Thomas and the Magic Railroad
Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a 2000 British–American children's fantasy film written, produced and directed by Britt Allcroft. The film stars Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, Alec Baldwin, Didi Conn, Russell Means, Cody McMains, Michael E. Rodgers with the voices of Eddie Glen, Neil Crone and Kevin Frank. The film is based on the British children's book series The Railway Series by The Rev. W. Awdry, its televised adaptation Thomas & Friends, and the American television series Shining Time Station by Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow. It was co-produced by Gullane Pictures/The Britt Allcroft Company and the Isle of Man Film Commission. It was distributed by Destination Films in the United States, Icon Film Distribution in the United Kingdom and ABC Films in Australia.
|Thomas and the Magic Railroad|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Britt Allcroft|
|Written by||Britt Allcroft|
|Based on||The Railway Series|
by The Rev. W. Awdry and Christopher Awdry
Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends
by Britt Allcroft
|Narrated by||Alec Baldwin|
|Music by||Hummie Mann|
|Edited by||Ron Wisman|
|Box office||$19.7 million|
The film tells the story of Lily Stone (Wilson), the granddaughter of the caretaker (Fonda) of an enchanted steam engine who is lacking an appropriate supply of coal, and Mr. Conductor (Baldwin) of Shining Time Station, whose provisions of magical gold dust are at a critical low. To ameliorate these problems, Lily and Mr. Conductor enlist the help of Thomas the Tank Engine (Glen), who confronts the ruthless Diesel 10 (Crone) along the way.
Plans for a theatrical Thomas film original began with Paramount Pictures, with production set to begin in 1996 and a release date planned sometime for 1997. However, the project was soon shelved after then-vice chairman Barry London left Paramount, who had originally brought up the project to Britt Allcroft. Shortly after London joined Destination Films and became vice-chairman in 1998, interest in the film was renewed and Destination Films began funding the project. Filming took place at the Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg, Pennsylvania (United States), as well as in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and on the Isle of Man. The film premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square on July 9, 2000 and was released in the United Kingdom and the United States on July 14th, and 26th respectively.
When Thomas and the Magic Railroad was first released in the U.K. where critics were unfamiliar with the characters from Shining Time Station, the film was accused of "Americanizing" Thomas. Critical reception in the U.S. was almost equally negative, in stark contrast to the praise given to the original Shining Time Station, which was an award-winning show. General criticism of the film has been directed towards its plot, characterization, acting, special effects, and lack of fidelity to the source material.
The film's critical and commercial failure led Allcroft to resign from her company, Gullane Entertainment (originally The Britt Allcroft Company) in September 2000. Two years later, Gullane was acquired by HiT Entertainment.
Sir Topham Hatt is away on holiday, leaving Mr. Conductor in charge. Meanwhile, in Shining Time, Mr. Conductor's supply of gold dust is running low and not enough to allow him to travel back from Sodor. Later that day, at Tidmouth Sheds, Diesel 10 arrives and announces his plan to get rid of the steam engines; Thomas leaves to get Mr. Conductor. "The Lost Engine", named Lady, is hidden in a workshop on Muffle Mountain, as done by Burnett Stone after Diesel 10's last attempt to destroy her. Despite having rebuilt Lady, Burnett is unable to steam her despite using different types of coal. At night, Diesel 10 attacks the shed where the steam engines are sleeping, but after his gold dust fails him, Mr. Conductor repels Diesel 10 with sugar.
Lily Stone is being sent from her hometown to visit Burnett, whom she meets while at the railway station, and he puts her on the Rainbow Sun instead of the right train. On arriving at Shining Time, she is taken to Burnett's house. While talking at Knapford, Percy and Thomas conclude there is a secret railway between Sodor and Shining Time. Overhearing them, Diesel 10 goes to the Ironworks to tell Splatter and Dodge of his plans to destroy the lost engine and the other steam engines. Toby rings his bell to distract him, causing Diesel 10's claw to damage the shed roof, which makes the shed crash down on Diesel 10, Splatter, and Dodge. Later, Thomas collects six special coal trucks to help Henry's cold, but one of them accidentally rolls through the buffers.
