Home > Reviews > THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD – Hummie Mann


thomasandthemagicrailroadOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When the Reverend W. Awdry first created the characters that feature in his children’s tales of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, I bet he never imagined that one day they would be made into a feature film starring Hollywood heavyweights Alec Baldwin and Peter Fonda – but that is exactly what has happened here with this children’s movie, the first from writer/producer/director Britt Allcroft. In what can only be described as a psychedelic twist, the film concerns Mr. Conductor (the aforementioned Baldwin who, thanks to political correctness, is no longer fat or a controller), who has lost his magic dust and soon will no longer be able travel backwards and forwards from the island of Sodor, which is populated by talking trains, and Shining Time, a village in the “real world”. Meanwhile, a young girl named Lily (Mara Wilson from Matilda) is visiting her grumpy grandpa (Fonda), and discovers a magic railroad which links Sodor and Shining Time that looks like it will allow Mr. Conductor to continue his mystical travels. However, an evil train named Diesel has other ideas, and it falls to the ubiquitous Thomas to save the day.

I haven’t seen Thomas and the Magic Railroad, and I don’t want to; the adults who darkened the doors of movie theatres showing this film for review purposes reported back on a film which makes no sense to anyone over the age of six years old, and which features a jarring combination of CGI effects, blue screen acting and ultra low-tech model trains whose mouths don’t move when they talk and which would be embarrassing if seen on the small-screen, let alone in cinemas in the year 2000. Quite how actors such as Baldwin, Fonda, Didi Conn and Russell Means (who played Chingachgook in Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans) found themselves in this film is quite extraordinary; perhaps they all had a burning desire to visit the Isle of Man at some point in their lives, and thought this might be their opportunity.

Somewhat surprisingly, the music for Thomas and the Magic Railroad has a rather chequered history. Originally, John Barry was to have written the film’s original score, with legendary lyricist Don Black co-writing the songs. At some point in the film’s production, Barry suddenly decided that he didn’t like the look of the finished product, took Black with him, and left director Britt Allcroft with very little time to hire a replacement composer. Hummie Mann was the unexpected deputy, the Canadian having only previously scored some Mel Brooks movies and the family drama Year of the Comet. In an even more unexpected twist, Black suddenly came back on board to help Mann with the songs – and the result is this album, which combines six cues of score with a half dozen songs, both original and source.

To be truthful, I only acquired this album because I was curious about Mann’s work, having admired his earlier efforts on the aforementioned Year of the Comet and the Mel Brooks comedies. Mann’s score, which runs for a touch over half an hour, is everything you would expect a film of this kind to contain: plenty of strings, plenty of cymbal crescendos, plenty of schmaltz. There is more than a hint of Marc Shaiman at times in the score’s stylistics – unsurprisingly, as Mann orchestrated many of Shaiman’s works during the early 1990s. But, taken into consideration in its own right, Thomas and the Magic Railroad has several lovely moments, many of which are surprisingly large in scale, even if a little too much of the score as a whole tends to err on the side of mickey-mouse kiddie comedy music.

One section of ‘Lily Travels to the Island of Sodor’ features a deep and sonorous clarinet solo, which is followed by a slightly darker passage for brass and strings, while Peter Fonda’s character, Burnett, is depicted by a dignified if low-key piano element. The music from two of Mann’s three songs feature in the score itself: Lily’s theme consists of a soft rock arrangement of the melody from ‘I Know The Moon Must Feel’ for guitars, while the lush orchestral part of ‘Shining Time’ features prominently in the rousing ‘Through the Magic Buffers’ and during ‘The Happy Ending’. Counterbalancing the rampant sentimentality of these are a couple of surprisingly good action sequences, notably the quite loud and menacing ‘Diesel 10 Threatens Mr. C’ and during ‘The Chase’.

The six songs vary from embarrassingly banal to actually quite nice. ‘He’s A Really Useful Engine’, which opens the album, is written by Jnr Campbell and Mike O’Donnell, who wrote the original Thomas theme tune for the TV series. I will be a happy man if I never have to hear it again. At the other end of the scale, the two songs by Hummie Mann and Don Black are rather good, both featuring suitably lush orchestrations and intelligent lyrics, although Dayna Manning’s vocal performance on ‘I Know The Moon Must Feel’ is weak and unconvincing at best. Although Ben Wright’s ‘Summer Sunday’ is actually very good, its laid-back hippie aspect reminds me of such groups as The Boo Radleys and Supergrass, and seems to be totally out of place on this album, and would be much more at home in the indie charts. Atomic Kitten’s ‘The Locomotion’ stirs long-dormant memories of Kylie Minogue. Aaargh.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • He’s A Really Useful Engine (written by Jnr Campbell and Mike O’Donnell, performed by Steven Page) (1:32)
  • Shining Time (written by Hummie Mann and Sue Ennis, performed by Maren Ord) (3:18)
  • I Know How The Moon Must Feel (written by Hummie Mann and Don Black, performed by Dayna Manning) (3:22)
  • Some Things Never Leave You (written by Hummie Mann and Don Black, performed by Joe Henry) (2:57)
  • Summer Sunday (written by Ben Wright, performed by Dominic Gibbson, Dominic Goundar, Rob Jenkins, Gerard McLachlan and Ben Wright) (2:59)
  • The Locomotion (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, performed by Atomic Kitten) (3:54)
  • Main Title (3:32)
  • Lily Travels to the Island of Sodor (4:32)
  • Burnett & Lady/Diesel 10 & Splodge (3:28)
  • Diesel 10 Threatens Mr. C/Lily & Patch (4:25)
  • Through the Magic Buffers (6:36)
  • The Chase, The Clue & The Happy Ending (7:40)

Running Time: 48 minutes 23 seconds

Unforscene Music 5-037703-4011-2-9 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by Hummie Mann. Orchestrations by Frank Bennett and Brad Dechter. Original “Thomas the Tank Engine” themes by Jnr Campbell and Mike O’Donnell. Recorded and mixed by David Greene. Edited by Yuri Gorbachow. Mastered by Doug Sax. Album produced by Hummie Mann, Maria Alonte, Phil Fehrle and Britt Allcroft.

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