Thomas the Tank Engine, beloved children's book character and possible imperialist, is about to make a whole lot of new friends.
14, to be specific: In an effort to diversify the children's program and better reflect the realities of the modern world, Mattel is introducing Thomas to new characters from countries around the globe.
The New York Timesreleased a partial list of the new trains, described by Vincent D'Alleva, who works with Mattel on Thomas & Friends. There's Raul of Brazil, Yong Bao of China, Ashima of India and Carlos of Mexico, each with a distinctive decor and color palette, as well as attributes intended to reflect the values of the represented nations.
"I applaud the idea, but am concerned about execution," researcher Tracey Van Slyke told The Telegraph. "There is a danger in reducing very complex countries and peoples to singular characteristics. If the trains are only defined by cultural stereotypes, the result will be a calculated, and destructive, nod to diversity and inclusivity."
Along with caution about the show's approach to diversity, the new characters have raised concerns about altering the formula that makes Thomas tick.
"Children do not benefit from a lot of variety," psychologist Dr. Aric Signman told The Telegraph. "If there are going to be a lot of new characters then it will be more difficult for children to invest in the narrative and to feel connected to the story."
The new characters will join Thomas in The Great Race, a film scheduled for May release in the U.K.
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