Girls are finally getting a bigger role in Thomas the Tank Engine’s boy-dominated world.
Mattel, the toy maker that owns the Thomas brand, will add two female main characters to the Thomas & Friends TV series next year.
Nia and Rebecca will appear in each episode and help fix the gender imbalance at the shed where Thomas and the other main characters live: Three of the seven engines at Tidmouth Sheds will be female, up from just one.
The gender shakeup is just one of the many changes coming to the 30-year-old show.
Thomas visits real countries for the first time; the animation will move at a faster pace; there’s a new theme song; the characters will crack more jokes; and the narrator will be gone, replaced by the voice of Thomas.
It’s all an effort to shake Thomas’ stodgy image, compete with flashier preschool shows and fight a drop in toy sales. It’s a big risk for the franchise, which got its start as a book series more than 70 years ago.
To avoid any missteps, Mattel consulted with parents, young fans and even the United Nations. In all, the company spent two years working on the makeover.
Nia, an engine from Kenya, will make her debut next summer in the movie Big World! Big Adventures! and then join the TV series in the fall.
Experts at the UN advised producers with Nia’s name (it means “purpose” in Swahili) and helped select the African pattern that runs across Nia’s body.
Rebecca’s origins are less exotic. She’ll come from the Mainland near Thomas’ fictional island of Sodor.