When Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go returns for its 26th season, the iconic animated series will add a brand new, unprecedented pal to the mix. It's full steam ahead for the newest series regular, Bruno the Brake Car, the first Thomas and Friends character to have autism. Voiced by an actor with autism, the character was developed by Mattel Television in partnership with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Easterseals Southern California and respected writers and figures with autism.
Actor Chuck Smith, 10, will voice the character of Bruno the Brake Car in the U.S., while in the U.K., Bruno will be voiced by another young actor with autism, 9-year-old Elliot Garcia. The character will be introduced in all areas of the franchise, providing future generations with the opportunity to grow up alongside Bruno. Season 26 of Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go premieres on Monday, Sept. 12th on Cartoonito, Cartoon Network's block of programming for preschool-aged kids. (The U.K. version of the show premiers on Sept. 21.)
"Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go is all about friendship and partnership," Mattel's director of preschool content, Monica Dennis, tells Yahoo Life. "Whenever stories about collaboration and teamwork are told, difference matters. Differences in strengths and skill sets and ways of thinking: so Bruno really makes a unique contribution to the types of stories we are telling in All Engines Go."
Bruno is a firetruck red color with accents of black and yellow, and is emblazoned with the number 43. He also has stairs, and a lantern on his exterior that indicates his emotional state, moving when he is excited or cautious. Bruno rolls in reverse at the end of the train, which gives him a unique perspective. And his role is vital as he's in charge of keeping the train's heavy cargo steady.
Mattel shares that the brake car's personality is joyful and playful, as he loves to make puns. The introduction of a neurodivergent role model is displayed through the character's work ethic and fruitful relationships. His character was carefully created to ensure an accurate fictional representation of a child with autism in the real world.
The need for representation in children's programming is more important than ever as the rate of autism diagnoses continues to rise each year. Mattel shares their goal in adding Bruno is to help children and families learn how to live inclusively in everyday life through on-screen organic examples that are both authentic and thoughtful. As one of the leading global toy companies and owner of one of the strongest catalogs of children's and family entertainment franchises in the world, Mattel understands it has great responsibility in executing this correctly.
"Our commitment and contributions alongside Mattel have ensured that an honest version of Bruno is what kids and families across the world will experience," shared Dr. Paula Pompa Craven, chief clinical officer at Easterseals Southern California, in a press release. "Audiences will be able to see the real-life experiences of an autistic child through Bruno, including opportunities to learn and grow alongside him as he demonstrates his ability to give and receive support from his friends."
Daniel Share-Strom, a writer and series consultant who has autism, tells Yahoo Life that some previous media depictions of autism, especially in the children's space, have been based on harmful stereotypes. "It's been a real pleasure to bring Bruno to life as a character with a great sense of humor, tons of empathy — that he shows in his own way — and a gamut full of strengths and challenges that make him just as interesting, valuable and realistic as the rest of the cast."
Bruno's introduction will span across all content with appearances in a YouTube series, music album, the Thomas and Friends Storytime podcast, the upcoming Mystery at Lookout Mountain movie and consumer products set to debut later this year.
"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 of global content development and production at Mattel, in a press release. "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."
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