of Sodor (located between England and The Isle of Man). . He wrote them for his son Christopher, and in doing so influenced him so much that his son later took over the task and published 14 more books. The first shooting for the TV series started in 1984. The films are made with the stop-motion process, but in a cheaper way than, for example, with the Aardman productions. These short films sometimes contain recordings where the image does not change for seconds. However, that is not disturbing. The characters do not speak themselves, but a voice-over is used, which tells the story. Until 1991 in England that was Ringo Starr, later Michael Angelis; in America successively George Carlin (until 1998), Alec Baldwin (until 2003) and Michael Brandon. In the Netherlands, the films are provided with a voice-over by Erik de Zwart. The toy industry is also thriving due to the popularity of Thomas and his friends, there are countless variations of the characters, and children can recreate complete stories with the figures at home. Just before the turn of the millennium, the idea for a ‘Thomas the Steam Locomotive’ film was born. Britt Allcroft devises the story and also takes the director and production chair.
For ‘Thomas and the Magic Railroad’ real actors are attracted, instead of the wooden figures seen in the TV series. Quite an impressive group of actors is gathered: Alec Baldwin, a logical choice for the role of Mr. Conductor, because he was already familiar with the series, but also Peter Fonda joins the cast to play the grandpa. Young Mara Wilson, known as Matilda from the movie of the same name, plays his granddaughter. The plot of the film does not matter much: after all, the children are about Thomas and his friends. And that is perhaps exactly where it goes wrong in this film: the trains are not much in the picture. Most of the focus is on the live action, and although this is necessary for the story, it makes the film a long sit for the seasoned little train fan.
Baldwin acts well, in any case, he shows that he takes his role seriously. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of Fonda. The man looks as if he has slumped a lot the night before and has forgotten that he has to be on set the day after. Rarely does an actor make such an uninspired impression as he does. The role that was written for him is also strange, so perhaps it is not entirely his fault: what does an intensely depressed grandfather do in an adventure by Thomas the Tank Engine, whose target audience is not older than eight years? Also bizarre is the storyline with the mean Diesel-10 locomotive and his two sidekicks. This one is completely unnecessary and most likely just instills fear in the little ones.
‘Thomas and the Magic Railroad’ is a valiant attempt to bring an adventure of the useful, feature-length locomotive to fans, but it’s turned out to be a weird product. The film is a far cry from the TV series, so watching it may turn out to be a disappointment. But the film will undoubtedly please a group of Thomas fans. For all other people, any other activity is a better use of time.