‘The Little Engine That Could’ Can Come to Your Home on DVD

LittleEngineThatCould.jpgA popular book for little kids, The Little Engine That Could features a scrappy little engine determined to get her load of toys over a steep mountain to all the good little boys and girls waiting on the other side. Cheering herself on with an “I think I can,” she succeeds.

Universal’s film The Little Engine That Could (scheduled for DVD release March 22) is for kids a tad older, and steps back to tell the story of where the little engine came from and expand the adventure with more challenges for children to relate to.

We’re introduced to Dreamland, focusing in on talking trains happily and busily chugging around a train yard. A small shunter engine shares with an obviously older engine that she, too, would like to be a dreamhauler that makes special deliveries to children in the real world. Rusty responds to Little Engine with prophetic words: “If you think you can, you will; if you think you can’t, you won’t. Either way, you’re right.”

Cut to the “real world”: In a schoolyard, two bullies nab another boy’s prized possession — a silver pocket watch that had been his grandfather’s. Ashamed to go home without the watch, he heads over to the nearby park instead and discovers a train he is sure has never been there before. Mysterious it is, but it offers shelter from the snowy winter, so he climbs into one of the freight cars. The movement causes Rusty, up front, to awaken from his nap; he realizes he’s been discovered where he shouldn’t be, and tries unsuccessfully to shake off his unwanted passenger as he rushes back to Dreamland.

A real boy in Dreamland puts “a hole in the dream/reality continuum,” according to the tower in charge of the train yard, explaining why the tunnel between the two worlds has collapsed and then organizing work shifts for the dreamhaulers to re-open the tunnel so they can get the boy back to his real world. Little Engine thinks it would be faster to use the tracks she’s heard about that go over the mountain, but most of the other trains think those tracks exist only in old stories.

Adding a dangerous time element to the emergency is a trainload of toys worried about getting to their intended children before the children forget they wished for the toys. “Once we’re forgotten, we disappear,” they tell Little Engine. Many adventures ensue, including a run-in with the foreboding Nightmare Train, before we finally get to the well-known refrain, “I think I can, I think I can …”

The Little Engine That Could is a film with a moral. Several of them. And it foregoes subtlety to get them across (e.g., “You’re not annoying; you’re unique,” one toy reassures another). Sweet songs written for the film further spell out the lessons.

The Little Engine That Could mixes in some vocabulary-stretching dialog, with words like “grueling” and “naïve,” with enough context for elementary-school-aged kids to understand them. Younger kids, too, could keep up with the story, but the Nightmare Train sequences might be too intense for them.

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