Thursday, September 08, 2022

'Thomas & Friends' Welcomes First Autistic Character In 'All Engines Go'

Bruno the Brake Car has been developed in collaboration with the Autism Self Advocacy Network (US) as well input from autistic writers and figures.


Mattel has announced the introduction of Bruno, the first autistic character in the Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go series and franchise. Mattel Television has developed Bruno in collaboration with organisations including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and Easterseals Southern California, as well as autistic writers and autism advocates Daniel Share-Strom and Aaron Likens.

Voiced by nine-year-old actor Elliott Garcia, who is himself autistic, the new character will make his debut on Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! on Channel 5's Milkshake! from Wednesday 21st September at 7am.

In the U.S., the character will be voiced by Chuck Smith, who is also an autistic actor. In addition to Milkshake!, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go is available to watch on Cartoon Network, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube TV.

Described as a a joyful, pun-making brake car, Bruno rolls in reverse at the end of the train, which gives him a unique perspective on the world. Elliot Garcia explained: “Bruno is a Brake Car, and he is a new friend for Thomas and his friends, and he’s also autistic, like me. He is funny, smart and he’s a very relaxed character. He can get really overwhelmed, he can get worried, and he uses comedy to get past situations. Bruno loves schedules and timetables and when everything goes to plan.”

Elliot continued: “It’s great that Mattel is representing autistic characters; I watch the Thomas & Friends series and for there to be an autistic character makes me feel very happy and excited.”

Through his on-screen presence, Bruno introduces audiences to a positive neurodivergent role model. Together with key partners, Mattel has carefully curated Bruno’s character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of autism. Experts from ASAN and Easterseals Southern California, alongside the creative and writing team at Mattel Television, leveraged years of experience dedicated to the understanding of autism to respectfully and artistically create an accurate on-screen representation.

Elliott Garcia, from Reading, voices Bruno the Brake Car in Thomas & Friends

“Bruno’s introduction organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children’s programming,” says Christopher Keenan, senior vice president & executive producer, Global Content Development and Production 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.”

In the UK, the National Autistic Society, which has had a close relationship with Thomas & Friends brand over many years, helped cast Elliott for his role in the series, and has given its endorsement of the character.

Its head of Guidance, Volunteering & Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, Tom Purser, commented: “It’s important that everyone sees autistic characters on our screens: there are 160,000 school-age autistic children in the UK and they want to see their stories told. It’s also important that non-autistic children get insight and understanding into what it can be like to be autistic.”

“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,” says Zoe Gross, director of Advocacy at Autism Self Advocacy Network (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.”

A key character within the Thomas & Friends franchise, Bruno’s introduction will span across all content with appearances in a YouTube series, music album, the Thomas & Friends Storytime podcast, the upcoming Mystery of Lookout Mountain special, and consumer products set to debut later this year.

 “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.”

Bruno the Brake Car is available in toy form now and will also be included in a range of products available later in the year.

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Originally published: September 08, 2022 at 03:3x BST.

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