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For other uses, see Thomas and the Magic Railroad (disambiguation).
“Little engines can do big things!”
―Thomas

Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a 2000 theatrical film based on the television show, Thomas & Friends, and its American spin-off, Shining Time Station. The film was produced by Gullane Entertainment, The Britt Allcroft Company, Isle of Man Film Commission and Destination Films. The film was distributed by Destination Films in the US and Icon Productions in the UK.

Plot

Characters

Characters Introduced

Locations

Island of Sodor

Shining Time

Cast

Voice actors

Live-action actors

Original voice actors

Songs

Production

Development

In the early 1990s, the television show, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, was at the height of its popularity following three successful seasons. At the same time, its live-action American spin-off, Shining Time Station, was also successful. As early as 1994, prior to the launch of the fourth season, Allcroft had plans to make a feature film based on both of these shows, 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 a Thomas film. Allcroft signed a contract to write the script for the film with the working title, Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Filming, according to a press release, was due to take place at Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom and the United States, with the theatrical release set to 1997. However, Paramount shelved the plans for the film after London left the company. This led Allcroft to seek other sources of funding. Discussions with PolyGram about the film were held, which did not did not go on any further as the company was in the middle of a corporate restructuring and sale.

In the summer of 1998, during the launch of the fifth season, Allcroft saw an Isle of Man Commission advert. They were offering tax incentives to companies wanting to film on the Island. Allcroft paid visit to the Island a few weeks later and felt the location was perfect. In 1999, Barry London became Chairman of the newly-founded Destination Films, and renewed his interest in the project. Destination Films became the main financial backer and studio for the film.

Filming

The film was filmed at the Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, as well as in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and on the Isle of Man. The 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. The large passenger station where Lily boards the train is the Harrisburg Transportation Center. Strasburg Rail Road's (ex Norfolk & Western) 4-8-0 475 was repainted as the Rainbow Sun.

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 shot in Toronto instead of Shepperton Studios, the "home" of the original show; however, several of the show's key staff were flown over to participate. The Magic Railroad was made created using models, CGI and water-coloured matte paintings.

Problems and Changes

In a 2007 interview, Britt Allcroft commented that the finished film was drastically different from the version she had written, with several scenes, plot elements and characters being cut from the final film.

One of the biggest changes to the film was the removal of P.T. Boomer, who was originally intended to be the film's main antagonist. His role was cut after test audiences found him to be too frightening for children; thus, any traces of him left in the movie are unexplained. Despite this, he still appears in a few, unedited clips in the final film and even appears in one of the trailers, showing him and Diesel 10 falling off the viaduct. The official Thomas and the Magic Railroad website also had images and information regarding his character prior to being cut. Parts of his character were rewritten for Diesel 10.

Several of the voices also changed during production of the film. Thomas was originally voiced 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 after he happened to pick up Allcroft and her crew from the airport; Allcroft believed his voice suited Thomas perfectly, and so he was flown to Toronto to record his lines. Test audiences in Los Angelis disliked Bellis' voice for Thomas, believing his Liverpudlian accent made Thomas sound "too old". Bellis was replaced by Eddie Glen, who gave Thomas a more youthful voice. James and Percy were originally going to be voiced by Michael Angelis, then-narrator of the television show. Test audiences also considered his voice to be too old for the characters, and so he was replaced by Susan Roman and Linda Ballantyne. Patrick Breen originally voiced Splatter and Dodge, but he was also replaced.

Diesel 10 was originally voiced by Keith Scott, but his voice was later changed; Scott believes that he was replaced due to his voice sounding too scary to younger children. He was replaced by Neil Crone, who gave Diesel 10 a Russian accent. Due to complaints by test audiences, who believed the voice could be considered "offensive", Crone gave Diesel 10 a New Jersey accent. He and Kevin Frank both improvised a lot of the comedy for the movie.

During filming of the confrontation scene at the smelters yard, James' model fell off the set and was significantly damaged. Even after repairs were completed, cracks can still be seen in his cab and other areas.

Original Script

All of these changes were featured in the original script of the film. They were cut out in either later scripts or the final release.[1]