The next day, Lily meets Patch, who takes her on a horse ride to Shining Time, where she meets Junior again. Junior takes her through the Magic Railroad to Sodor, where they meet Thomas. Thomas is not happy to see Junior, but agrees to help him and Lily and takes the two of them to the Sodor Grain Windmill, where they find Mr. Conductor. Junior climbs onto one of the windmill sails and ends up being thrown onto Diesel 10's roof. Later that night, Percy finds that Splatter and Dodge have located the Sodor entrance to the Magic Railroad and goes to warn Thomas. Thomas agrees to take Lily back home and sets off. While traveling through the Magic Railroad, Thomas discovers the missing coal truck, which he collects and arrives at Muffle Mountain. Lily goes to find Burnett, leaving Thomas stranded on the mountain, but as the wind picks up, Thomas rolls down the mountain and re-enters the Magic Railroad through another secret portal.
Lily finds Burnett in his workshop where he shows her Lady and explains his problem in getting her to steam. Lily suggests using Sodor coal, and when Patch goes back to retrieve the truck, Burnett uses the coal to fire Lady up. Now able to steam, Lady takes Burnett, Lily, Patch and Mutt along the Magic Railroad, regenerating both Lady and the railroad in the process. Thomas then arrives and the two engines return to Sodor, where they meet Mr. Conductor and Junior. Diesel 10 arrives with Splatter and Dodge, who abruptly decide to stop helping him. Thomas and Lady, driven by Burnett, flee from Diesel 10, who chases them towards a crumbling viaduct. Thomas and Lady both make it safely across but Diesel 10 falls off the bridge and lands into a barge filled with sludge.
That evening, Thomas, Lady and Burnett return to the grotto; Lily combines water from a wishing well and shavings from the Magic Railroad to make more gold dust. Junior decides to go to work on Sodor and Mr. Conductor gives him his own cap before sending him to another railway, before leaving himself to welcome Sir Topham Hatt home. Lily, Burnett, Patch and Mutt return to Shining Time, while Thomas happily travels home down the King's Highway into the sunset.
- Alec Baldwin as Mr. Conductor
- Peter Fonda as Burnett Stone: Lily's grandfather
- Jared Wall as young Burnett
- Mara Wilson as Lily Stone: Burnett's granddaughter
- Michael E. Rodgers as Junior: Mr. Conductor's lazy cousin
- Cody McMains as Patch
- Didi Conn as Stacy Jones: Matt and Dan's aunt, and the manager of Shining Time
- Russell Means as Billy Twofeather, the Locomotive Engineer
- Lori Hallier as Lily's mother
- Laura Bower as Tasha: Burnett's deceased wife
- Eddie Glen as Thomas: a blue tank engine who runs his own branch line.
- Britt Allcroft as Lady: the lost magical tank engine who runs the Magic Railroad.
- Neil Crone as
- Kevin Frank as
- Linda Ballantyne as Percy: a green saddle tank engine who takes the mail. He is also Thomas' best friend
- Susan Roman as James: a red splendid mixed-traffic tender engine.
- Colm Feore as Toby: a brown tram engine who sometimes takes Henrietta.
- Shelley-Elizabeth Skinner as Annie and Clarabel: Thomas' branch line coaches.
In the early 1990s, the character of Thomas the Tank Engine – adapted from the Rev. W. Awdry's Railway Series into the TV series Thomas & Friends, created by Britt Allcroft – was at the height of his popularity following three successful series. At the same time, Shining Time Station – an American series that combined episodes from the previous series with original live-action characters and scenarios, also created by Allcroft along with Rick Siggelkow – was made, and also successful. As early as 1994, prior to the launch of Thomas's fourth series, Britt Allcroft had plans to make a feature film based on both of these series, and would make use of the model trains from Thomas and the live-action aesthetic of Shining Time Station.
