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Thomas and the Magic Railroad
Canadian theatrical release poster
Directed byBritt Allcroft
Written byBritt Allcroft
Based onThe Railway Series
by Reverend W. Awdry
Produced by
  • Britt Allcroft
  • Phil Fehrle
Starring
CinematographyPaul Ryan
Edited byRon Wisman
Music byHummie Mann
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release dates
  • July 9, 2000 (2000-07-09) (Odeon Leicester Square)
  • July 14, 2000 (2000-07-14) (United Kingdom)
  • July 26, 2000 (2000-07-26) (United States)
Running time
84 minutes
Countries
  • United Kingdom[1]
  • United States[1]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$19 million
Box office$19.7 million[2]

Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a 2000 children's fantasy adventure film written and directed by Britt Allcroft and produced by Allcroft and Phil Fehrle. It is the only theatrical live-action/animated Thomas & Friends film in the franchise. The film stars Alec Baldwin as Mr. Conductor, Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, Didi Conn, Russell Means, Cody McMains, Michael E. Rodgers, and the voices of Eddie Glen and Neil Crone. The film is based on the British children's book series The Railway Series by the Reverend W. Awdry, its televised adaptation Thomas & Friends by Allcroft, and the American television series Shining Time Station by Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow. 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. Lily and Mr. Conductor enlist the help of Thomas the Tank Engine (Glen), who confronts the ruthless, steam engine-hating Diesel 10 (Crone) along the way.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad premiered on July 9, 2000. It was panned by critics upon release with criticism of the acting, plot, special effects, and lack of fidelity to its source material.[3] The film was a box office bomb, grossing $19.7 million worldwide against a production budget of $19 million; Allcroft resigned from her company in September 2000 due to the film's poor performance.[4] HiT Entertainment acquired the company two years later, including the television rights to Thomas.[5] As of October 2020, a second theatrical live-action/animated Thomas & Friends film is in development at Mattel Films, a division of Mattel, the current owner of HiT Entertainment, with Marc Forster serving as director.[6]

Plot

Sir Topham Hatt and his family have left the Island of Sodor on holiday, leaving Mr. Conductor in charge. Gordon complains that Thomas was eight seconds late. Diesel 10 races by, scaring both engines. In Shining Time, Mr. Conductor is suffering a crisis; his supply of magic gold dust is too low for him to travel back from Sodor. At Tidmouth Sheds, Diesel 10 announces his plan to rid Sodor of steam engines by destroying Lady, the lost engine. Lady had been hidden in a workshop on Muffle Mountain by her driver, Burnett Stone, after Diesel 10's previous attempt to destroy her. Lady is unable to steam despite trying all of the coals in Indian Valley. The steam engines agree to find Lady before Diesel 10, unaware that Diesel 10's sidekicks, Splatter and Dodge, are spying on them. That night, Diesel 10 approaches the shed where the steam engines are sleeping and destroys the side of it with his claw. Mr. Conductor scares Diesel 10 away by threatening to pour a bag of sugar in his fuel tanks.

Mr. Conductor calls his cousin, Mr. C. Junior, to help him with the gold dust crisis. That night, Percy and Thomas conclude there is a secret railway between Sodor and Shining Time. Diesel 10 tells Splatter and Dodge of his plans to destroy Lady. Toby overhears and distracts Diesel 10, who knocks one of the shed supports with his claw, which collapses the roof on top of them. The next morning, Thomas is collecting coal trucks when one of them rolls through the buffers that lead to the secret railway. Mr. Conductor is abducted by Diesel 10, who threatens to drop him off a viaduct unless he divulges the location of the buffers. Mr. Conductor cuts one of the claw's hydraulic hoses and is thrown free. He lands at the Sodor windmill, where he finds a clue to the source of the gold dust.

Burnett's granddaughter Lily meets Patch, who takes her to Shining Time, where she meets Junior. Junior takes her through the Magic Railroad to Sodor, where they meet Thomas. Thomas is not happy to see Junior, but agrees to help and takes them to the windmill, where they find Mr. Conductor. Percy discovers that Splatter and Dodge have found the Sodor entrance to the Magic Railroad and goes to warn Thomas. While traveling through the Magic Railroad to take Lilly home, Thomas discovers the missing coal truck. Lily goes to find Burnett, leaving Thomas stranded. Thomas rolls down the mountain and re-enters the Magic Railroad through another secret portal.

