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Western Animation / Thomas and the Magic Railroad

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Hello, I'm Mr. Conductor, and I'm going to tell you a story about trains, folks far apart, and the magic railroad that brought them together…

Thomas and the Magic Railroad is a 2000 film based on the Thomas & Friends series and the American spinoff Shining Time Station.

An evil diesel locomotive named Diesel 10 (voiced by Neil Crone) has arrived on the Island of Sodor, with his goal of destroying the steam locomotives. He plans to locate a magical lost engine and destroy her in order to remove the magic from the Island. Mr. Conductor (Alec Baldwin) is left in charge of the railway while Sir Topham Hatt is on holiday, but his mysterious gold dust that allows him to magically transport from place to place is critically low, and without it there will be no way for anyone to travel to Sodor. Thomas the Tank Engine (voiced by Eddie Glen) along with the other engines help Mr. Conductor find more gold dust. Joining along the quest are Mr. Conductor's slacker cousin named Junior (Michael E. Rodgers), a young girl named Lily (Mara Wilson), and her grandfather, Burnett Stone (Peter Fonda), who has hidden the secret engine all these years and couldn't get her running.

The film was released in theaters on July 14th, 2000 in the United Kingdom and July 26th, 2000 in the United States. However it was a Box Office Bomb, only grossing 19.7 million worldwide against a 19 million budget, and received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics. The film's critical and financial failure would cause Destination Pictures to shut down shortly afterwards and would later cause Britt Allcroft to distance herself from the franchise and sell her company, Gullane Entertainment (and along with it, the rights to Thomas & Friends), to Hit Entertainment just a couple of years after its release.

Perhaps the most infamous aspect of the film however isn't what made it in, but what didn't make it in, as the film has became notorious in the years following its release for its hugely Troubled Production and the large wrath of content that was scrapped last minute, most notoriously an entire Big Bad in the form of P.T. Boomer, who was cut so late that scenes featuring him were shot and glimpses of him are still present in the final film. This has led fans to demand for a directors cut for the film. While a directors cut was never releasednote , Shout Entertainment would compile many of the film's deleted scenes and release them on a blu-ray release of the film in 2020, leading fans to finally get a glimpse of the magic railroad that never was. This subsequently lead to fan-made reconstructions of the original vision.

Although the film remains Thomas & Friends' only theatrical film (later films would be Direct to Video), Hit Entertainment did try to attempt another theatrical film based off of Thomas in the early 2010s with Shane Acker (who directed 9) attached to direct the film, only for it to end up in Development Hell and eventually get cancelled a couple of years after its announcement.

On October 2020, two decades after the film's release, Mattel (current owners of the brand) have announced another attempt at a new theatrical film featuring Thomas, this time with Marc Forster (of World War Z and Christopher Robin fame) attached to direct the film. It remains to be seen if the film actually comes to fruition. Also in 2020, a 3-hour parody of the movie (appropriately titled Magic Railroad Parody) was released on YouTube.

Little tropes CAN do big things!:

