By Owen Gleiberman
July 28, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Thomas is a cheerful little British steam engine who putt-putts along on what could be the most fantastically detailed toy train set ever built. I was tickled and charmed by the lyrically mechanical, nearly Victorian miniature landscape of Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Thomas, who speaks in a London-choirboy lilt, has a few facial expressions, but the only feature that ”moves ”are his eyes, and that lends him a spooky-serene man-in-the-moon quality.

If only ”Thomas and the Magic Railroad” had an old-fashioned story to go with its winsomely ingenious design. The movie, I’m afraid, is as rambling and obscure as a ”Pokémon” mara-thon. Alec Baldwin, reduced to a two-foot-tall version of himself, plays Mr. Conductor, who loses his gold dust and is reduced to spouting inane lines like ”My universe is starting to crumble!” ”Thomas” has the look of a great fairy tale — all that’s missing is the tale.

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