Thomas, as anyone familiar with the eponymous, wildly popular TV series knows, is a very useful engine, and never more so than in his first theatrical release, which was a modest box-office success. On a tank filled with little more than pluck, determination, and goodwill, Thomas sets out full steam ahead on a danger-fraught mission to help his friend Mr. Conductor. The conductor's stash of magic gold dust has run out, leaving him stranded on the Island of Sodor with Junior, his flaky cousin, and Lily, a little girl enlisted to lift her grandfather out of a funk on nearby Muffle Mountain. When Thomas bravely chugs beyond his hometown tracks' buffers with Lily aboard, he's transported to Muffle Mountain's secret railway and to Lady, a long-lost steamer whose legendary engine makes her more powerful than Diesel, the train-yard bully. Together, Thomas and Lady lead Diesel on a chase that causes a bridge to collapse, taking the dastardly Diesel down with it. Most impressive about the movie is its marquee names: Alec Baldwin works magic as the dutiful worrywart Mr. Conductor, Mara Wilson is Lily, and Peter Fonda plays the cool-looking but lugubrious Grandpa. It's a cast that'll keep put-upon parents watching, if halfheartedly. Thomas fans 5 and under, meanwhile, will wish the actors wouldn't blow so much hot air; they'll want to see their hero a bigger part in steaming up the story line. --Tammy La Gorce
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