Burnett explains the problem getting Lady to steam to Lily. Lily suggests using a special coal from Sodor, and Burnett uses it to start Lady. Lady takes them along the Magic Railroad. Thomas and Lily return to Sodor. Diesel 10 arrives with Splatter and Dodge, who decide to stop helping him. Diesel 10 tries to cross the viaduct, but it collapses under his weight, and he falls into a barge filled with sludge.

Lily combines water from a wishing well and shavings from the Magic Railroad to make more gold dust. Mr. Conductor gives Junior his conductor's hat. Lily, Burnett, Patch and Mutt return to Shining Time, and Lady returns to the Magic Railroad while Thomas travels home into the sunset.

Cast

Live-action cast

Voice cast

Main article: List of Thomas & Friends voice actors

Production

Development

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 the Tank Engine & 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.[7]

In mid to late 1995, Britt Allcroft was approached by Barry London, then vice-chairman of Paramount Pictures, with an idea for the Thomas film. In February 1996, 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, later that year, after London left the company, Paramount shelved the plans for the film. 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.[7]

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.[7][8]

Casting

In early August 1999, it was announced that Alec Baldwin, Mara Wilson and Peter Fonda had joined the cast to play Mr. Conductor, Lily Stone and Burnett Stone respectively.[9] David Jacobs, the former vice president of The Britt Allcroft Company, stated that Baldwin got involved in the project because his daughter Ireland was a fan of the series.[9] John Bellis was originally attached to voice Thomas,[10] but was replaced by Canadian actor Edward Glen. Ewan McGregor and Bob Hoskins had also expressed interest for the role.[11] Michael Angelis, the UK narrator for the Thomas & Friends television series at the time, was originally cast to voice both James and Percy,[11] but was later replaced by voice actresses Susan Roman and Linda Ballantyne. Keith Scott was originally set to voice Diesel 10, but was later replaced by Neil Crone in the final film. Patrick Breen (known as the narrator of Allcroft's Magic Adventures of Mumfie) was originally set to voice both Splatter and Dodge, but was eventually replaced by both Kevin Frank and Neil Crone.

Filming

Principal photography began on August 2, 1999, and wrapped on October 15, 1999.[9] 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.

Original version

In a 2007 interview with Sodor Island Forums & Fansite, writer and director Britt Allcroft revealed that before the film's theatrical release, she and editor Ron Wisman were forced to completely change the film from how she had originally written it, by removing Burnett's rival P.T. Boomer (played by Doug Lennox), who was the original antagonist and character originally responsible for wrecking Lady, because the test audiences at the March 2000 preview screenings in Los Angeles considered Boomer to be "too scary" for young children. Despite most of his scenes being removed, Boomer can still be seen briefly in one scene, however the scene was redubbed with Boomer as a lost motorcyclist talking to Burnett for directions, as in the original cut, Boomer and Burnett were having a row.[12]

Lily Stone (played by Mara Wilson) was intended to be the narrator of the story.[13] Before filming, Thomas's voice was provided by John Bellis, a British 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 Isle of Man Airport in July 1999. 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!" A few days later, she offered the role to Bellis, and he accepted.[14] However, the test audiences felt that to his voice sounded "too old" for Thomas, although Bellis did receive onscreen credit as the Transportation Co-Ordinator, and a few of his lines remain intact in both the teaser trailer and the original UK trailer.

Crushed and angered by the changes, Bellis said he was "gutted", but still wished the filmmakers well. In an April 2000 interview, following the changes, he said, "It was supposed to be my big break, but it hasn't put me off and I am hoping something else will come along."[11] English actor Michael Angelis, who was the UK narrator of the series at the time, was the original voice of both James and Percy, but was recast for the same reason as Bellis. Australian voice actor Keith Scott originally voiced Diesel 10 (as evidenced in both the US and UK trailers), but he believes that he was recast because test audiences claimed that his portrayal was "too scary" for young children.[12] Additionally, American actor Patrick Breen was the original voice of both Splatter and Dodge, but he was also subsequently recast for unknown reasons.

