Thomas tune-up: US owner gives much-loved tank engine a makeover
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Monday 31 December 2012
The world’s most famous tank engine will steam into 2013 with a multi-million-dollar makeover as the “King of the Railway”. The American licence owner of Thomas the Tank Engine, a character beloved by millions, believes the time is right to relaunch the character for a new generation, and that he could be a cash cow in markets from China to Argentina.
Young Thomas fans – and their parents – should expect a deluge of new merchandise, initially including a bigger line of wooden trains. Three more seasons of the Thomas & Friends television show have been commissioned, as well as an hour-long animated film titled King of the Railway.
A character rooted in the steam age, Thomas will have a strong presence in the digital era, with his own online portal and four more apps to add to the existing 15.
Mattel, the toy giant that bought Thomas’s parent company in 2011, believes the gentle steam train stories can be made more relevant to modern children, and “some of it needs livening up a little bit”.
Thomas hauls in about $1bn (£600m) a year worldwide, although the executive vice-president of Mattel’s Fisher-Price brands said it was “a brand that has been pretty bereft of investment”. David Allmark told The New York Times: “We really believe that we can grow this on a worldwide basis, particularly in Latin America and Asia.”
The marketing team has even saddled the engine with a new tagline, “Anytime is Thomas Time”.
Another Mattel executive said he feared Thomas may have become “part of the woodwork”, and that young people might need reminding why they love the character.
Thomas, Percy, Gordon and friends retain their appeal despite being more than 65 years old.
The characters were dreamed up by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry to amuse his son Christopher, who had been struck down with a bout of measles in 1943.
After his wife Margaret urged him to publish his stories about the engines Edward, Gordon and Henry, Awdry wrote to the publisher Edmund Ward, and The Three Railway Engines was published in 1946.
Thomas, the name of a toy train he had given Christopher, first appeared a year later in his own standalone story.
Awdry went on to write 26 stories about Thomas and his friends. Christopher followed his father in 1983 and wrote “Really Useful Engine” stories for his own son. He went on to write 14 books.
Thomas’s small screen debut came in 1984, with narration by the former Beatle Ringo Starr, and quickly gained 8.5 million viewers on ITV.
Hit Entertainment, which owned other children’s favourites such as Bob the Builder, bought the rights to Thomas in 2004.
It had already updated Thomas, replacing the old-style animation of the original television show with computer graphics. The trains also spoke to each other for the first time.
Mattel bought Hit, whose characters also included Fireman Sam and Barney, in October 2011 for $680m.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
- 5 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after Wembley Stadium rant
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Taylor Swift banned from Triple J Hottest 100: Fans react to epic #Tay4Hottest100 defeat
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks