Thomas and the Magic Railroad

USA/UK 2000

Reviewed by Edward Lawrenson


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Thomas and his fellow steam engines live in Sodor, a magical place where locomotives speak to one another. Mr Conductor, whose supply of gold dust allows him to visit the village of Shining Town in the real world, is keeping his eye on Diesel, an evil train who has vowed to destroy a locomotive which went missing some time ago and is said to provide a link between Sodor and Shining Time. Realising his supply of gold dust is running out - and the magic of Sodor fading - Mr Conductor calls on his cousin, Junior, for help.

Lily, a young girl, goes to Muffle Mountain to visit her grandfather Burnett, a morose widower who spends his time trying to repair a locomotive called Lady. Lily befriends Patch, a local boy, who takes her to Shining Time.

Thomas discovers the entrance to a magic railroad which runs from Sodor to Shining Time. Lily encounters Junior, who uses his gold dust to take her to Sodor. Diesel kidnaps Junior; Mr Conductor, meanwhile, realises that Lady is the train which can link Sodor with Shining Time. Carrying Lily, Thomas rides to Shining Time via the newly discovered magic railroad. With the coal Thomas was carrying, Burnett stokes Lady up and rides to Sodor with Lily and Patch. Junior uses the last of his gold dust to escape from Diesel, who subsequently falls down a ravine and is carried away by a passing barge. Mr Conductor makes some gold dust from the embers of Lady's fire. The magic of Sodor is restored.


Originally written for his son Christopher, Rev. W. Awdry's Sodor railway books were disarming tales about talking steam engines. Published just as the age of steam travel was coming to an end, Awdry's stories were imbued with a certain nostalgia: his locomotives had happy, soot-free faces and childlike personalities and were run by kindly railway bosses. Writer-director Britt Allcroft maintains some of this affection for steam trains in her debut film Thomas and the Magic Railroad. The live-action sequences - set in the rural idyll of Shining Time - contain some pretty shots of a restored locomotive, polished, fired up and charging along a stretch of railway as if on its maiden journey. And like the television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, which Allcroft produced, the scenes depicting Thomas and his fellow locomotives are staged with models on what seems to be a vast toy train set. While there's a beguiling naivety to the model trains and surrounding landscape - the engines discharge ice-cream-white wisps of smoke; delicate bonsai-like trees line the diminutive railway - there's crudeness here, too. Given the level of CGI-fuelled sophistication at play in such films as Stuart Little, young audiences might be disappointed: the expressions on the faces of the trains, for instance, change only between cuts and their lips remain closed while delivering their lines. Gone too are the wonderfully onomatopoeic rhythms of Awdry's dialogue ("Pull harder, pull harder," the catty engine Gordon exhorts Thomas in one of Awdry's tales).

But Allcroft's biggest mistake is to portray Sodor as magical and distinct from a world that is recognisably real. In Awdry's stories, the idea the trains talked went unremarked by the passengers who travelled on them (in Thomas's Train, for instance, they even forgive Thomas for being late because he's upset). Here, the steam engines seem to exist in a parallel world. Not only are the connections between Sodor and Shining Time half-hatched - a horribly tortuous plot is a massive flaw in any film intended for easily distracted kids - Allcroft's script is drenched in saccharine sentiment. Hailing from this charmed, unreal place, Thomas is able to bring grieving grandfather Burnett out of his shell and teach everyone that "helping each other brings alive the magic in all of us." Allcroft also relies heavily on other-worldly occurrences to advance her story - a rabbit, for instance, leaves clues for Alec Baldwin's conductor on where to find more gold dust - but these soon feel less like flights of fancy than expedient plot devices. At one point, after being thrown high into the air and landing on conveniently placed bags of flour, Baldwin winks at the audience. "What a perfect landing," he says. This might be a game attempt to acknowledge the inherent nonsense on screen, but if so, it comes too late. Thomas and the Magic Railroad derails soon after the opening credits; the rest is an inglorious wreck of a movie.