Music and soundtrack

Thomas and the Magic Railroad Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedAugust 1, 2000 (2000-08-01)
Length48:19
LabelUnforscene 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. Unlike the movie, the soundtrack received more favorable reception.[15][16][17]

Track listing
No.TitleArtistLength
1."He's a Really Useful Engine"Steven Page1:32
2."Shining Time"Neil Donell3:18
3."Shining Time (Reprise)"Maren Ord3:18
4."I Know How the Moon Must Feel"Dayna Manning3:22
5."Some Things Never Leave You"Joe Henry2:57
6."Summer Sunday"
  • Dominic Gibbeson
  • Dominic Goundar
  • Rob Jenkins
  • Gerard McLachlan
  • Ben Wright
2:59
7."The Locomotion"Atomic Kitten3:54
8."Main Title" 3:32
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

Release

Theatrical

Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released theatrically on July 14, 2000, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on 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. Before that, 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 book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for which a special train called "Hogwarts Express" would run from July 8 to 11.[18][19][20] In September 2020, it was announced that the film would be re-released in theaters on October 24, 2020, for the film's 20th anniversary.[21]

Home media

Thomas and the Magic Railroad was originally released onto VHS and DVD by Icon Home Entertainment on October 19, 2000, in the United Kingdom, and by Columbia TriStar Home Video[nb 1] on October 31, 2000, in the United States.[23][24] In 2007, the film was released as part of a double feature with The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.[25] It was also released as part of a triple feature with The Adventures of Milo and Otis and The Bear.[citation needed]

A re-release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray as a 20th anniversary edition from Shout! Factory and under license by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment was released on September 29, 2020.[26][27] The 20th anniversary edition includes a two-part documentary of the film, new interviews with the cast and crew, and a rough cut version of the film including extended and deleted scenes as well as the storyline of P.T. Boomer.[28]

Reception

Box office

The film grossed $19.7 million worldwide against a production budget of $19 million.[2] During its second weekend of screening in Britain, it took in £170,000.[29]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 21% based on 68 reviews, along with an average rating of 3.97/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "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."[30] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 19 out of 100 based on 23 critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike".[31] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[32]

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."[33] 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.[33][34] Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times gave the film a negative review, saying, "Mr. Baldwin's attack – there's no better way to put it – is unforgettable."[35]

William Thomas of Empire gave the film a one out of five stars, he was critical of the films special effects, stating that "believe it or not, the true villains of the piece are, in 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."[36] 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."[37] 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".[38]

Accolades

Year Association Category Recipient Result Ref.
2000 YoungStar Award Best Young Actress/Performance in a Motion Picture Comedy Mara Wilson Nominated
2001 Young Artist Award Leading Young Actress Nominated

In other media

Video game

A video game based on the film, titled Thomas and the Magic Railroad: Print Studio, was released in the United Kingdom. Published by Hasbro Interactive, it was released for PC on August 25, 2000.

Legacy

Cancelled sequel

On July 1, 2000, it was reported that Destination Films began development on a sequel, but it was quietly cancelled.[39]

Potential animated adaptation film

HiT said that its theatrical division would be piloted by a Thomas film. Originally targeted for a late 2010 release,[40] in September 2009 this was revised to Spring 2011.[41] 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.[42] On June 8, 2011, it was announced that 9 director Shane Acker would direct the live-action adaptation of The Adventures of Thomas, with Weta Digital designing the film's visual effects.[43]

On October 6, 2020, it was announced that Marc Forster would be directing a new theatrical live-action/animated Thomas & Friends movie.[6]

Notes

  1. ^ Renamed Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment in April 2001, then Sony Pictures Home Entertainment between November 2004[22] and March 2005.

References

  1. ^ a b "Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on March 9, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)". Box Office Mojo. August 28, 2002. Archived from the original on May 27, 2019. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  3. ^ Michael Thomson (July 13, 2000). "Films – review – Thomas and the Magic Railroad". BBC News. Archived from the original on January 6, 2016. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  4. ^ "Britt Allcroft quits as Thomas flops". The Guardian. September 8, 2000. Archived from the original on November 17, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  5. ^ "Gullane succumbs to HIT's advances". The Guardian. July 5, 2002. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Anthony D'Alessandro (October 6, 2020). "Thomas & Friends New Movie In The Works From Mattel Films & Marc Forster's 2Dux²". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on October 6, 2020. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
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