A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this straight-to-DVD animated adventure is fine for even preschool-aged kids, especially those who love trains. There only potentially upsetting moments are a brief scene when a couple of bullies throw a snowball at a boy and then steal his grandfather's beloved pocket watch, and when a somewhat frightening Nightmare Train threatens Little Engine and her haul. The language includes mild insults like "annoying," "creepy," and "failure," but the message is a classic that all children should be exposed to: If you "think you can" hard enough, you can do anything, even if it seems impossible.
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What's the story?
In Dreamland, a group of magical trains called Dream Haulers are responsible for delivering dreams and wishes to kids. But one small train, Little Engine (voiced by Alyson Stoner), is deemed too small to do anything but shunt boxcars in the train yard. One day, after an older train, Rusty (Jim Cummings), falls asleep on the job, a boy named Richard (Dominic Scott Kay) climbs aboard and is inadvertently shuttled back to Dreamland, where he accidentally causes the tunnel to the real world to collapse. The train-depot Tower (Whoopi Goldberg) demotes Rusty, so Little Engine offers to return Richard back home over dangerous old tracks on Dream Mountain. On their journey, a creepy Nightmare Train offers to help Little Engine, but he has other plans to trap Richard and his new pals -- a clown (Jamie Lee Curtis), a sock monkey (Jeff Bennett), and other toys -- in Dreamland forever.
Is it any good?
Based on the classic children's tale, this version of THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD is original and features an expert voice cast that makes the characters come alive. Little Engine, Richard, and their friends have to overcome a number of obstacles -- mechanical, environmental, and emotional -- to make it over the mountain, and it's tense at times as our heroes attempt to outsmart the maniacal Nightmare Train. But Little Engine and Richard both learn to believe in themselves and the power they have to -- as The Sound of Music teaches -- "climb every mountain."
Some of the production values aren't exactly at Pixar-level quality (a scene's focus sometimes shifts abruptly, or the background won't be as detailed as it should be), but it's probably not something that little kids will notice.Think of it more on par with a daytime cartoon's prime-time special than a theatrical feature, and you won't be disappointed. Ultimately, this is a sweet story with pleasant characters and a message that will make kids want to try their hardest and to never give up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the message that if you think you can do something, you will. What does that mean? How does Little Engine beat the odds and everyone's expectations? Have you ever accomplished something others didn't think you could?
Does being too small keep Little Engine from taking on big tasks? How can kids learn from her example?
How does Richard's adventure in Dreamland help him when he's back in the Real World?
- On DVD or streaming: March 22, 2011
- Cast: Alyson Stoner, Dominic Scott Kay, Patrick Warburton, Whoopi Goldberg
- Director: Elliot M. Bour
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Friendship, Trains
- Run time: 82 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.