  • The Island Song and Thomas' Anthem were going to be used in the film during the opening musical sequence. In addition, Night Train was originally going to be used in the scene of Thomas and Percy pulling their mail trains.
  • Lily, twenty years later, was the narrator, telling the story to her children. In the future, she became a railroad engineer like Burnett and was married to Patch. Additionally, she had a pet dog named Jeff, who was a descendant of Mutt.
  • Lily's mother was pregnant with an unborn sibling, which is why Lily goes to visit her grandfather.
  • Cranky was meant to have a non-speaking role. In the scene where Splatter and Dodge ask Diesel 10 why he let Mr. Conductor escape, Cranky drops a crate of fruits and vegetables on them. In the final film, Diesel 10 is covered in coal from a hopper. Cranky's model still appears in the film, albeit as set dressing at Knapford.
  • George was going to make an appearance as one of Diesel 10's lackeys. He agreed to help Diesel 10 destroy all the buffers on Sodor to find the ones that led to the Magic Railroad, and as a reward he would be allowed to destroy the turntable at Tidmouth Sheds and turn it into a roller rink, though at some point he eventually turned against Diesel 10. As his model was never brought out from storage, his role was dropped in later scripts.
  • Diesel 10 was a new engine who came to help out while Sir Topham Hatt was away, but only made things worse.
  • "Pinchy" would have been concealed underneath Diesel 10's roof, and is not initially revealed until he meets up with Splatter and Dodge to discuss his takeover plans.
  • Burnett Stone was given the task of being Lady's caretaker by the Conductor family.
  • The railway was undergoing major repairs throughout the film, which would explain why Tidmouth Sheds under repair in the final cut.
  • Mr. Conductor would seemingly switch to his original size of ten inches on the Island of Sodor in certain scenes; the items in Sir Topham Hatt's office are described as being as large as him, and he sleeps in a small hammock in Tidmouth Sheds instead of a bed.
  • The scene where Thomas was meant to be covered in dust by Harold was intended to carry on through the night at Tidmouth Sheds, with Diesel 10 dumping sneezing powder down Thomas' funnel.
  • The windmill was not the location of the clue to the source of the gold dust; instead, it was a large waterfall that Mr. Conductor had to climb up to retrieve a sheet of paper.
  • Lady was originally not meant to speak. Her only way of communicating would be through "telepathy" with Thomas on Muffle Mountain and her whistle. She was later given a speaking role in order to smooth over cuts to the final film.
  • In the original script, the differences between British and American terminology was acknowledged and occasionally poked fun of. The engines would continue to refer to Sir Topham Hatt as "The Fat Controller" and also corrected Mr. Conductor when he mistakenly said "Sodor Railroad" instead of "Railway".
  • Junior was originally described as being an English character. His nationality was changed after Michael E. Rodgers was cast for the role.
  • Patch was originally intended to be Irish.
  • Mr. Conductor escapes Diesel 10 by cutting a blue/green wire instead of the hydraulic hose he cuts in the final film. Instead of being catapulted to the windmill by Diesel 10's claw, Mr. Conductor would have bounced off a bush before landing at the windmill.
  • Splatter and Dodge were not meant to reform; instead, George would have been the one who turned against them, telling them to destroy the magic buffers themselves. They try to do so, but bump into each-other and derail. In another script, George would have helped Junior and James defeat the two diesels by pushing a boulder onto their line, trapping them on a siding.
  • In the original script, Thomas does not stop to pick up the missing coal truck despite recognizing it, and only realises its significance after he reaches Muffle Mountain. Lily makes the same connection, and Patch and his horse are sent to retrieve the truck. The horse's hooves are permanently etched with gold dust, allowing it to go down the Magic Railroad.
  • In the original script, Thomas is knocked off of Muffle Mountain by an explosion caused by P.T. Boomer. In the final version, the ground under him simply crumbles away.
  • After Diesel 10 and P.T. Boomer fall into the barge, they would have either vanished or would have been turned into boiler sludge via Junior's magic bandana.

Release

Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released theatrically in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 14 July 2000, and the United States and Canada on 26 July 2000. The film premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square; for the purpose, a steam locomotive, LMS Fowler 3F no. 47298, painted to resemble Thomas, was brought to the cinema by low-loader on 9 July 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 8 July - 11 July.

Reception

Thomas and the Magic Railroad has an approval rating of 19% on Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 67 critics, with an average rating of 3.9/10. The site's critical consensus states: "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.

The film was also a box office flop, grossing $19.7 million compared to its $19 million budget. During its second week of screening in Britain it only took in £170,000.

Awards and Nominations

  • Nomination - YoungStar Awards - Best Young Actress/Performance in a Motion Picture Comedy, 2000, to Mara Wilson
  • Nomination - Young Artists Awards - Best Performance in a Feature Film - Leading Young Actress, 2001, to Mara Wilson

