Thomas and the Magic Railroad

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It’s a shame that the sweet, simple children’s show “Thomas the Tank Engine” (based on the sweet, simple series of books) got turned into such a complicated, slow-paced movie.

Thomas himself makes what amounts to a cameo appearance in his own movie, with the focus instead being on the Conductor and his attempts to regain the gold dust needed for him to work his voodoo and keep the magic railroads going, and on an old Grandpa who takes care of a non-functional steam engine.

As if that weren’t enough plot for your 4-year-old to keep track of, there’s ALSO one about a mean diesel engine who wants to do away with all steam engines (including Thomas, which is the only reason Thomas even appears in this movie).

How do these plots all come together? Well, they don’t, which is why the film just sort of meanders in a slow, tiresome way, never amounting to much excitement or climax. With children’s programming, there’s a fine line between “gentle” (like the soft-spoken but interesting Mr. Rogers) and “lethargic” (like this movie).

Ringo Starr, who originally played the tiny-sized Conductor, has been replaced by Alec Baldwin (a move I hear the Beatles considered making, too). Baldwin is certainly congenial enough, but there’s that low-energy delivery that drags things down.

And speaking of low-energy, we have Peter Fonda as the sulky Grandpa Burnett Stone. He used to be a train man, but he has lived the past 30 years regretting that he let “Lady” (his steam engine) fall into disrepair. A depressed old hermit living in a cave with a broken-down locomotive does not spell “fun children’s movie” in my book. (“All mountains have their secrets,” he intones with reasoning just as specious as Mr. Conductor’s statement that “every story, like a railroad, has its heroes.”)

“Thomas and the Magic Railroad” is undeniably charming, if not particularly clever or creative. It has an innocence about it that makes it hard to dislike, and at least it’s quiet enough not to annoy any grownups who have to watch it with their kids.

Young children, particularly those who are fans of the TV show, will probably be entertained by it, and unlike the cynical money-machine that is “Pokemon,” “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” seems to have the children’s best interest in mind. Even if it stumbles a bit — or a lot — at least its heart is in the right place.

C (; G, ; if there were a less-restrictive rating, it would have gotten it.)