  • Arc Words:
    • "Little engines CAN do big things!"
    • "Sparkle" and "Magic", in the case of Lady.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Whereas Diesel 10 is evil and scheming, Splatter and Dodge are basically dumb and more or less harmless — which could be a playing factor as to why they turn against him in the end. If Diesel wasn't around, they probably wouldn't even be villains.
  • Amnesia Danger: When Mr. Conductor's magic runs out, he gradually becomes more forgetful. He can't remember the way to the windmill, and later forgets the secret it had. It's vaguely implied that he and Junior will die as a result.
  • And I Must Scream: Lady is very heavily implied to still be conscious while stuck in Muffle Mountain, meaning she likely saw that her railway was dying and that Burnett blamed himself for it.
  • Another Dimension: The Island of Sodor is this. Well, from Shining Time Station anyway, as they exist in their own respective universes. This also doubles as a Magical Land. This is particularly odd as in the books and TV series Sodor was simply a small island directly besides Britain. The books also established that all the engines in the world, not just the Sodor ones, were alive, unlike in the movie where you can see non-sentient locomotives.
  • All Myths Are True: Lady is widely assumed by the other engines to be a mere legend, and it takes Diesel 10's return for them to realize she is actually real.
  • All There in the Script: The original scripts (and the work-print) give some context to certain aspects that are not readily explained in the final film, like the reason why parts of the railway appear to be under construction (the railway was undergoing renovations and repairs at the time of the film, this is also the reason for the Sir Topham Hatt posters throughout the film), why Lily is staying with Burnett Stone (her mother is about to enter labor and give birth to her brother, and her father is working out of town), and why certain locations like Muffle Mountain are called such (it muffles the sound of the trains from the other side), amongst other things.
  • Apocalypse How: The lack of gold dust will destroy Sodor through the natural foundations cracking and collapsing, as is shown by the viaduct. This indicates Sodor would collapse upon itself if the gold dust was never recovered.
  • Audience Participation: One example has Mr. Conductor casually mentioning that the audience is going to help him later in the film. Then, when he's tossed by Diesel 10 into a pile of burlap sacks near the windmill, he thanks us for putting them there for him.
  • "Be Quiet!" Nudge: At one point, Junior picks up a bellflower call meant for Mr. C and uses the opportunity to mess with Sir Topham Hatt. When Mr. C takes the bellflower back, and Junior continues to butt in, Mr. C elbows Junior in the chest hard enough to knock him flat.
    Mr. Conductor: No, he's not a dog. [...] Well, let's just say he's a puppy in need of a good trainer. [elbow]
  • Big Bad: Diesel 10, the main antagonist who wants to destroy all steam engines.
  • Big Good: Lady, the magical engine who is the guardian of the titular magic railroad and the main focus of the plot. She is also held as this In-Universe as her destruction would result in the destruction of Sodor and the other engines.
  • Big Budget Beef-Up: The characters and sets were all rebuilt from scratch on a massive sound stage in Toronto. This included a life-sized model of Lady built for the scenes by the well and Muffle Mountain.
  • Big Damn Movie: For Thomas, of course.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Mr. Conductor when Junior reveals that he is also running out of gold dust.
  • The Cameo: The base of Cranky the crane can be seen as set dressing at Knapford. Butch (who was still basically an extra before Series 15) also appears.
  • Character as Himself: Much like Shining Time Station, the film ends its opening billings with "And Thomas The Tank Engine" (although voice actors are listed in the end credits).
  • Continuity Snarl: To the point that it's all but considered an Alternate Continuity from any of the previous versions of the characters. In the books and television series, the island of Sodor is off the coast of England. Shining Time Station put it in another dimension. The film placed Sodor in another, magical dimension, kept afloat by Lady and her gold dust, making this the only installment of the franchise to use magic at all. This not only whittled down the show's massive cast to about six, but also did away with all of the regular human characters, including the drivers themselves. It also did away with plot points from previous episodes, such as why Henry needs special coal, which is given a completely different reason here. This was less of a problem in the original script: Lady was only keeping the Conductor Family's Railway alive, which was which connected to Sodor, rather than the entire island itself. It would still have been an island far away, working like a real railway as usual, though it still would have lacked drivers.
  • Darker and Edgier: Granted, it is still clearly aimed at young children, but it is a lot more mature than the show it is based on. Case in point, the topic of death is brought up, with the death of Tasha being a major focus of Burnett's character, (Tasha being a human further underlines this), Lady was explicitly stated to have been lost (crashed and presumed destroyed) years ago, Mr. Conductor and Junior are subtly implied to be dying due to their lack of gold dust, the main villain clearly plans to commit genocide against the steam engines by destroying Lady, and if the Magic Railroad had ceased to exist, Sodor and Shining Time would have been destroyed with it.
    • On top of this, in the theatrical cut of the film (the original seems to have her communicate telepathically with Burnett), Lady is shown to be in a state of hibernation or stasis while in the mountain, since she doesn't even have a face and looks like a regular train from off of Sodor rather than one from there. It's shown that, without Sodor coal, She would probably be stuck like that forever and the Magic Railroad would fade out of existence eventually if she didn't get brought out of it. Both are shown by the fact that the Railroad was nothing but a dark, cold cave of sorts until she revived it and her face didn't reappear until she'd been driving on it for a moment after being given Sodor coal.
  • Darkest Hour: Diesel 10 has found the buffers, Mr Conductor and Junior will soon be utterly powerless, and the lack of gold dust will guarantee the destruction of Sodor and the decimation of Shining Time.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Lady was almost destroyed once by Diesel 10, and Burnett Stone kept her locked in Muffle Mountain, doing what he could to repair her.
  • Disney Villain Death: While not actually a death, Diesel 10's defeat is brought around by falling off a collapsing viaduct. Fortunately for him, he survives thanks to landing in a passing barge filled with boiler sludge.
  • Distressed Dude: James being held hostage by Diesel 10 in the smelter's yard.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?
    • The descriptions of what Diesel 10 did to Lady ("he destroyed her", "he broke her", "he used her up", etc.). They make it sound creepily like he had beaten and raped her. It's especially bad when Burnett says Diesel tried to make Lady crash, which is implied to be the same as killing her.
    • The Conductors gradually losing their memories as a result of their lack of gold dust and the implication that they'll die (or at least cease to exist) as a result sounds vaguely like the symptoms of dementia.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Literally. Mutt is responsible for getting Lily on the train to Shining Time so she can meet Junior and get involved in the plot.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The gold dust supply is restored, the special universe is saved, Diesel 10 is beaten, temporarily, and Lady is alive again.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Diesel 10 gets one. He roars through a station, kicking up dust shouting "Get outta my way! I've got unfinished business here. I wanna finish it FAST!" He also leaves Gordon, of all engines, shaking in fear.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Mr. Conductor realizes he needs Junior's help:
    Mr. Conductor: Sausage? Bicycle? *hic* Toothpaste? Beach? *hic* Wait a minute...*crunch*...Beach. Beach! That's it! That's it! Ha-ha! Have to find a bellflower. I need to make a call *hic*! [dashes off]
  • Fake Interactivity: Unlike the actual series, the audience is supposedly responsible for putting the cushion out to break Mr. Conductor's fall.
  • Fertile Feet: More like fertile wheels, but when Lady returns to life, the shavings that emerge from her heal the magic railroad, destroying the darkening forest and turning it into a sunny place.
  • Fisher King: The longer Lady is left inactive, the worse the collapse of the magic railroad becomes. The first time we see it, it is forestry, but with patches of sunlight, indicating that the magic railroad is sickening. When Thomas enters, it is very dark, ethereally blue, and the forest is very thick, indicating the railway is close to dying completely. Lady's return promptly destroys the forest and makes the railway a beautiful plain covered in sunlight.
  • Flipping the Bird: While it is debatable whether it was intentional, Mr. Conductor does this in an attempt to reach a pair of pliers while being held by Diesel 10’s claw.
  • Friendship Trinket: Lily gives her grandfather Burnett a friendship bracelet to remind them of their friendship. Later in the film, Lily puts the gold dust Junior gives to her on her bluebird toy, also to remind her of her friendship with Burnett.
  • Genocide from the Inside: Averted. Diesel 10 assumes that if he destroys Lady, all of the other steam engines will be destroyed as well. However, it is stressed multiple times that Lady's destruction would destroy Sodor completely, along with all of its inhabitants, and Diesel 10 is never made aware of this.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Burnett is in one for most of the film (see He's Back! below).
    • Mr. C falls into one after the gold dust disappears and he begins to have nightmares about what will happen.
  • He's Back!: Three examples:
    • Diesel 10, His return scares everyone, trains and human alike.
    • Lady, when the coal from Sodor manages to bring her to life. Her revival causes the railway to heal and it results in her gaining a face like the other engines.
    • This also applies to Burnett himself, as it becomes obvious that the man we see in the last few scenes is what Burnett was before Tasha died, as he is shown more cheerful and optimistic.
