Thomas and the Magic Railroad

Shining Time: Mr Conductor (an 18-inch tall Alec Baldwin) has a sweet little chat with Thomas and Lady.
dir-scr Britt Allcroft
with Alec Baldwin, Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, Didi Conn, Michael E Rodgers, Cody McMains, Russell Means, Edward Glen
Icon 00/UK 2 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Thomas the Tank Engine makes his way onto the big screen with the live-action adventure Thomas and the Magic Railroad, a strictly-for-kids movie that's so heartwarming it hurts. It's decently made, with some clever effects and just enough points of interest to keep the youngsters interested (maybe). But the main problem is that it takes itself far too seriously, which leaves grown-ups giggling at the bizarre performances and unintentional innuendo.

The story is weak, relying on incomprehensible plot points and a general lack of even the most simplistic logic. But never mind. It all takes place in Shining Time, a strange England-America hybrid (filmed on the Isle of Man), where the 18-inch tall Mr Conductor (Baldwin) tends to the train station and travels via a magic railroad to Sudor, where the talking trains live and work. The friendly steam engine Thomas (voiced by Glen) and his friends are being threatened by a playground bully-like diesel engine, just as Mr Conductor runs out of his magic gold dust, threatening the careful balance between the two worlds. The only hope is with a lost engine, Mr Conductor's wayward cousin (Rodgers), an old man (Fonda) and his precocious granddaughter (Wilson).

No, it doesn't make any sense. Which isn't to say it's unwatchable. But it's a close call. You know you're in trouble when Didi Conn (as the chirpy station manager) gives the film's most convincing performance! All of the acting is stilted and odd; the incessantly chattering Baldwin mugs shamelessly for the kiddies, while Fonda is blank and virtually comatose. Intriguing visual work is marred by some dodgy sets and the fact that the trains' lips don't move, even though their expressions change. Very strange. It also has a preachy, oversweet stream of moralising running through it that makes you feel quite queasy. Could have been worse I suppose. At least there are no Pokemons or (shudder) grinning purple dinosaurs around.

[U--mild suspense] 11.Jul.00
UK release 14.Jul.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall