Making the Grades
Thomas the Tank Engine began as a character in a series of British children's books written by Reverend Wilber Awdry, and became a star thanks to the 1980's television program. Riding that success, television producer Britt Allcroft has railroaded Thomas the Tank Engine into doing a movie. But can the little engine that could only act in five-minute segments, keep toddlers and adults on the edge of their seats for an hour and a half? That's a tough haul even for a wiry engine like Thomas.
As all fans know, the portal to the Isle of Sodor where Thomas lives is the magic gold dust dispensed from a whistle blown by Mr. Conductor. This miniature man lives in the "real" Shining Time train station, although only a handful of people (mostly children) are aware of his existence.
One day Mr. Conductor gets stuck in Sodor because the gold dust is running out. Thomas and his friends speculate that the gold dust shortage may be related to a mysterious lost engine and a magic railroad that supposedly links their world and Shining Time Station together. Unfortunately a nasty engine named Diesel is doing all in his power to prevent them from investigating because he has his own evil plan involving this secret.
The residents of Shining Time also have a mystery. Local old-timer Burnett Stone (Peter Fonda), a man who has not smiled in years, is rumored to have something way cool hidden in a nearby mountain. The key to unlocking this puzzle lies in a visit from his granddaughter Lily (Mara Wilson) and her friend.
Aside from Diesel chasing the other engines with a snapping claw-like device, parents may find their children's reaction to be the biggest disappointment of this film. Promoted as a "family thriller" and an "epic motion picture for all ages", the confusing plot is more likely to induce sleep. While my seven-year-old son on my right was asking, "What's happening?" my even younger daughter on my left summed it up: "I hate this. Can we go?" I think Thomas may have reached the end of the line.