In February 1996, Britt Allcroft was approached by Barry London, then vice-chairman of Paramount Pictures, with an idea for the Thomas film. Britt signed a contract to write the script for the film with the working title Thomas and the Magic Railroad. London's interest is thought to have stemmed from his three-year-old daughter, who was enthralled by Thomas. According to a press release, filming was to take place at Shepperton Studios, in the United Kingdom and the United States, with the theatrical release date set for 1997. However, Paramount shelved the plans for the film after London left the company later that year. This left Allcroft to seek other sources of funding. Discussions with PolyGram about the film were held, but not for long, because of the company being in the middle of a corporate restructuring and sale.
In the Summer of 1998, during Series 5 of Thomas's production, Allcroft saw an Isle of Man Film Commission advert. They were offering tax incentives to companies wanting to film on the Island. Allcroft visited, and felt that the location was perfect. During that year, Barry London became Chairman of the newly founded Destination Films (owned by Sony Pictures). He renewed his interest in the project, and Destination Films became the main financial backer and studio for the film.
The movie was filmed at the Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg, Pennsylvania (United States), as well as in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and on the Isle of Man. Castletown railway station on the Isle of Man Railway formed part of Shining Time Station and the goods shed at Port St Mary railway station became Burnett Stone's workshop. Running shots of the "Indian Valley" train were filmed at the Strasburg Rail Road location. The large passenger station where Lily boards the train is the Harrisburg Transportation Center. Norfolk & Western 4-8-0 475 was repainted as the Indian Valley locomotive. Sodor was realised using models and chroma key. The models were animated using live action remote control, as on the television series. The model sequences were filmed in Toronto instead of Shepperton Studios, the "home" of the original TV show; however, several of the show's key staff were flown over to participate. The Magic Railway was created using models, CGI and water-coloured matte paintings.
In a 2007 interview, director Britt Allcroft revealed that the theatrical release was drastically changed from what it was originally going to be the way she had written it, with original antagonist P.T. Boomer (played by Doug Lennox) being removed from the film because audiences at the Los Angeles preview screenings considered the character too scary for young children.
Lily Stone (played by Mara Wilson) was intended to be the narrator of the story. Before filming, Thomas's voice was provided by John Bellis, a fireman and part-time taxi driver who worked on the film as the Isle of Man transportation co-ordinator and facilities manager. Bellis received the role when he happened to pick up Britt Allcroft and her crew from the airport. According to Allcroft, after hearing him speak for the first time, she told her colleagues, "I have just heard the voice of Thomas. That man is exactly how Thomas would sound!" Bellis accepted the role. However, after audiences did not react positively to his voice for Thomas, Bellis was replaced by Edward Glen. Bellis did receive a credit for his work on the Isle of Man, and his voice can still be heard extensively in one or two of the trailers. Bellis said he was "gutted", but wished the film-makers well. "It was supposed to be my big break, but it hasn't put me off and I am hoping something else will come along." Ewan McGregor and Bob Hoskins had also auditioned for the role of Thomas. Michael Angelis, who at the time was the UK narrator for the Thomas & Friends TV series, was originally cast as the voices of both James and Percy, but the audiences considered his voice too old for the characters, who were subsequently recast with Susan Roman and Linda Ballantyne respectively. Keith Scott originally voiced Diesel 10, but believes he was replaced because his portrayal was too scary for young children.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released theatrically on July 14, 2000 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and July 26, 2000 in the United States and Canada. The film was also released in Australia on December 14, 2000, and in New Zealand on April 7, 2001. The film premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square; for the purpose, a steam locomotive, no. 47298 painted to resemble Thomas, was brought to the cinema by low loader on July 9, 2000. National press coverage was low, as many journalists were concentrating on the launch of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire book, for which a special train called "Hogwarts Express" would run on July 8–11.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released onto VHS and DVD on October 19, 2000 in the United Kingdom by Warner Home Video, and in the United States on October 31, 2000 by Columbia TriStar Home Video.[nb 1] In 2007, the film was released as part of a double feature with The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.
