587: The Great Train Robbery

587: The Great Train Robbery might be mistaken for the 1903 silent film The Great Train Robbery. While 587 does not have the classic or landmark status of its near-namesake, it is still quite a good children’s movie. It is not as flashy as the “family” films that often get wide release, but it is a quiet gem that offers a welcome respite from garish effects and shrill teen queens. If you want to reintroduce children—or even adults—to the simple pleasures of a good story and capable acting, 587: The Great Train Robbery is a good choice.

Speaking of story, this movie is not actually about a bunch of bandits who rob trains, but rather a quest to save a train. It starts with a pre-teen boy named Alex (Nick Abeel), a young inventor who is racing gravity cars with other children. He careens off the race course while trying to negotiate a difficult turn. Thankfully, he is not seriously injured, but rather ends up in a scrap yard. There, he finds the beautiful titular train engine, No. 587 itself, which, unfortunately, is about to be turned into scrap. He becomes determined to rescue it and get it into a museum where it will have the respect it deserves. He gets the help of his sister, Molly (Ariadne Baker-Dunn) in this adventure.

Now, in many types of children’s movies, one might expect the train engine to come alive and start talking to the child. That sort of fantastical device is not necessarily corny or wrong if handled well, but it is part of this movie’s low-key appeal to ground the story firmly in real life, all the while using cinematography and acting to treat the engine as if it were a real character. This treatment works very well because the train is indeed a character, or at least a living symbol of what is good about the past. All too often, we are eager to throw the past into our mental scrap heap, in order to chase the latest, newest fad or gadget. It is ironic that children, who are stereotypically forgetful and characterized by short attention spans, are represented here as protectors of that past.

587: The Great Train Robbery

587: The Great Train Robbery

In terms of acting, the cast generally acquit themselves well. Special mention must go to the child actors, who stay refreshingly clear of grating cutesiness and artificial spunk. This is particularly true for Baker-Dunn as Molly, since her character could easily have turned into a cliché. Hopefully, both the principal child actors will go on to bigger, more prominent careers, without losing their natural talent and appeal in favor of pre-packaged, easily consumable sweetness.

In short, in terms of both style and content, the movie is a celebration of the past, and how it is still valuable in the present. The eponymous train might not have a practical use, but the characters in the film are soon rightly convinced that it is indeed worth saving. In a similar way, this film might seem too simple and old-fashioned to merit a wide release, and, indeed, might not offer a good wide-screen experience, but is still great for a night of family home viewing.

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Year : 2000/2003
Director : Dan T. Hall
Writer : Tom Arnold
Starring : Ran Burns, Nick Abeel, Ariadne Baker-Dunn
Country : United States
Running time: 80 min.
Genre: family

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