Thomas and the Magic Railroad

When studios make children's movies, they usually do something wrong. Sometimes they are blatant promotional vehicles for toys. Other times, they are just bad. Every once in a while, a shining gem emerges. Thomas and the Magic Railroad is not one of those movies. There is nothing really wrong with anything in Thomas and the Magic Railroad. But then again, there is nothing really good about it. This new movie takes its cues from two highly popular shows, Shining Time Station and Thomas the Tank Engine. It is purely kiddie fluff, with small talking model trains with moving eyes, but no moving mouths. Instead, the camera cuts away and then cuts back and the train has a new face. The movie is similarly low-tech, again with trains with moving eyes only, and now with strange performances from good actors.

Something is wrong in the land of Sodor, where everything is magic and the trains talk. Mr. Conductor (Alec Baldwin, Outside Providence, The Edge) is running out of gold dust, the magic that allows him to move from Sodor to the real world (incidentally, where he is about half a foot tall). Everything hinges on an ancient legend, which Mr. Conductor is trying to decipher. Unbeknownst to Mr. Conductor, Burnett Stone (Peter Fonda, Ulee's Gold, The Limey) is the key. He has been trying to fix an old tank engine for years with no success. The tank engine, Lady, is his secret. Burnett's granddaughter Lily (Mara Wilson, Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street) comes to visit and decides to help save Sodor. Diesel 10, a mean train, is looking for a way to go to the real world. Oh yeah, Thomas is in here too, somewhere.

So the mouths don't move. It is the same in the other Thomas shows, so that is excusable. What is not excusable is the acting. Actors in children's films are not known for their subtlety, but Baldwin blows everything out of the water. He over-emotes every single line making himself nearly maniacal. Fonda is the complete opposite. He seems bored, and delivers all his lines with a dry monotone. It seems he just woke up, and is not happy to be there at all. Thomas and the Magic Railroad randomly bursts into song a couple times, but the music is not memorable. And of course, the movie espouses friendship, teamwork, and a whole bunch of other good traits. But there is no sense of urgency to any of the movie, and it is all done so blandly that no one cares if Mr. Conductor ever makes it home. Baldwin even gets to address the movie audience a couple times. It may work when a child is watching a video, but it does not work here.

It is hard to imagine what demographic this film fits. The story is initially confusing, then lame. This throws off the attention of smaller children. Older children will find the animation lacking, and the movie boring overall. Adults will probably fall asleep. However, there are legions of Thomas fans who will love the movie no matter what, simply because it is on the big screen. In addition, Thomas and the Magic Railroad remains true to its roots, with writer/director Britt Allcroft helming the picture. Allcroft is the person responsible for creating the Thomas juggernaut almost two decades ago. Classic children's films are enjoyable to both adults and children. Families can go together and enjoy the movie as a unit. Thomas and the Magic Railroad should only occupy the minds of the youngest children, causing groans with every other age group.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 29 minutes, Rated G.

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