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- Anthropomorphic Food: The apples and oranges that the train is taking to all the little boys and girls.
- Cool Train
- Determinator: She thinks she can.
- Foregone Conclusion: She can.
- Living Toys
- Non-Ironic Clown: A toy clown assumes leadership of the toys after the engine stalls out and asks other passing engines for help.
- The Noun Who Verbed: The title.
- Race Against the Clock: The train has to get over the hill by sunrise.
- Survival Mantra: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Nothing is ever stated about what became of the broken-down train in the book. However, the 1991 film shows that a doctor engine was notified of what'd happened, and took the broken down engine back to the train yard.
The 1991 Half-Hour Film Adaptation
- Award Bait Song: Nothing Can Stop Us Now
- Birthday Episode: More like a birthday movie; a majority of the events in the movie take place during the boy Eric's birthday.
- Canon Foreigner: Chip the bird, the boy Eric and his sister, the Tower and the Doctor engine.
- Darker and Edgier: In a loose sense, but the soundtrack in this movie can get pretty intense at times, particularly during the journey around the mountain where the dangers Tillie and her crew face are very, very real.
- Disney Death: Tillie is buried beneath snow in the climax.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: There's one here, named Jeepers.
- Four-Fingered Hands
- Jerk Ass: The Tower. Good God.
- Also Farnsworth and Pete, but to lesser extents.
- Karma Houdini: In spite of the fact that the Tower was an overall Jerk Ass to everyone (especially Tillie), he is last seen asleep on the job.
- Meaningful Name: Grumpella the Bonneted Bird is a total grump.
- Mood Whiplash: While pulling the train toward the mountain, Tillie and the others sing a cute song about you can do anything if you try. But when they start climbing up the mountain things get pretty creepy.
- Named by the Adaptation: The old engine is called Jebediah, the broken-down engine is Georgia, the shiny new engine (here a diesel) is Farnsworth, the strong engine is Pete, and the titular Little Engine That Could is Tillie.
- No Name Given: Eric's sister is not identified by name through the movie, but the credits reveal her name to be Jill.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Chip the bird.
- Stealth Pun: "For Pete's sake, Pete, watch that smoke!"
- And then in the song, we have the line "When pandemonium is all around" as the camera focuses on…a panda.
- Storybook Opening
The 2011 Film Adaptation
- Adaptation Expansion
- Big Bad: The Nightmare Train.
- Gender Flip: The Tower, which was a male in the first movie, is a female here.
- The same goes for the clown.
- Green Eyes: Little Engine.
- Kids Are Cruel: Two boys pick on Richard. They even steal his grandfather's watch from him.
- No Name Given: Some of the engines that show up in this one don't get proper names, unlike the first film adaption.
- Pie in the Face: This is a favorite of Beverly the Clown's.