This endearing story began as an American folktale that became widely known in the United States after publication in 1930 by the Platt & Munk Company. The story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. If you’ve ever said “I think I can!” then you were quoting the little engine that did.
Walt Disney Productions released this wonderful vinyl version of the story in 1964:
Casey Jones and John Henry are also folktales that involve trains, and so they are included on this record to fill out Side One.
Side Two switches things up and deviates from a train to a streetcar. A streetcar that goes underwater. The motorman and conductor are taken into the sea by a merman and promptly get into a fight with an octopus. Soon they are back on dry land with a red herring in the conductor’s pipe (get it?) and a suspicion that it might all have been a dream.
Laura Olsher narrates the tales and Bill Kannady sings the songs.
Another Disney tie-in to this story is found in the 1941 Disney movie Dumbo. When the circus train named Casey Jr. puffs up a hill, he chants “I think I can!” and when going down the hill he chants “I thought I could!”
It appears that the images used on the back cover of the sleeve are of the circus train from Dumbo. I don’t believe Disney ever did a cartoon of The Little Engine that Could. I doubt a child would know the difference between the two trains.
I have another version of this record that was released in 1969 but with the inclusion of an 11-page book of full-colour illustrations. Disney believes if it’s worth doing once, it’s worth doing again and again until people stop spending money to buy it!
I’ll be doing a post on that album later, but I thought I’d make just one observation about it here:
Disney doesn’t just recycle the artwork for this later release. Instead, a sketchier style is used to depict The Little Engine, giving him his own look apart from the circus train in Dumbo. He’s given glasses and an Engineer. If you revisit the picture on the album cover featured in this post, you’ll see the train is pulling a circus organ. But the cars this new train pulls are open and filled with toys, more in keeping with the original story.
And now, please disembark the post!