Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver [Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer] – German Film Festival, Palace Electric, May-June 2019

Delivered to the tiny kingdom of Morrowland, a baby of unknown origin is lovingly cared for by the proprietor of the grocery store, the kindhearted Mrs Whaat, who names him Jim Button. Morrowland, ruled by the befuddled King Alfred the Quarter-to-Twelfth, has three other inhabitants: Mr Sleeve; Luke, the locomotive driver; and Emma, the locomotive.

When Jim is about 11 years old, the King declares that Morrowland is too small to accommodate Jim once he’s grown-up, as well as Emma the locomotive, so it seems that Emma must go. Luke decides that he will leave with his beloved Emma. But Jim, who has become Luke’s assistant, insists on going with them, no matter what danger lies ahead. Jim also hopes to find out where he came from and to whom he belongs.

The three land on the shores of the realm of Mandala, on whose beach Jim discovers a letter in a bottle, prompting them to inform the Emperor of Mandala that his kidnapped daughter, Princess Li Si, is being held captive by the dragon Mrs Grindtooth in Dragon City.  Luke, Jim, and Emma undertake to rescue Princess Li Si, and so continues the rollicking adventure, filled now with scheming mandarins, nasty dragons, a rejected half-dragon, a lonely illusory giant, miniature people, and dark and mysterious forces.

Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver is based on a much-loved children’s classic. Its live action, set in magical animation, is a delight for anyone aged five or more. All the good characters are loveable and truly good, and all the bad, suitably bad but not too frightening for younger audience members. The film contains much action, but also slower periods that maintain interest while allowing viewers to rest emotionally between action sequences. The settings are rich, vibrant, and beautiful.

Casting couldn’t have been better. Solomon Gordon is immensely likeable as the engaging Jim Button, and Henning Baum is everything you want as the capable, competent, quietly indomitable Luke. The rest of the cast is perfectly delightful as well.

Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver is a tale of courage and belonging, of resilience and hope, and of friendship and family — whoever that family might be.

MICHELE E. HAWKINS

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