Thomas the Train is getting a new friend, as the iconic British television franchise “Thomas & Friends” introduces its first character with autism, Bruno the Brake Car. The character is voiced by Chuck Smith, an autistic actor.
According to Mattel, Bruno will play a “vital role” in “Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go,” a reboot of the long-running animated series “Thomas & Friends” that debuted in 2021. Bruno will also appear in the franchise’s YouTube series, music album and “Thomas & Friends Storytime” podcast.
More from Variety
Mattel Television developed the character in collaboration with organizations including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and Easterseals Southern California, as well as writers and autism advocates Daniel Share-Strom and Aaron Likens.
Per Mattel’s character description, “Bruno is a joyful, pun-making brake car. He is great at his job and keeps big, heavy cargo steady with his strong brakes — a vital role in ‘Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go.’ Bruno rolls in reverse at the end of the train, which gives him a unique perspective on the world. Detail-oriented Bruno enjoys schedules, routine, and knows where all the tracks lead on Sodor. Bruno has stairs and a lantern on his bright, red exterior that indicate his emotional state, moving when he is excited or cautious. Bruno’s best day is one spent with his friends, who love and respect him for who he is, just as he loves them back. Through his on-screen presence, Bruno’s rich friendships and important work introduces audiences to a positive, neurodivergent role model. Together with key partners, Mattel carefully curated Bruno’s character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of an autistic child in the real world.”
In a statement to Variety, Chuck Scothon, Mattel’s global head of infant and preschool, said: “Thomas has been a beloved franchise for over 75 years. We know it has a special affinity with families that have children with autism and we felt it was really critical to make sure that all children can see themselves reflected in the ‘Thomas & Friends’ series.”
Added Share-Strom: “Positive representation is so important and characters like Bruno can change this in two ways. Number one, he’ll show autistic kids that they have the right to exist and that their challenges are legitimate, their strengths are real, and they are just as valuable to their families and communities as anybody else. At the same time, neurotypical kids and families will gain new insight into their autistic friends and family as Bruno challenges their preconceptions and gives them ideas for ways they can genuinely help people to live their best possible lives.”
“Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go” is available to watch on Cartoon Network, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube TV.
Watch an exclusive clip of Bruno the Brake Car below.
Best of Variety