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Movie Review

With Sir Topham Hatt on vacation with his wife, the Conductor (Alec Baldwin) leaves the "real-world" town of Shining Time to go to the magical Island of Sodor to keep an eye on the talking trains and watch out for the bully Diesel 10—a diesel train that thinks steam engines are useless. But Diesel 10 isn’t the Conductor’s only problem, he’s losing his sparkle (the magic gold dust that allows him to travel between the worlds). Plus, the magic seems to be fading on Sodor because a mysterious train has been lost for years. That train—Lady—is actually stuck just outside of Shining Time in Muffle Mountain. Burnett Stone (Peter Fonda) had failed to protect Lady when he was a boy and Diesel made her go too fast and wreck. Burnett has been haunted by his failure and never smiles. And even though he has fixed Lady, he hasn’t been able to make her steam again. Enter Burnett’s granddaughter (Mara Wilson) who can sense magical things. She hooks up with Junior, the Conductor’s beach-loving cousin, and travels to Sodor. Then she and Thomas make a daring trip back to Muffle Mountain with a load of Sodor’s coal. This special coal gets Lady working again, makes Burnett smile and saves the day!

Positive Elements: Thomas is indeed "a very useful engine." He encourages other engines to be their best, even though he’s sometimes picked on because of his size. Thomas and Lily travel through the magic buffers even though it’s dark, cold and bumpy to help Lady and save Sodor. The Conductor stresses the three R’s: responsibility, reliability and being really useful. Even the Conductor’s wacky cousin, Junior, decides to become responsible at the end and wants to get a job. Diesel 10’s sidekicks, Splotch and Splatter, get tired of their boss and decide to stop being mean.

Spiritual Content: Lots of talk about magic. Magic holds together Shining Time and the Island of Sodor in the Conductor’s "special universe." The Conductor can talk with animals and has magic powers because of his gold dust. Magic writing on the windmill gives the Conductor clues on how to save Sodor then disappears. At end of movie, Lady says, "Helping each other brings to life the magic in all of us." While "magic" can easily be translated here into "imagination," some Christian families will find it hard to swallow so many references to it.

Violent Content: Diesel 10 threatens others with "pinchy"—his big, metal bucket shovel. He even grabs the Conductor in pinchy. In the end, Diesel 10 falls through a cracked bridge, but ends up landing in a barge going up river and seems unhurt.

Foul Language: Diesel 10 makes fun of the steam engines. Single uses of the words "stinker" and "darn."

Other Negative Elements: Mutt, the dog, puts Lily "on the wrong train for the right reasons" so she will end up in Shining Town instead of going straight to her grandpa’s house.

Summary: After nearly 20 years of success on television and videos, Thomas the Tank Engine makes his big-screen debut. And for the first time, fans of Thomas in well over 100 countries will see humans interacting with the talking trains on the Island of Sodor. Britt Allcroft, who first brought Thomas to television, writes, directs and produces this film, keeping it true to the original series. Traditional model animation is kept intact as only the trains’ eyes move when they speak, not their mouths—which only change to show emotion.

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.

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