Trivia

  • Currently, this is the only theatrical Thomas movie to be released. A second theatrical film named The Adventures of Thomas was being developed by HiT Entertainment sometime around 2010, but appears to have been cancelled.
  • This is the first film to feature separate voice actors for the characters in the English dub.
  • According to Britt Allcroft, the film was partially inspired by the fourth season episode, Thomas and the Special Letter.[2]
  • Ewan McGregor and Bob Hoskins auditioned for the role of Thomas prior to John Bellis' casting.[3]
  • John Barry originally signed on to be the film's composer, but left the project due to scheduling conflicts. He is still credited as the composer on the 1999 US teaser poster.
  • Before the film was released, a sequel was already being developed by Destination Films. However, possibly due to the negative reception and poor box office performance of the first film, the sequel was cancelled.[4]
  • This was Mara Wilson's last major film role before she retired from acting.
  • This film marks the first time in the television series that character dialogue overrides narrator storytelling as the primary manner of telling the story.
  • Phil Fehrle and Shelley-Elizabeth Skinner made cameos in the film.
  • Currently, this is the only Thomas & Friends film to feature live actors.
  • Didi Conn is the only actress from Shining Time Station to reprise her role in the film.
  • Edward was never featured in any script of the film. According to Phil Fehrle, there was not enough screen time and opportunity to utilise him in a way that added any real value to the film.[5]
  • John Bellis, the original voice of Thomas, is credited as "transportation co-ordinator".
  • People that worked on the original series also worked on this film. Namely, David Mitton (as model unit creative consultant), David Eves (as model SFX supervisor), Steve Asquith (as model supervisor) and Terence Permane (as director of photography for the models section).
  • In the trailers, Mr. Conductor is heard saying "I've run out of gold dust and because of that I'm losing my energy as well." This line is taken from a deleted scene.
  • The English theatrical trailers played "The World is New" by Save Ferris, with music done by Nick Phoenix. The same was done with the Japanese theatrical trailer, but it replaced some of the original music with bits of the original Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends theme.
  • In the Australian trailer, P.T. Boomer makes an appearance, a rod is connected to Thomas' coupling hook, and Thomas and Diesel 10 have their original voices.
  • Despite his role being cut, P.T. Boomer still makes a few appearances in the final film. He appears lying on top of Diesel 10's roof in the chase scene, and he makes an appearance in the "crossroads" scene in which Stacy brings Lily to Burnett Stone.
    • Doug Lennox confirmed that the original scene would have saw Boomer confront Burnett about Lady's whereabouts, and was re-dubbed when his role was cut out.[6]
  • This film marks the only appearances of Splatter and Dodge to date.
  • All of the engines and road vehicles have different whistle and horn sounds. Thomas and Percy still use the same whistle sounds, but are slightly modified. In addition, some engines share the same whistle sound; Gordon and James both use the same whistle, as do Henry and Percy.
  • According to multiple SiF interviews, several of the models were either damaged or lost in transit after being shipped from Toronto to Shepperton.
  • The film was shot in a 4:3 fullscreen frame and later matted into a 1.85:1 widescreen image for theatrical release; the UK DVD was incorrectly rendered in full frame as a cropped widescreen image.
  • The top and bottom of the image are cropped in the widescreen release, but
  • Robert Tinkler is credited for playing "Older Patch", even though it is not clear which scenes he actually portrayed him.
  • The posters of Sir Topham Hatt reading "Sir Topham Needs You" featured throughout the film are a reference to the Lord Kitchener and Uncle Sam recruiting posters.
  • For the majority of the film, Diesel 10 is simply referred to as "Diesel".
  • In the scene where Mr. Conductor talks to Billy Twofeathers, he hums the original Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends theme.
  • Despite Sir Topham Hatt's voice being unintelligible over the phone, it is still changed in the foreign language dubs.
  • Although human actors are used for the film, Lady Hatt and Bertie's driver still appear as models.
  • Aside from Bertie's driver, Sodor appears to be largely devoid of people.
  • In this film, the town beside Knapford is replaced with trees.
  • Scrap models of Gordon, Thomas, City of Truro and Donald or Douglas appear in the smelters yard scenes.
  • One of Flying Scotsman's tenders, painted black, can be seen as Thomas backs into the siding next to James.
  • Only one scene from the original cut was commercially released: a deleted scene featuring Junior called "Sundae Surprise".
  • The Russian dub is a voice-over of the Hebrew dub.
  • This film, Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, Tale of the Brave and King of the Railway are the only known specials to have been dubbed in Hebrew.

Goofs

  • Excluding cab shots, Thomas and Percy's cab doors are missing throughout the entirety of the film.
  • After Diesel 10 races by Thomas and Gordon, a black pencil can be seen in the bushes on the right of the screen. Thomas' eyes are also wonky.
  • When Thomas says "If Diesel has unfinished business..." his siderods stop moving.
  • In the scene of Thomas and Diesel 10 leave Tidmouth Sheds, the end of the set can be seen.
  • During the engines' conversation about Lady at Tidmouth Sheds, the bottom of Percy's smokebox was white in one shot and his smokebox saddle is black, then they both turn green for the rest of that scene and during Diesel 10's invasion at the sheds during the evening. For the rest of the film, the smokebox saddle is black, but it becomes green again when Percy tells Thomas that they need to get Lily back to Burnett.
  • Toby looks and sounds happy when he says "And I fear that it'll destroy us all."
  • Throughout the film, Clarabel is facing the wrong way. Also, in a scene during "Really Useful Engine", she is in front of Annie.
  • After Diesel 10 is covered in coal, Henry can be seen puffing backwards next to Gordon, but in the next shot, he is near Splatter and Dodge.
  • James' whistle disappears in the scene of Junior falling on his cab roof, but reappears when he and Junior are teleported to the grotto.
  • During the scene where Lily meets Lady, Mr. Conductor's hat randomly appears in Burnett's hands. This is because the original scene where Lily gives this to Burnett was cut.
  • During the chase sequence, P.T. Boomer appears lying down on Diesel 10's roof as he enters Henry's Tunnel.
  • In a close-up shot of Lady just before she crosses the viaduct, Burnett Stone is not in her cab.
  • In the end credits, Annie, Clarabel, Bertie and Harold are under the voice cast for the trains.
  • Sodor is misspelled as Sodar" on the back cover.

References