‘Thomas & Friends’ to introduce autistic character

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“Thomas and Friends” will be adding the first-ever autistic character to their ranks when Bruno the Brake Car makes his debut. Photo courtesy of Mattel Television

Sept. 7 (UPI) — The Thomas and Friends franchise will introduce its first autistic character when Bruno the Brake Car comes chugging down the tracks on Sept. 12.

Mattel Television said Wednesday that Bruno will make his debut on the show Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go on Cartoon Network.

Voiced by autistic actor Chuck Smith, Bruno will be a “joyful, pun-making brake car,” according to Mattel, adding that, “He is great at his job and keeps big, heavy cargo steady with his strong brakes. … Bruno rolls in reverse at the end of the train, which gives him a unique perspective on the world.”

The character will display many of the same traits and qualities as autistic people, who have seen a recent uptick in their representation in films and TV shows.

“Detail-oriented Bruno enjoys schedules, routine, and knows where all the tracks lead on Sodor,” Mattel said.

The toy company added that Bruno would play a “vital role” in the series, and he will not be limited to just TV, as Deadline reported that the character will be featured in a YouTube series, podcast and music album, among other things.

“Bruno’s introduction organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children’s programming,” said Christopher Keenan, senior vice president and executive producer at Mattel. “So much care and thought went into the development of his character, and we can’t wait for audiences to meet and love Bruno as much as we do.”

Bruno will join the cast of the famed British children’s franchise, which is based on The Railway Series of books by Wilbert Awdry, and aired in one form or another from 1984 to 2021.

All Engines Go, a rebooted 2D animated series co-produced by Mattel, debuted later that year.

All Engines Go also stars the voices of Meesha Contreras as Thomas, along with Charlie Zetzler, Ava Ro, Neil Crone and Bruce Dow.

Chuck Scothon, Mattel’s global head of infant and preschool, told Variety, “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.”

Bruno was developed in conjunction with a number of autism advocacy groups, including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and Easterseals Southern California, who worked to make the character as authentic to real life as possible.

A number of autistic writers and spokespeople also collaborated on the character.

“The most important aspect of Bruno’s development was getting autistic input throughout the process of creating the character and his interactions with his world,” ASAN advocacy director Zoe Gross said in a statement. “It was great to be able to contribute to that as part of a team of consultants from ASAN. Autistic people have been involved in all aspects of creating Bruno, from us as consultants to writers on the show and Bruno’s voice actor-this makes Bruno ring true as an autistic character. I hope that Bruno will provide viewers with meaningful examples of inclusion in everyday life.”

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