After years of accusations of sexism, racism and classism, Thomas the Tank Engine has now been updated for 2018.
The children’s TV show, based on the books by Rev Wilbert Awdry, has been revamped and a brand new series launches next week featuring multicultural characters and female protagonists.
The new female characters include Isla, an Australian flying doctor; Hong-mei, a number 1 blue tank engine from China; and Churubala, a female railway controller from India.
The Steam Team is now gender-balanced, with three male and three female characters: Percy, James, Gordon, Emily and new members Nia and Rebecca, as well as Thomas. The brand hopes this will boost appeal among female viewers, with girls representing more than 40 per cent of the show’s viewership.
And, as Thomas leaves Sodor for the first time, he will encounter characters from around the world, many of which are female, such as a new African steam engine from Kenya called Nia, Ashima from India, Yong Bao from China and Shane from Australia.
In recent years, the TV show has come under fire from some parents who believe Thomas sets a bad example to children. “The engines are all very rude to each other most of the time,” wrote one parent in a review.
“I believe it teaches bad behaviour with examples of jealousy and envy and plain old mean-spiritedness,” added another.
Thomas & Friends has also been accused of being sexist for its lack of female characters and for not being ethnically diverse enough.
However, 73 years after Thomas the Tank Engine was created, the iconic British brand is today unveiling the latest changes intended to capture a new generation of fans around the world.
Perhaps most controversially for some older fans, however, the beloved Thomas theme tune has been updated too.
The “energetic” song has been designed to reflect the new content and Steam Team, and the classic “Roll Call” song will still be included in some musical segments within a number of episodes.
Other changes include a more contemporary feel, faster-paced action, increased humour and music, animals, fantasy elements and dream sequences.
Thomas will also “break the fourth wall” for first time and take up the role of series narrator.
The huge relaunch is the centrepiece of “a major strategic brand refresh”, designed on the back of market research with hundreds of children and parents around the world.
The creators of the show also collaborated with the United Nations to promote their Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on gender equality, life on land, responsible consumption and production, sustainable cities and communities, and quality education.
Ian McCue, senior producer at Thomas & Friends™, says: “The show has undergone an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and children by opening up the world of Thomas & Friends so children can discover the world around them while being entertained.
“The changes and new additions of characters and geographies will make the show more entertaining, inclusive and global – while ensuring all the favourite characters and storylines that fans around the world love remain at the heart of the action.”
The new series of Thomas & Friends™: Big World! Big Adventures! will air daily from Monday 3 September at 7am on Channel 5 “Milkshake!” in the UK, followed by the US and the rest of the world.
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