  • Human-Focused Adaptation: The film contains a large amount of focus on a human man played by Peter Fonda and his granddaughter played by Mara Wilson, as well as Mr. Conductor played by Alec Baldwin. While Thomas and the other engines are in the film, they only have 1/3 of the total screentime. This can largely be blamed on it also being an adaptation of Shining Time Station, which was a framing device for the series.
  • Idiot Ball: The implied reason Cousin Junior is almost out of gold dust himself? He left his whistle in his mouth whilst napping on the beach, blowing his supply out between snores, effectively wasting all of it within minutes. This gets lampshaded by his cousin who utters a Flat "What" when he hears the news.
  • I Meant to Do That: This interaction with the diesels: When Toby rings his bell very loudly to distract Diesel 10, causing Diesel 10 to destroy the shed he and his cronies are under.
    Diesel 10: It's the old teapot! Smash him!
    [Diesel 10 knocks down the shed roof with Pinchy, which traps him, Splatter, and Dodge inside]
    Dodge: Uh, Boss? Did you mean to let the roof fall in?
    Splatter: All the way in?
    Diesel 10: Grr...I always mean what I do, ya rattletraps!
  • It's All My Fault: Burnett very clearly feels very guilty for getting Lady damaged in the first place, especially since Lady's damage prevented him from taking Tasha for a ride like he promised.
  • In Name Only: The film tries to combine the mythology of both Shining Time Station and the UK standalone series. Not only does it bare only passing resemblance to either as a result but it bares no resemblance whatsoever to any of Rev. W. Awdry's original books, so much so that he doesn't even get a "Based on the books by..." credit.
  • Just a Kid: Gordon mocks Thomas for being a small engine, and boasts about knowing everything because he's a big engine. Thomas defies this.
  • Kid Hero: Lily Stone is 12 years old.
  • Lilliputians: Mr. Conductor and Junior are these at Shining Time and anywhere else in the world. When on Sodor though, they're life-size.
  • Messianic Archetype: Lady fits the bill easily. She is the magical engine who is charged with protecting the magic railroad, ensuring the safety of Sodor and Shining Time. She had True Companions in Burnett and Tasha Stone who protect her from harm, she was betrayed and nearly destroyed by one of the people she was charged with protecting, she is merely dismissed as a legend by the other steam engines on Sodor and is later resurrected with special coal from Sodor.
  • Mundane Solution: Mr. Conductor scares off the evil Diesel by threatening him with... sugar. Truth in Television though, sugar can easily clog up a fuel tank.
  • Mythology Gag: There are a few references to previously-existing Railway Series works.
    • Junior excuses himself being late by saying "...but better late than never." Better Late Than Never was the name of one of the original stories.
    • The song "He's a Really Useful Engine" is taken from Thomas and Friends.
    • At one point, Bertie challenges Thomas to a race, alluding to the story in which he debuted.
    • In his first scene, James is shown being annoyed by a fly before telling it to “buzz off”, referencing his encounter with a bee in the story Buzz Buzz.
  • Narrator: Mr. Conductor.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: In the first theatrical trailer, P.T. Boomer is revealed to be the villain rather than Diesel 10, as was originally intended, and he can seen yelling "I'll get you, you blue puffball!" The trailer was released before the executives decided to revamp the plot, so not only is the line not in the final film, but his only role in the finished product is a motorcyclist asking for directions (with his lines re-dubbed).
  • Nightmare Sequence: Mr. Conductor's first nightmare is Stacy lamenting outside a worn down and vandalized Shining Time station.
  • Noodle Incident:
    Junior: Thomas! Now don't look so surprised, I know you haven't seen me since...
    Thomas: You stuffed party poppers down my funnel!
    Junior: Hey, we had a laugh.
    Thomas: You did!
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Originally, an older Lily would have been featured in this role. The ending would have even featured an epilogue involving Lily showing an album of various pictures of the characters throughout the following years to her children while on a picnic.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Diesel's last visit to Sodor. He's scary enough to have the previously-pompous Gordon shaking and terrified the moment he appears.
  • Out of Focus: Despite the title, Thomas is not the film’s protagonist and only has 10 minutes of screen time.
  • Plot Device: The plot consists of trying to find Lady and her Magic Railroad and bring them back to life, and then trying to find a way to create more gold dust.
  • Plot Hole: The theatrical cut of the film has several without the additional storylines from the original script included that they actually shot when making it.
  • The Power of Friendship: Lady gives us this gem:
    Lady: And helping each other, brings to life the magic in all of us.
  • Power-Up Food: Mr. Conductor eats a carrot and a stick of celery (apparently left by a Rabbit for any weary traveler in need of some inspiration) which give him the idea to contact Cousin Junior for help. See "Eureka!" Moment above.
