A retrospective analysis of the movie's
reception at the Box Office.
With guarded optimism,
Thomas and the Magic Railroad officially made its debut in 314 theatres
in the United Kindom and Ireland on the 14 July, 2000. The movie's reception by British film critics could at best be
described as cool, in a nation where the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends
TV show and the Rev. W. Awdry's Railway Series are regarded as almost
sacrosanct British institutions.
The use of the term Railroad in the
film's title, along with the unfamiliarity of the UK audience to the Shining Time Station
mythos led some to imply that this was a crass attempt by the producers to fully Americanise Thomas - an allegation that Britt
steadfastedly denied and felt wounded by. Britt maintained that the familiar elements of trust, gentleness and laughter of
the Sodor characters were preserved in the film. The inclusion of Shining Time Station
into the storyline served to make it appealing to all ages as a family film for the duration of its 85 minute run time - something
that would be arguably more difficult to achieve with only the TV character models.
The overall box-office success of the movie, however would depend on how well it would perform
two weeks later in the United States where it would be screened in 2106 theatres across the nation on the 26th July, 2000.
In America, the movie's debut drew mixed and sometimes opposite
reviews. Some film critics loved and appreciated the movie (an example of a positive review is reproduced on this
page), while others, including acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert did not find any redeeming qualities in either the storyline, acting or animation. The critics opined that the engine character mouths should have been animated and they expected more special
effects from a film with a multi-million dollar budget.
In her own defense, Britt maintained the status quo from
TV to the movie with regards the fixed facial expressions where the animated eyes drew attention and enhanced the
character's emotional state. Britt expanded on why she felt it was important to keep the simple storybook quality of Sodor to
reporter Frazier Moore in an Associated Press Article on 28 July, 2000:
I think there's a danger in assuming that everything has
got to be very high-tech, otherwise you've let the audience down. We wanted the special effects to support the story, instead
of the story supporting the special effects.
The debate and discussion about animating the faces raises an
interesting question: Had they gone ahead with this plan, would this been expected to be carried forward into Series
Britt also touched upon the different plot elements within the
movie that converged into a single theme of the need to help one another out in times of need. The engines supporting one
another in their dealings with the bully Diesel-10 will certainly appeal to younger children, while those who are older will
be able to relate to Lily's attempts to help her Grandfather rediscover happiness by restoring the "magic" into Lady. Mr.
Conductor and cousin Jr. serve to bridge the two worlds together with their own crisis with a gold dust shortage that threatens
their continued existence.
The Film's Bottom Line
From the Box-Office return figures provided by Box Office Mojo , Thomas and the Magic Railroad made $19,748,009 (USD)
in worldwide receipts, of which $15,933,506 was raised in the USA, with the remainder $3,814,503
contributed by Foreign distribution. Although lambasted by some as a "box office flop" within the context of Hollywood,
a much more modest conclusion would be that with a promoted production budget of 19 million, the film broke
The REAL Source for Gold Dust
Britt Allcroft has often been described by insiders as a person
with astute business sense. In the lead-up to the movie's theatrical release, Britt's company was forging and expanding mechandizing
deals in America. Recognizing that film-making is a risky business, Thomas and the Magic Railroad
would serve as a vehicle to get to the real source of the Gold Dust. Then managing director of the Britt Allcroft
Company, William Harris describes this best in an interview with the Independent (17 July, 2000) :
We want to push the revenue curve substantially higher, with
huge potential particularly in the US rather than here (UK). Thomas's penetration in the US is only about half that in the
UK in terms of royalty revenues per capita.
Look who's in the lead!
Recall that Thomas' popularity in America had taken off in meteoric
fashion in 1989 since his debut on the acclained Public Television Children's program Shining
Time Station. By January 1993, the recognizable character was leading the Children's Parade
across the Memorial Bridge into Washington for President Bill Clinton's Inauguration. Realizing the power behind the brand
and with the movie's release across the continental United States reaching a greater mainstream audience, Thomas
was about to demonstrate how really useful this little blue tank engine is!
On March 21, 2001 William Harris reported to the Scotsman
and the Evening News (Edinburgh, Scotland) that thanks to the movie, gross profits for Gullane up
to December 31, 2000 rose 78% from previous figures, equating to about pounds 13.3 million. Parents, grandparents,
aunts and uncles indulged the wee ones by including Thomas toys and videos, especially for the Holiday season. In the
end, the merchandizing blitz and subsequent revernues more than made up for any perceived lost ground from the movie's
box office performance.
In retrospect and considering what is now known about
the version of Thomas and the Magic Railroad that was originally
scripted, filmed and radically edited after the March 2000 test audience screening at a Santa Monica Mall, tributes should
be given to the Britt and her team for being able to repiece the movie's storyline under such a tight timeline before opening
Whether the original cut of the film, much longer we're told at
110 minutes would have fared any better under the scrutiny of film critcs is anybody's guess. The same for whether any of
the required changes to the film could have been preempted early on during the production. In the final analysis,
we're left with the final version of the film that we are all familiar with. Whether you liked Thomas
and the Magic Railroad is a question of personal preference. For ourselves, appreciation for the film
has grown after corresponding and meeting many of the fine people who worked as a team behind-the-scenes to
bring the "magic" to life. In reality, it's the audience who judges a film's success or failure, and with
that said, here's something that sums it all up that was found in the editorial section of the Syracruse
Herald American for Sunday, September 17, 2000:
I would like to thank producer Britt Allcroft for
her recent movie, "Thomas and the Magic Railroad." It was wonderful to take our son to a movie that was violence-free
and hot high-tech.
The critics think it is awful and give it one star.
I say five out of five. It seems like an old-fashioned movie with a plot and the theme of good vs. bad and a dash of hope
I am looking forward to more Thomas movies.
- Kathy Wiethuechter, Moravia, New York
A Sampling of Magic Railroad Movie Reviews
Below are a sampling of film reviews written by newspaper
columnists from the United Kingdom and America which have been chosen to represent a balance of the varied critics' opinions
of the movie.
The text of the following movie review by Graham
Young is reproduced below with the kind permission of David Brookes,
Editor of the Birmingham Evening Mail (UK) to whom we extend our thanks.
Film Review: Thomas and the Magic Railroad
By Graham Young, Birmingham Evening Mail, July 14,
AFTER the original Rev Awdry books and the cute TV series,
both very British, you may find yourself experiencing massive culture shock on seeing the first big screen adventures of THOMAS
AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD (U), writes Russell Rhodes.
There is, horror, a decidedly American flavour. There's
things here you've never seen in a Thomas the Tank Engine tale before.
Like the talking tank engine interacting with real
people for the first time. Like the magic gold sparkle. And the human world railroad town of Shining Time with its Indian
Valley. That's because they, like Didi Conn who plays the human station mistress, come from American TV series, Shining Time
A crafty ploy to try to appeal to youngsters on both
sides of the ocean?
Well, the Americans may go for it, but it's hard
to see any but the most indiscernible of British children falling for this frankly charmless and confusing story in which
Thomas and human girl Mara Wilson have to help prevent the evil diesel from finding the legendary Lost Engine and destroying
the magic railroad between the Island of Sodor and the human world.
Surprisingly, Alec Baldwin is one of the best things
here, entering into a Sesame Street spirit of pre-schooler fun to play the diminutive Mr Conductor who has lost the magic
sparkle that helps him travel between worlds.
Peter Fonda, who plays a sullen widower who knows
the secret of Lady, the lost engine, also seems to have lost his sparkle. And I'm not talking special effects.
An unhappy cocktail of the quaint and the crass,
it's as if someone stuck two similar but very different TV series together and called it a movie.
In fact, that's exactly what they did. Not a transport
We kindly thank Associate Editor Mike
Spain of the Albany Times Union for permission to reproduce part
of Amy Biancolli's review. The remainder of the review can be viewed on the
Albany Times Union Archives (link provided in article below).
THOMAS CHUGS ALONG AT PERFECT PACE FOR KIDS
By Amy Biancolli, Albany Times Union, July 26, 2000
Are you 8 years old or younger? Are you fond of trains?
Do you harbor a keen interest in the serpentine career path of Alec Baldwin? Then have we got a film for you.
''Thomas and the Magic Railroad,'' which opens today
amid very little hoopla -- certainly none of the hoopla attending ''Pokemon 2000'' -- has to be the gentlest, most unassuming
and most quietly charming children's film to be released this summer. Grown-ups won't like it as much as kids, older kids
won't like it as much as younger kids, and some kids, it's safe to say, won't like it at all. Too many people smiling.
The following review of Thomas and the Magic Railroad was
originally found on a spoof website (Sister Taffy) several years ago. It is reproduced here for mild amusement and is not
meant to offend anyone's religious sensibilities, so we've enclosed the article in a spoiler for good measure. It parodies
many of the negative reviews that the film received, and fooled a few people into thinking that it was genuine, though thoroughly"misguided"
as this reviewer came up with some -- rather interesting conclusions...
Franklin T. Rochester III, Fundamentalist Film Critic
for Christian News Network, shares his Christian review of THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD:
"Thomas and the Magic Railroad," is the latest craze
in animation abomination's by Walt Disney. I hesitated to share with you my findings on this film as there is not one single
redeeming thing that I can offer you. But, as a servant of the Master, I must follow his will and tell you what to expect
should you decide to subject your minor child to this filth.
When my wife, Fernindina, called me on the cell phone
to inform me that she was taking our grandson and several of his little friends to see this seemingly harmless film about
talking trains, I could not get to the theater fast enough to meet them.
The trailers had seemed innocent enough, with a cute
little train with great big saucer like eyes and we all know that little boys like trains. I thought to myself, "Franklin,
this is likely to be something worthwhile for the entire family". Lord, was I ever wrong.
The film started innocently enough, with Thomas and another
train winding their way up the tracks towards a destiny unknown. But I noticed something queer; their eyes rolled and you
could hear them speaking but they did not have lips. This should have been the first clue that this was not a movie for young
children. But rather a subliminal attempt to draw young people into the Satanic ritual known as mind reading.
"Grandpa?" my nine year old grand boy asked me, "Why
don't those trains have mouths?". I looked into the timid young face and realized then that he was too young for the truth.
"Son, just bow your head and ask Jesus. Then you watch the movie and let's just see what happens". I observed the boy as he
dropped silently to the soda-sticky floor to his knees and prayed and then as he rose to his seat to watch the film for an
answer from above.
A few minutes later, after I had returned from the snack
bar with some Milk Duds and a tub of popcorn for the boys, there were new characters on the screen named Burnett Stone and
a "female" train named Lady. They were in a place called Muff Mountain and that Burnett character had his hand all the way
up the rear axial of Lady, his girlfriend. The sounds coming from that train and grunts coming from that man were nothing
less than pornographic.
"I've never been able to bring her to life and make her
steam." this pervert was saying over and over (with his whole arm now up in the nether regions of this maiden train).
It was right then and there that I reached over to my
Fernindina and told her to "get these boys out this theater this instant". But she could not move as she was mesmerized by
the filth that was on the screen. I reached over and I popped her aside her head to bring her out of the demon induced trance
that she was in. But still, no reaction. She was literally glued to her seat and mumbling something about "wanting to achieve
a steam of her own...having never been had a steam either".
Well, my wife may have been seduced by this lewd material
and I would have to rescue her, but she would have to wait; getting those boys out of there came first. So I stood up in my
seat and I yelled for the projectionist to “cut that smut off and turn on the lights in the name of Jesus! There are
children and women present”
Friends, I had expected for the sinners to yell at me
and curse me but when my own grandson told me to "Sit the Hell down and shut up", I was simply flabbergasted and powerless
to do anything but fall back into my seat and pray.
For the next forty-five minutes a cast of cartoon creatures
with names like "Mr. Conductor"; a 12" tall man who acted as the male genitalia for "Thomas The Train” and “Burnett”,
could go places that they were unable to go, the "Evil Diesel"; a lesbian freight train that was trying to debauch "Lady",
and "Billy TwoFist"; (whose name is self explanatory) that attempted unspeakable acts on the other trains. Oh, they all lived
and frolicked in the pint-sized village called "Isle of Sodom" and the full-sized town of "Shining Time" (which should have
been called Sinning Times).
Forced to suffer this film in it's entirety at the hand
of Satan, was one of the worst experiences of my life. Hard as I try to get my family out from under the spell they were under,
I could not budge them.
Young children and women are eminently susceptible to
the lure that the demonic rail cars in this film have over them. Finally, when it was over, I managed to get my wife and the
visibly stimulated group of youngsters into the mini van and get them far away from the land of incubus trains and perversion.
The effects of this sinister sick-flick have a long half
life as well. The sinful urges and lascivious desires planted in the women and children's minds, do not go away when the curtain
drops either, not at all.
Why, my wife still moans in her sleep for me to "make
her steam". And my once innocent grandson was not spared the lingering possession either. In fact, at a recent Sunday supper,
I caught him donning a pair of overhauls and conductors cap. He was inserting his hand inside the family dog, Moses, and all
the while crying out "Choo! Choo! Steam for me Fido! ". Fortunately, a brutal thrashing with a razor strap and the words from
the KJV 1611 were able to wane the wicked urges provoked by viewing this film; for the time being in any case.
This menacing cartoon is part of a new generation of
mind controlling movies that reels in it’s victims through the use of satanic special effects and sublime visuals.
My final say on "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" is that
if you love Jesus and care one iota about your loved ones, then for God's sake, do not allow them to suffer this film.
The Nostalgia Critic is notorious on the internet for taking movies
and TV shows and 'reviewing' them in his own wacky, satirical style. Here, he finally gets around to reviewing
Thomas & The Magic Railroad after a multitude of fans requested that he give his critique on the movie. There has
been some criticism that he did not research the TV Series itself, but really, his conclusions on the Movie itself are very
Advisory: Please be forewarned that the reviewer uses language at times not suitable for
younger children and those who may be offended!