Thomas and the Magic Railroad

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Thomas and the Magic Railroad
Thomas and the magic railroad ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBritt Allcroft
Produced by
  • Britt Allcroft
  • Phil Fehrle
Written byBritt Allcroft
Based onThe Railway Series
by The Rev. W. Awdry and Christopher Awdry
Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends
by Britt Allcroft
Shining Time Station
by Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow
Narrated byMr. Conductor
Music byHummie Mann
CinematographyPaul Ryan
Edited byRon Wisman
Distributed by
Release date
  • July 14, 2000 (2000-07-14) (United Kingdom)
  • July 26, 2000 (2000-07-26) (United States)
Running time
85 minutes
  • United Kingdom[1]
  • United States[1]
Budget$19 million
Box office$19.7 million[2]

Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a 2000 British-American children's fantasy adventure 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, including the voices provided by Eddie Glen and Neil Crone with 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 and Icon Film Distribution in the United Kingdom. This was the last feature film to star Mara Wilson for 15 years.

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.

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.[3] Critical reception in the U.S. was somewhat better, but still mostly negative, in stark contrast to the praise given to the original Shining Time Station, which was an award-winning show.[4][5][6] General criticism of the film has been directed towards its plot, characterization, acting and special effects.

The film's critical and commercial failure led Allcroft to resign from her company, Gullane Entertainment (originally The Britt Allcroft Company) in September 2000.[7] Two years later, Gullane was acquired by HiT Entertainment, which the television rights to Thomas were passed onto.[8]


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, an evil, steam engine-hating diesel locomotive named Diesel 10 arrives and announces his plan to get rid of all 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 get her running 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 threatens him with sugar and Diesel 10 quickly retreats. The next morning, Mr. Conductor journeys to the windmill but gets lost, he discovers clues and phones Junior, his cousin to get the emergency whisle from Shining Time.

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, Lily finds the station empty and meets Junior. After a talk, Lily picks up the gold dust Junior leaves behind, soon Stacy takes her to Burnett's house. While talking at Knapford, Percy and Thomas conclude there is a secret railway between Sodor and Shining Time. Diesel 10 overhears them and goes to a shed at 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 to ram one of the shed supports over, trapping them. The next day, Henry has a bad cold, so Thomas collects six special coal trucks for him, but because one rolled through the Magic Buffers, he only has five according to Bertie.

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 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 travelling 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. Meanwhile, Diesel 10 takes Junior to the scrapyards where James was there. Junior tries to whistle both of them out, only to discover that he, too, is out of gold dust. Diesel 10 tries to force the two into a melting pit, but Junior uses the last of his extra gold dust to teleport himself and James away. The two arrive near the buffers, where Mr. Conductor is there waiting. Mr. Conductor and Junior, both out of gold dust, refuse to give up hope.

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, Burnett, Lily, Patch and Mutt take Lady back 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, and as Diesel 10 approaches, he applies his brakes, but it is too late and he falls off the bridge and lands into a barge filled with sludge and is carried away.

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 into the sunset.


Live-action actors[edit]

  • 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 (credit as "Mr. C. 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 Twofeathers: the train driver
  • Lori Hallier as Mrs. Stone (credit as "Lily's Mother"): Lily's mom
  • Laura Bower as Tasha Stone (credit as "Young Tasha"): Burnett's deceased wife and Lily's deceased grandmother

Voice actors[edit]

Original voices[edit]



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 and 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 was 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.[9]

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 3-year-old daughter, who was enthralled by Thomas. Filming, according to a press release, 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.[9]

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.[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[edit]

In a 2007 interview, director Britt Allcroft commented the finished film was drastically changed from what it was originally going to be the way she had written it, with the original antagonist P.T. Boomer, (played by Doug Lennox) being removed from the film because the character was considered too frightening for young children by test audiences.[10]

Lily Stone (played by Mara Wilson) was intended to be the narrator of the story.[11] Before filming, Thomas's voice would be 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.[12] Test audiences in Los Angeles disliked Bellis's voice for Thomas, due to his Liverpudlian accent and saying that he made Thomas sound too old. Subsequently, Bellis was replaced by Edward Glen, who gave Thomas a more youthful-sounding voice. 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.[13] 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 test audiences also 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.[10]


Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released theatrically on 14 July 2000 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and 26 July 2000 in the United States and Canada. The film was also released in Australia on 14 December 2000, and in New Zealand on 7 April 2001. The film premièred 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 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.[14][15][16]

Home media[edit]

Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released onto VHS and DVD on 19 October 2000 in the United Kingdom by Warner Home Video, and in the United States on 31 October 2000 by Columbia TriStar Home Video.


