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From 'Thomas the Tank Engine' to 'King of the Railway': Mattel plans global push for franchise

Marketing push will see a range of new toys created and the release of a one-hour film as it attempts to make inroads in Asia and Latin America

Thomas the Tank Engine will undergo a major rebranding in 2013 in an attempt to get children in Asia and Latin America on board.

Following its $680 million acquisition last year, toy giant Mattel plans to overhaul Thomas the Tank Engine to bring the cheery locomotive and his friends in-line with its lucrative Hot Wheels and Barbie brands.

The New York Times reports that, although Thomas’ retail sales currently bring in around $1 billion every year, Barbie brings in double that, while Hot Wheels is also a better seller in toy shops.

David Allmark, executive vice president of Mattel’s Fisher-Price brands said: “It’s been a brand that has been pretty bereft of investment… We really believe that we can grow this on a worldwide basis, particularly in Latin America and Asia.”

The marketing push will see a range of new toys created, including an expanded and enhanced collection of wooden trains, and the release of a one-hour, straight-to-DVD film entitled ‘King of the Railway’.

The DVD release will be accompanied by ‘blue carpet’ premieres in the United States and Europe and a three series extension of the Thomas and Friends television show on US stations PBS and Sprout.

A multi-million advertising campaign entitled ‘Anytime is Thomas time’ is also set for launch. 

Mr Allmark insisted Thomas will continue to espouse “innocent, sweet life lessons”, but said elements like faster story-telling would ‘liven up’ the franchise and help it keep up with modern brands.

Shari Donnenfeld, head of Hit Global Brandssaid: “When you are successful for as long as Thomas has been, you can become part of the woodwork…We need to reinforce the brand by reminding people why they love it and introducing new content.”

Over the last three years the Thomas the Tank Engine brand has been steadily updating.

In 2009, the old-fashioned animation style was dropped in favour of computer-generated images and the trains themselves began talking to each directly, rather than using a narrator to tell the audience what was being said.

The New York Times reports that these changes have increased Thomas the Tank Engine ratings by around 30 per cent.

The computerised graphics also enabled the creation of a range of popular Thomas ‘apps’, with 15 already available and another four on the way.