"Thomas" buys ticket to big screen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - All aboard! Thomas the Tank Engine is heading back out on the tracks.

Thomas the Tank Engine (L) and Diesel 10 are seen in this undated publicity photo. REUTERS/Handout

The cheeky children’s book character is en route to the big screen via HIT Entertainment, which has hired screenwriter Josh Klausner (“Shrek the Third”) to write a script for a feature based on the tiny-train world of “Thomas & Friends” created by the Reverend W.V. Awdry in the 1940s.

Julia Pistor of HIT Movies, a newly launched unit of Thomas caretaker HIT Entertainment, is producing the project. HIT also owns the Barney and Bob the Builder franchises, and it launched the film division to bring those family-oriented properties to the multiplex.

“‘Thomas & Friends’ is a phenomenally successful and versatile brand that appeals to children and families worldwide,” said Pistor, who heads Hit Movies. “Generations of children have grown up with the adventures of ‘Thomas & Friends’ with its storytelling tradition, positive values, timeless lessons and rich train history. We look forward to working with Josh Klausner to translate the classic ‘Thomas & Friends’ stories into a thrilling, big, modern adventure movie.”

The new film project -- a mix of live-action and CGI -- is slated for a spring 2011 release.

Thomas represents the world’s most popular preschool property, with more than 100 million books and wooden train accessories sold globally. HIT plans a new CGI animated TV series for 2010 (Thomas’ 65th birthday) that will for the first time provide voices for Thomas, Percy, James, Toby and the rest.

Thomas and his troublemaking railway friends on the Island of Sodor have spawned television shows in both the U.K. and the U.S., a host of merchandise and a 2000 feature, “Thomas and the Magic Railroad,” spun off from the ‘90s U.S. series “Shining Time Station.”

Alec Baldwin narrated many of the stories in the U.S. version of the Thomas series and played Mr. Conductor in the feature. He is not involved in the newest incarnation.

Klausner, a second-unit director on many of the Farrelly brothers’ projects, co-wrote the Fox comedy “Date Night,” which Shawn Levy has directed for an April release.

Pistor was a Nickelodeon Movies executive who produced “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Nacho Libre” and “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”