As of May 2019[update], Thomas and the Magic Railroad had an approval rating of 21% on Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 68 critics, with an average rating of 3.97/10. The site's critical consensus stated: "Kids these days demand cutting edge special effects or at least a clever plot with cute characters. This movie has neither, having lost in its Americanization what the British original did so right." Metacritic gives the film a score of 19 out of 100, based on reviews from 23 critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike".
Nell Minow of Common Sense Media gave the film three out of five stars and writing that it "will please [Thomas fans]" but that the plot "might confuse kids". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one star out of four, and wrote "(the fact) That Thomas and the Magic Railroad made it into theaters at all is something of a mystery. This is a production with 'straight to video' written all over it. Kids who like the Thomas books might kinda like it. Especially younger kids. Real younger kids. Otherwise, no." While he admired the models and art direction, he criticized how the engines' mouths did not move when they spoke, the overly depressed performance of Peter Fonda, as well as the overall lack of consistency in the plot.
William Thomas of Empire was critical of the films special effects, stating, "But, believe it or not, the true villains of the piece are, if fact, the 'special' effects. Quite how - in today's era of slo-mo and seamless digital wizardry - such a shoddy result can have been achieved is anyone's guess. With clunky bluescreen, spot-a-mile-off matte work and an absolute lack of synergy between real-life and animated action, it all conspires to provide an appropriately amateur sheen."
Plugged In stated, "While the animation maintains its simple appearance, the plot is anything but simple. And that’s not good news for the many tots who make up the majority of Thomas’ audience. Switching back and forth between Shining Time and Sodor, interweaving two relatively complex story lines, may confuse more than it challenges. Parents may well find that their children are squirming in their seats long before Thomas rides his magic rails into the sunset. That said, and the magic notwithstanding, tikes who do manage to grasp the complex story lines, and can sit still for an hour and a half, will learn good lessons about friendship, courage, hard work and being kind."
|Thomas and the Magic Railroad Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Released||August 1, 2000|
|Label||Unforscene Music Ltd. / Nettwerk|
Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a soundtrack released on both CD and cassette on August 1, 2000. It features twelve music tracks from the feature film composed by Hummie Mann.
|1.||"He's a Really Useful Engine"||Steven Page||1:32|
|2.||"Shining Time"||Neil Donell||3:18|
|3.||"Shining Time (Reprise)"||Maren Ord||3:18|
|4.||"I Know How The Moon Must Feel"||Dayna Manning||3:22|
|5.||"Some Things Never Leave You"||Joe Henry||2:57|
|6.||"Summer Sunday"||Dominic Gibbeson|
|7.||"The Locomotion"||Atomic Kitten||3:54|
|9.||"Lily Travels to the Island of Sodor"||4:33|
|10.||"Burnett and Lady/Diesel 10 and Splodge"||3:28|
|11.||"Diesel 10 Threatens Mr. C/Lily & Patch"||4:25|
|12.||"Through the Magic Buffers"||6:36|
|13.||"The Chase, the Clue and the Happy Ending"||7:43|
A video game based on the film, titled Thomas and the Magic Railroad: Print Studio, was released in the United Kingdom. Print Studio was published by Hasbro Interactive and released for PC on August 25, 2000.
Cancelled sequel and spin-off filmEdit
Calling All Engines!, a 2005 direct-to-video special and a spin off of the TV series, was produced by HIT Entertainment and released in 2005.
Future of Thomas on filmEdit
HiT said that its theatrical division would be piloted by a Thomas film. Originally targeted for a late 2010 release, in September 2009 this was revised to Spring 2011. As of January 2011, the release date had been pushed back further, to 2012. The initial draft of the script was written by Josh Klausner, who has also said that the film would be set around the times of World War II; Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi also helped write the script. On June 8, 2011, Deadline announced that 9 director Shane Acker would direct the live-action adaptation of Thomas the Tank Engine, with Weta Digital designing the film's visual effects.
- Renamed Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment in April 2001, then Sony Pictures Home Entertainment between November 2004 and March 2005.
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