Thomas the Tank Engine goes global with diverse (and useful) new friends

  • Raul of Brazil

    Raul of Brazil  (Mattel)

  • Carlos of Mexico

    Carlos of Mexico  (Mattel)

  • Ashima of India

    Ashima of India  (Mattel)

With all the civil strife and conflict going on in the world, it's comforting to know that one little island has discovered peace and harmony despite ethnic and racial differences.

Even if it is a fictional island populated principally by heavy – but useful – railway steam engines.

On the Isle of Sodor, Thomas the Tank Engine will be rolling with a few more friends, and they’re a colorful and diverse group of train buddies.

Mattel is giving Thomas, whose franchise rakes in more than $1 billion a year, 14 new pals in all – two of them Latin American and four of them female.

Not only is the company looking to diversify Thomas' network of friends, it's also hoping to appeal to a growing global market. 

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According to the New York Times, “Mattel went to great lengths … to make sure each new character had a color palette and personality reflective of a particular country’s culture.” 

Thomas will now get to interact with his amigo Carlos, from Mexico, whom the company describes as “proud” and “always wearing a smile.” Carlos’ red, green and black color scheme is modelled after a Ferrocarriles Nacional de Mexico locomotive. 

There's also Raul of Brazil, who according to Mattel is “feisty, strong and agile”; Ashima, a female Indian locomotive; and Young Bao who toots all the way from China.

Thomas’s new friends will be introduced to the public in a movie called, “The Great Race,” slated for global release in May, with related merchandise and DVD available in August -- in select countries such as Great Britain.

Vincent D’Alleva, a senior vice president at Mattel, said in a phone interview with the Times that, “[The] movie was made with this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in mind. Competitors from different countries coming together as one was a way to make Thomas more culturally aware."

D'Alleva added, “This story is a way to help him understand that there is a bigger world out there.”

Originally created by the British clergyman, the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, in 1942, the first Thomas books were published in 1945.

The story is set on the Isle of Sodor. Thomas and his friends take their instructions from Sir Topham Hatt – a.k.a., The Fat Controller – and, although bickering often occurs, the buddies always learn a lesson and end up working together.

Mattel took over the Thomas and Friends franchise in 2012, when it bought Hit Entertainment for $680 million.

Many have felt that diversity is long overdue in the series – of the over 100 characters in the brand, the vast majority are male and white, or at least light-colored metal.

In 2013, Mary Creagh, the British Labor Transportation Secretary told the Telegraph, “Thomas is setting a poor example to children and needs more female engines to encourage girls to be train drivers.”

In a piece posted on Slate titled, “Thomas the Imperialist Tank Engine,” Jessica Roake wrote that “on the Island of Sodor, the sun has not yet set on the British Empire" and its "white man's burden."

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.