Friday, May 16, 2014

Three-Year Anniversary: Review 266: "Thomas and the Magic Railroad"

Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.

He is a Tank Engine

      Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a 2000 children's movie based on the beloved British TV and book series. More specifically, it is based on the American version, Shining Time Station. The film was directed and written by Britt Allcroft, who created the TV series, and follows... Alec Baldwin! See, I bet you thought I'd say Thomas, since it's his movie. But no, here, Alec Baldwin plays Mr. Conductor, a magical... thing that serves as the... guardian of the... bridge between the Island of Sodor and Shining Time Station. But when one day here learns he's ran out of the gold dust that powers his magic, he realizes he needs to stop the evil Diesel 10 (Neil Crone) from destroying the mysterious Lady (Britt Allcroft). However, to do this, he'll need the help of Lady's owner Burnett (Peter Fonda), his granddaughter Lily (Mara Wilson), Lily's friend Patch (Cody McMains) and his cousin/son Junior (Michael E. Rodgers). Oh, and Thomas (Edward Glen). They might need him too.

I know. It is over complicated.
All Aboard the Crazy Train

      Well, in just three days, Cinema Won will turn three years old. And to celebrate, like I do every year (Mostly), we've got another review marathon. This time around, with me also being about to graduate from high school, I figured we could take a look at some movies based on things I loved as a kid. And to start things off, we've got Thomas the Tank Engine. I loved and still love Thomas. I had the toys, the DVDs, the awkward Halloween costume. And it's only fitting that we look at Thomas's only major theatrical film. One that he's barely in and starts Alec Baldwin embarrassing himself for a hour and a half. But still, it's Thomas. Technically.
      Yeah, this movie didn't hold up as well as it did when I was a kid. Honestly, this film is just utterly bizarre. I mean, it is a movie about an island of talking trains, but, man did this movie go above and beyond with the craziness. Most of the problems with this movie come with the fact that this is an American movie, based on the American version of a British TV show, featuring characters, stories and locations that were never in the original. It's like if BBC America announced that Doctor Who would now feature a pair of animated mice that lived in the Tardis that were intercut with the actual episode. And then they went ahead and made a movie about the mice! The movie struggles so much with trying to explain how Sodor connects to Shining Time and Allcroft just didn't care enough to make it work. the number of ass pulls in this movie is staggering. Like the time the movie lazily says you helped out Mr. Conductor in an embarrassing display of audience interaction. Or when an important clue just mysteriously appears on a wall right when they need it. Oh, and those scenes both happen within second of each other. 

Thomas and Friends

      Let alone the laughable scene where Baldwin eats a bunch of random vegetables and says some random words and, TA-DA! He magically figures out what to do! I could go on and on about the strange story twists and turns. But really, the problem here is that the movie is just a mess. Clearly the filmmakers wanted to make the film the standard American children's film of the 90s. Big name actors, magical alternate worlds, full of whimsy and cutesy songs. Ugh. The movie bends over backwards to justify it's incredibly obvious lessons and it's overly-complicated story, never stopping to consider that, gee, maybe this movie should be about, you know, freaking THOMAS! The human characters are all lame and the story is a mad mess of poorly-thought out story ideas. Baldwin is clearly overdoing for the kids, but he's not too bad. Wilson, in her last major film role, clearly wants to be anywhere but here. And Fonda goes way too hard and ends up somewhere between depressing and black void of unending despair. 
      And really, there's just no reason for it. The biggest a story got in Thomas was "Train ignores advice, train harmlessly crashes (Usually), train says they learned lesson, train makes same mistake in later episode". So, naturally, the best idea for the movie's story is that there's this magic bridge between alternate worlds that needs magic gold dust to be travelled through by magic men, but the gold dust's all out, so now they need a sad old dude to bring back his magic train to solve a riddle about the magic gold dust before an evil train finds her and kills her and the magic is lost forever and both worlds completely die. I mean, seriously, it's like if Bob the Builder was in a Lord of the Rings movie. I'm not saying the story should have been simple, but it should have at least focused on, you know, THOMAS!

What Happened to the Magic

      Maybe it's all because of the film's bad time in development hell. See, at one point, the film had a human villain named P.T. Boomer that was ultimately cut because test audiences thought he was too scary. So most of his scenes were cut, along with an explanations the brought. But, they did leave in the set ups for his character anyway. or maybe it was the film constantly cutting characters and changing the voice actors. Or maybe it was the fact that the film was supposed to come out in 1997 and not 2000. Which is weird since this film is mostly based on Shining Time Station, which end in 1993, even though the normal Thomas stories are still getting made today. Look, whatever the cause, the movie was bizarrely stranded in development hell and was so poorly received that Allcroft had to resign the year this movie came out. Yeah, it was that bad.

Don't do it Thomas. There'll be other movies! Maybe...
The Verdict

      Some part of me really wants to like this movie. I love Thomas and I love seeing him in movie form. But the movie is not a Thomas the Tank Engine movie. It's a overly-complicated movie starring some good actors giving poor performances, all while the film struggles to figure out what the hell it's story is after multiple re-writes and edits. And ultimately, it's a children's film that only children can enjoy. Thomas and the Magic Railroad gets 2 and a half stars out of 6.

No comments:

Post a Comment