Thomas the Tank Engine is back on track (still sorry) — with a new series with an equal number of male and female main characters.
Two male trains — Henry and Edward — will make way for two female engines — Nia and Rebecca — to join Thomas, Percy, Gordon, James, and Emily on a world tour.
And it’s all to give a platform (OK, I’ll stop) for the Sustainable Development Goals — a 17-step road map for achieving an end to extreme poverty by 2030.
Thomas will leave his home on Sodar Island for the first time to embark on animated adventures across a diverse variety of cultures in India, China, and more.
Thomas and Friends: Big World! Big Adventures! will see Thomas and the refreshed Steam Team meet characters like Charubala the Indian railway controller — the female counterpart to the Fat Controller; Hong-Mei, the Chinese blue tank engine; and Isla, the Australian medical plane, described by the show as a “strong female character.”
It’s an effort to more accurately reflect the viewership of the show, which the Metro reports is over 40% female, as well as wider society in general.
📣@UN and @ThomasFriends have teamed— UN Environment (@UNEnvironment) September 9, 2018
up to teach families about the Sustainable
Development Goals. We're all aboard for
building a better 🌎🌍🌏on the fast track.https://t.co/XesnR4m2P6#AllAboardForGlobalGoalspic.twitter.com/OuOiKmry5c
“The show has undergone an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and children by opening up the world of Thomas and Friends so children can discover the world around them while being entertained,” said Ian McCue, senior producer at Thomas and Friends.
“The changes and new additions of characters and geographies will make the show more entertaining, inclusive, and global – whilst ensuring all the favourite characters and storylines that fans around the world love remain at the heart of the action,” he added.
The overhaul is part of a new partnership between Thomas and Friends and the UN Department of Public Information’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative to educate young people on the importance of the SDGs.
There are 26 episodes in total, launched on Nickelodeon Junior in the US on Sept. 7 — plus an 80-minute feature film shown in 400 cinemas in the UK.
And it all comes with a nifty new website called All Aboard for Global Goals, to teach children and parents about six of the goals through interactive games and educational videos.
In 2013, former shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said that it was a “national scandal” that just 4.2% of UK train drivers were female — and blamed the original Thomas the Tank Engine books for having no female characters.
Now, the show has transformed itself with issue-driven deliberation. Indeed, Nia — the newest member of the crew from Kenya — is named after the Swahili word for “purpose.”
Meet Nia, a new female engine who will make her debut in Big World! Big Adventures! The Movie—Premieres on @nickelodeon Friday September 7th at 9a ET! . . . US Premiere Only #BigWorldBigAdventures #BWBA #USA #KidMovie #FamilyMovie #ThomasFan #Toddlers #Kids #Mom #Dad #ThomasAndFriends
There’s even a new theme tune — that kind of sounds like it could have been written by Journey.
“If the gender-balanced Steam Team encourages more girls to maintain an interest then that can only be a good thing,” said Claire Chambers, granddaughter of Reverend Wilbert Awdry, who created the show as an author over 70 years ago.
The reinvention has been supported by former House actress Olivia Wilde, who said she’s proud to “inspire the next generation of global citizens” in an Instagram post from a UN launch event on September 7
“Particularly as a mother, I think about the power of storytelling quite a lot,” said Wilde at the event. “By telling children stories about engines who feel no difference between their genders, who feel a responsibility to the environment, who are excited about education, we are teaching them important values that should be instilled at an early age.”