Britt Allcroft
Britt Allcroft
Phil Fehrle
Britt Allcroft
Created by
Britt Allcroft
Based on the Railway Series by
The Rev. W. Awdry
Director of Photography
Paul Ryan
Ron Wisman
Production Designer
Oleg M. Savytski
Music/Songs/Score Coinductor
Hummie Mann
Don Black
Sue Ennis
Original 'Thomas' Music/Songs
JNR Campbell
Mike O'Donnell
©The Magic Railroad Company Limited
Production Companies
Destination Films and Gullane Pictures
Barry London/Brent Baum present a Britt Allcroft film
Presented in association with The Isle of Man Film Commission
Executive Producers
Steve Stabler
Charles Falzon
Nancy Chapelle
Barry London
Brent Baum
John Bertoli
Mark Jacobson
Associate Producer
Shelley Elizabeth Skinner
Production Co-ordinators
Isle of Man:
Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor
Toronto Crew:
Eric Beldowski
Studio Manager
Toronto Crew:
Thomas 'Human' Street
Production Manager
Noella Nesdoly
Unit Production Manager
Pennsylvania Unit:
Keith W. Strandberg
Location Managers
Isle of Man:
James Cleary
Toronto Crew:
Ron Gwynne
Post-production Supervisor
Mary Ann Grainger
Assistant Directors
David Coombs
Isle of Man:
Sara MacDonald
Thomas J.C. Pakenham
Ben Wright
Toronto Model Unit:
Eric Banz
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Craig S. Wallace
Toyah Zalik-Wallace
Patrick Hagarty
Ron Succarotte
Shawn Flanagan
Script Supervisors
Isle of Man:
Donna Croce
Toronto Crew:
Susan Walker
Danielle Depeyre
Pennsylvania Unit:
Claire Cowperthwaite
Karen Margiotta
Mary Margiotta
Ross Clydesdale
Juli-Ann Kay
Loop Group Talent:
Caldwell & Company
Additional Photography
Robbi Hinds
Camera Operators
Isle of Man:
Andy Chmura
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Andy Chmura
Perry Hoffmann
Pennsylvania Unit:
Martin Schaer
George Winchell
Steadicam Operator
Pennsylvania Unit:
Jim McConkey
Special Visual Effects
Bill Neil
Visual Effects Director of Photography
Robbi Hinds
Visual Effects Producer
Mike Chambers
Digital Visual Effects
Visual Effects Editor:
Ron Wisman Jr
Digital Matte Artist:
Richard Kriegler
Storyboard Artists:
Greg Chown
Ronald Hobb
Ed Lee
Bruce Simpson
Visual Effects Drafting:
Robert Hackborn
Visual Effects
C.O.R.E Digital Pictures
Gajdecki Visual Effects
Command Post/Toybox
Topix Computer Graphics and Animation
Digital Film Scanning/ Recording
Cine-BYTE Imaging Inc
Special Effects
Isle of Man, Supervisor:
Peter Hutchinson
Toronto Crew:
Laird FX
Model Supervisor
Steven Asquith
Model Special Effects Supervisor
David Eves
Model Shop
Toronto Model Unit:
Gajdecki Visual Effects
Model Unit Creative Consultant
David Mitton
Model Unit Director of Photography
Terry Permane
Mural Designer
Isle of Man:
Timothy Murton
Isle of Man Sign Writer
Eric Quirk
Isle of Man Art Director
Lucinda Zak
Set Designer
Toronto Crew:
Gordon White
Set Decorator
Isle of Man:
Cheryl Dorsey
Associate Designer
Toronto Crew:
Charles Dunlop
Set Decorator
Toronto Crew:
Caroline Gee
Toronto Crew:
Geraldine Gonis
Mario Vecchi
Scenic Artists
Isle of Man:
Timothy Murton
Humphrey Bangham
Key Scenic Artist
Toronto Crew:
Karin Bechtel-Staley
Isle of Man Location Storyboard Artist
Ray Consing
Costume Designer
Luis M. Sequeira
Key Wardrobe
Isle of Man:
Janet Cavanagh
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Lisa Younger
Key Make-up
Isle of Man:
Kathleen Graham
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Mary Sue Heron
Pennsylvania Unit:
Pamela Cozen
Key Hairdressers
Isle of Man:
G.E. 'Freddie' Godden
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Susan Exton-Stranks
Title Design
Johanna Weinstein
Main Title Animation
Film Effects Inc
Titles Digital Artist
Bob Yoshioka
Brad Dechter
Frank Bennett
Don Nemitz
Ira Hearshen
Music Editor
Yuri Gorbachow
Score Recordist/Mixer
David Greene
Music Consultant
Jacquie Perryman
"Really Useful Engine" - Steven Page; "Shining Time"- Neil Donnel, Maren Ord; "Some Things Never Leave You" - Joe Henry; "I Know How the Moon Must Feel" - Dayna Manning; "Summer Sunday" - Dominic Gibbeson, Dominic Goundar, Rob Jenkins, Gerard McLachan, Ben Wright; "Locomotion" - Atomic Kitten; "Working on the Railroad" & "Old MacDonald" - Neil Crone; "Thomas Theme Song"
Isle of Man:
Christine Wild
Sound Supervisor
Nelson Ferreira
Production Sound Mixers
Isle of Man:
Malcolm Davies
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Chaim Gilad
Pennsylvania Unit:
Chris Young
Re-recording Engineers
James Porteous
Cory Mandel
Andrew Roberts
Animation Recordists
Richard Calistan
Paul Shubat
Dialogue Editor
Joe Bracciale
Sound Effects Editors
Andrew Bray
Stephen Roque
Bruce Fleming
Bob Lacivita
Tom Avitabile
Jesse Hammer
John Sievert
Steven Copley
Creative Consultants
Neil Crone
Kevin Frank
Steam Railroad Consultant
Pennsylvania Unit:
Linn Moedinger
Child Psychology Consultant
Dr Ron Slaby
Stunt Coordinators
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Dave van Zeyl
Chris Lamon
Isle of Man Dog Trainer
Julie Tottman
Isle of Man Horse Trainer
Tony Smart
Animal Trainrs
Toronto GreenScreen/ 2nd Unit:
Stacy Basil
Dawn Barkan
Brian Gibbs
Birds and Animals Unlimited
Peter Fonda
Grandpa Burnett Stone
Mara Wilson
Alec Baldwin
Mr Conductor
Didi Conn
Michael E. Rodgers
Mr C. Junior
Cody McMains
Russell Means
Billy Twofeathers
Jared Wall
young Burnett Stone
Laura Bower
young Tasha
Voice Cast
Eddie Glen
Neil Crone
Diesel 10
Colm Feore
Linda Ballantyne
Neil Crone
Kevin Frank
Susan Roman
Kevin Frank
Neil Crone
Kevin Frank
Shelley Elizabeth Skinner
Britt Allcroft
Icon Film Distribution
7,717 feet
85 minutes 45 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011