  • Pun: Splatter and Dodge utter one to Diesel 10:
    Splatter: Liar, liar...
    Dodge: ...Pants on fire.
    Splatter: Does he wear pants?
    Dodge: Well, training pants.
    Splatter: Alright.
  • Remember the New Guy?: When Diesel 10 first thunders through the station Thomas and Gordon are at, the latter says in fear that "Diesel 10's back!" as if they'd known him for a long time. Doesn't help matters at all when you find that, in the original script, he was originally a new engine Sir Topham Hatt borrowed to help with the workloads while he was away, and that P.T. Boomer was going to be the Big Bad.
  • Remembered Too Late: Mr. Conductor forgets the word "lady" from the windmill's secret, and only remembers it and its significance after Diesel 10 finds Lady and Thomas.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: At least if you consider supermarionation a form of animation.
  • Save Both Worlds: Basically the entire plot of the film.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: In the climax, Burnett blows off Diesel 10's threat while he's chasing him and Lady;note 
    Diesel 10: Now I'll get you, Burnett Stone!
    Burnett Stone: No you won't, because the magic you refuse to believe in will get the better of you!
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "I notice you left your thinking cap behind. Try these instead, they're good for the brain. Gone Fishin', Rabbit."
  • Superior Successor: Diesel 10 considers himself to be this to the steam engines.
  • Surfer Dude: Cousin Junior, to a T. His introduction scene shows him lazing about on the beach, or as he puts it, "waiting on the perfect wave".
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Burnett clearly visited the Island of Sodor with Lady long ago, but he clearly does not remember it as Sodor specifically, as he was clearly a young child at the time.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: Mr. Conductor, right before the above Nightmare Sequence. Percy overhears it and later mentions it to Thomas.
    Mr. Conductor: Sparkle? Gold dust? Magic? Railroad? Buffers? Lost Engine? The Family told me, "As long as there is a Railroad there will be harmony. As long as there is gold dust there will be energy. (chuckles) You will never have to worry!" (Laughs, followed by a Beat) Yeah. Sure.
  • Terrible Trio: Diesel 10 forms one with Splatter and Dodge.
  • Those Two Guys: Splatter and Dodge are a villainous example, spending almost all their time together and snarking at each other, their nominal boss, or the other engines.
  • Trash Landing: Diesel 10 lands in a sludge barge after falling off the viaduct at the end of the chase scene. At which point he quips, "Oh well. Nice time of the year for a cruise."
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Thomas and Junior get pretty snarky with each other, but they don't hesitate to help each other when the chips are down.
    • Honestly, most of the engines are this.
  • Vocal Dissonance: James and Percy are voiced by Susan Roman and Linda Ballantyne from Sailor Moon, making them sound too feminine for male locomotives. For Percy, it at least makes sense for him to be voiced by a woman due to him being the youngest of the Steam Team, but James' voice is quite misfitting due to him clearly being an adult engine. Interestingly, they were originally going to be voiced by Michael Angelis, the original narrator of Thomas & Friends, but test audiences thought he sounded too mature for either of them.
  • Vocal Evolution: Patch's voice suddenly sounds deeper in his last scene.
  • Within Arm's Reach: Diesel 10 catches Mr. Conductor in his claw and carries him to the viaduct, intending to drop him over the edge unless he tells him where the buffers that lead to the titular Magic Railroad are within ten seconds. Mr. Conductor then pulls out a pair of gardening shears that he intends to use to cut one of the wires on Diesel's claw, but accidentally drops them. Thankfully, the shears still land on the claw and are just barely within reach of Mr. Conuctor's arms. As Diesel counts down, Mr. Conductor reaches for the shears, grabbing them and cutting the wire just before Diesel can get to one, resulting in Diesel's claw launching him into the air, causing him to land on bags of flour near the windmill he was looking for to uncover the next clue to the source of the gold dust.
  • Won't Do Your Dirty Work: Diesel 10 orders Splatter and Dodge to "come and destroy" when Lady and Thomas run away, but they refuse and tell him to do it himself.
  • The Worf Effect: Diesel 10 leaving Gordon shaking in fear in his first appearance works to this effect.
  • Worf Had the Flu: Henry's statement about Lady being more powerful than Diesel 10 could ever be indicates that the only reason Lady chose to run is that she spent decades of her life in a coma and therefore is in no condition to use her powers.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: When Lady's face appears on the magic railroad, she tells Burnett that he never forgot about her magic and that it always was inside him, indicating she always had faith in him.
  • You Can Run, but You Can't Hide: Used in a TV spot and the actual film by Diesel 10.

And so, we've come to the happy ending of our story, and it's time for all of us to go home, just like Thomas.