Critical response[edit]

As of December 2015, Thomas and the Magic Railroad had 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 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."[17] Metacritic gives the film a score of 19 out of 100, based on reviews from 23 critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike".[18]

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".[19] 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.[20]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $19.7 million worldwide.[2] During its second weekend of screening in Britain it took in £170,000.[21]


Thomas and the Magic Railroad Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedAugust 1, 2000
LabelUnforscene Music Ltd. / Nettwerk

Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a soundtrack released on both CD and cassette. It features twelve music tracks from the feature film composed by Hummie Mann.

Track listing
1."He's a Really Useful Engine"Steven Page1:32
2."Shining Time"Maren Ord3:18
3."I Know How the Moon Must Feel"Dayna Manning3:22
4."Some Things Never Leave You"Joe Henry2:57
5."Summer Sunday"Dominic Gibbeson
Dominic Goundar
Rob Jenkins
Gerard McLachlan
6."The Locomotion"Atomic Kitten3:54
7."Main Title"Hummie Mann3:32
8."Lily Travels to the Island of Sodor"Hummie Mann4:33
9."Burnett and Lady/Diesel 10 and Splodge"Hummie Mann3:28
10."Diesel 10 Threatens Mr. C"Hummie Mann4:25
11."Through the Magic Buffers"Hummie Mann6:36
12."The Chase, the Clue and the Happy Ending"Hummie Mann7:43

Video game[edit]

A video game, called Thomas and the Magic Railroad: Print Studio, was released based on the film. Print Studio was published by Hasbro Interactive and released for PC on August 25, 2000.

Further developments[edit]

Cancelled sequel[edit]

On July 1, 2000, Destination Films began developing a sequel, but due to the negative reception by critics and the poor box office performance, the sequel was cancelled.[22]

Future of Thomas on film[edit]

HiT said that its theatrical division would be piloted by a Thomas film. Originally targeted for a late 2010 release,[23] in September 2009 this was revised to Spring 2011.[24] 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.[25] On 8 June 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.[26] As of March 2013 however, nothing new on the film has been announced, meaning that the film was likely put on hold or cancelled.


  1. ^ a b "Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)". Box Office Mojo. 2002-08-28. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  3. ^ Elley, Derek (15 July 2000). "Thomas and the Magic Railroad". Variety.
  4. ^ "Shining Time Station (1989–1993) : Awards". Retrieved 2015-12-05.
  5. ^ "Thomas And The Magic Railroad". Daily Mail. London.
  6. ^ Michael Thomson (July 13, 2000). "Films - review - Thomas and the Magic Railroad". BBC. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  7. ^ "Britt Allcroft quits as Thomas flops". The Guardian. 8 September 2000. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  8. ^ "Gullane succumbs to HIT's advances". The Guardian. 5 July 2002. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  9. ^ a b c "SiF: About the Magic Railroad". Retrieved 2013-06-08.
  10. ^ a b "Magic Railroad - Revealed". Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  11. ^ "Interview: Britt Allcroft - Producer". 1999-05-19. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  12. ^ "Thomas finds his voice". BBC News. 16 July 1998.
  13. ^ "Hollywood vetoes Liverpool accent as voice of Thomas the Tank Engine". 29 April 2000. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  14. ^ Pigott, Nick, ed. (July 2000). "Headline News: Red livery for Taw Valley?". The Railway Magazine. London: IPC Magazines. 146 (1191): 17.
  15. ^ Pigott, Nick, ed. (August 2000). "Headline News: Taw valley set for four-day tour in EWS red". The Railway Magazine. London: IPC Magazines. 146 (1192). p. 5, photo; p. 4.
  16. ^ Pigott, Nick, ed. (September 2000). "Headline News: 'Hogwarts Express' shunts 'Thomas' into a siding". The Railway Magazine. London: IPC Magazines. 146 (1193): 15.
  17. ^ "Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  18. ^ "Thomas and the Magic Railroad". Metacritic. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  19. ^ "Thomas and the Magic Railroad Movie Review". Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  20. ^ "Thomas And The Magic Railroad". Chicago Sun-Times. 26 July 2000.
  21. ^ Guardian Wednesday, July 26, 2000 P22, In house stocks, Go off Menu
  22. ^ "All Aboard: A Caboose-Full of Partners Hypes Thomas the Tank Engine's film debut". July 1, 2000.
  23. ^ Hayes, Dade (3 March 2009). "Hit Entertainment gets into movie biz". Variety.
  24. ^ "Hit Entertainment's Hit Movies Division Begins Development Of First Feature Film Based on the Adventures of Thomas and Friends". HIT Entertainment. 30 September 2009. Archived from the original on 12 July 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  25. ^ "Thomas Theatrical Film Pushed Back AGAIN!". (Thomas news). Sodor Island. 5 January 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  26. ^ Fleming, Mike. "'9' Helmer Shane Acker Boards Feature Based on the Thomas The Tank Engine Toys". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 1 October 2011.

External links[edit]