Mattel adds 14 new friends, like feisty “Raul” of Brazil and “Carlos” of Mexico, sadly prompting some negative reaction in the UK.

Thomas The Tank Engine, acquired by Mattel in 2011, is one of the major pre-school toy and television franchises. Since its acquisition, Mattel has been looking at innovative ways to increase market share on a worldwide basis. The Thomas and friends franchise has been subject to criticism over its lack of ethnic diversity: it wasn’t difficult to recognize that Thomas’ world, on the island of Sodor, was predominately a white and largely male one since the character was introduced in 1946. Not any more: Mattel has introduced 14 new friends for Thomas, from countries across the globe, and four of whom are female. Characters will be introduced in an upcoming movie titled, “The Great Race”.

According to a NY Times interview with Vincent D’Alleva, who oversees “Thomas & Friends”,

“Mattel went to great lengths to make sure each new character had a color palette and personality reflective of a particular country’s culture. Wherever possible, each locomotive was designed after a train from the country it represents.”

When looking at some of the pictures and attributes of the new friends, one can’t help thinking that they might be somewhat stereotypical – have a look, you be the judge. On the positive, it will be constructive for kids around the world to see that Thomas’ circle of friends has now gotten bigger – big enough to include those from their part of the world.

Mattel refers to Raul of Brazil as “feisty”, “strong and agile”.

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Mattel describes Yong Bao of China as “driven to achieve and make progress”.

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Ashima of India is described as “showing no fear” and “happy to help out”

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Carlos of Mexico is described as “proud” and “always wearing a smile”.

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As with everything else it seems, the introduction of the ethnically diverse friends is not without controversy. The Independent in the UK reported that Daily Mail readers are fuming, expressing their displeasure with the change, an example of their messages below:

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Have a feeling that Thomas’ pro-diversity train will keep rolling, and that’s a good thing.