The Little Engine That Could Movie Poster Image

The Little Engine That Could



Young train fans will enjoy this message-filled ride.
Parents recommend
  • Review Date: March 17, 2011
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 82 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids learn the importance of believing in yourself and trying your hardest to accomplish something.

Positive messages

"If you think you can, you will; if you think you can't, you won't." If you truly believe in yourself, you can accomplish almost anything.

Positive role models

The Little Engine is a great role model for kids because she's small but hard-working and willing to make her and Richard's dreams come true. She overcomes the odds to climb Dream Mountain. Richard also shows that even kids who are bullied can be heroes.

Violence & scariness

Boys bully Richard, throw snowballs at him, and steal his grandpa's pocket watch. A creepy Nightmare Train deceives the Little Engine and threatens to keep Richard and the circus toys trapped in Dreamland.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable

Some mild insults like "creepy," "scrawny little shunter," "little," "failure," "annoying," and the like.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

DVD release date: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

This review of The Little Engine That Could was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 3 year old Written byRennyMom April 2, 2011
We put this movie on for a group of kids (ages 3.5 to 8) and every one of them was scared. I can't believe it is rated acceptable for ages 4, my son (3 and half) actually cried he was so frightened. I would not recommend this for kids under 7.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of a 2, 3, and 6 year old Written bylkbt March 26, 2011

Way too scary!

This movie was way to scary for my kids (4 and 6). We couldn't make it through the whole movie. My 4 year old stopped watching after the train almost fell off the scary bridge and the boy dangled over the abyss. My 6 year old stopped watching after the incredibly scary Nightmare Train. It was really frightening! The overall message of the movie may be good, but if you can't make it that far into it, even to see the resolution with the Nightmare Train, then the goodness is lost.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of an infant and 2 year old Written byalicow79 August 29, 2013

Scary elements But Overall a Positive, Engaging Movie

I have to agree with other reviewers that there are scary elements. The Nightmare Train particularly can be scary, and I was surprised that my son wasn't bothered by it. Overall this is a great movie with a positive message if you feel your children can handle some scary scenes. We watch this movie frequently on movie night, and we discuss the means boys, what it means to be a mean boy, and how the Nightmare Train was defeated. Because of this movie, we purchased the book The Little Engine That Could.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models


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