Kenyan train joins Thomas and Friends TV show

A new African character comes to Tidmouth Sheds, home to popular children’s television show Thomas and Friends, in 2018. Meet Nia the Kenyan engine, who will be helping to keep fan favourites Thomas, Skarloey and James the Red Engine on a more modern and inclusive track.

Thomas and Friends, Nia the Kenyan train engine,
Nia, a new character in the Thomas and Friends children’s television series, is a female Kenyan train engine whose brightly coloured designs are inspired by traditional Maasai and Samburu patterns. (Image: Thomas and Friends YouTube)

Announcing a new direction for the Thomas and Friends TV show, Mattel said that several other changes to the 30-year-old show would help to update the brand’s image and popularity, particularly in Africa and Asia, where the characters and stories were hugely popular. The toy and media company that owns the Thomas brand made the announcement on 17 October 2017.

Changes include some new female characters, including Nia, a train engine from Kenya, and Rebecca, a strong-willed, outspoken electric locomotive. Other female characters include an aeroplane from Australia and an Indian train yard controller. The changes are all an effort to modernise the Thomas brand and give it a distinctive international flavour.

Other new modifications for the story include travels for Thomas and his friends outside their traditional home of Tidmouth Sheds on the island of Sodor. The characters will be going on adventures on railroad systems in Africa, Asia and North America when the new reworked series begins in 2018.

Meet Nia

In addition to doing extensive research among the show’s young fans and their parents around the world, Mattel also consulted the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (Unesco) to create an accurate and reverent African character: Nia the Kenyan engine.

Nia – the Swahili word for purpose – was an adventurous and fun engine who taught Thomas about friendship between different cultures, Mattel said.

The train design itself also has an African flavour, based on an East African Railways engine – the KUR ED1 – which ran on the Kenya-Uganda route during the late 1920s.

And Nia looks good too, featuring brightly coloured designs based on traditional Maasai and Samburu patterns. “[She] is painted orange with yellow lining. She has yellow, green and red patterns painted along her tanks, dome and cylinders, and her footplate is painted red. Her name and number are painted on the sides of her tanks and cab respectively in yellow,” said Mattel.

“We have added new female characters before, but I think, with a show like Thomas, they tend to fall into the background after initial introduction,” said Thomas and Friends producer Ian McCue. “What we wanted to do here was really bring these two female characters to the forefront.”

Another of the show’s producers, Micaela Winter, said gender equality was important to the creators in the new series and going forward.

“[Thomas’ new direction and the addition of new, more representative characters] is really about learning about the world and bringing the world into the living room for [young viewers],” said Kate Schlomann, vice-president of branding at Mattel. “Which we haven’t done before.”

The online response to the new African character has been positive, with children and adults praising the new, modern approach to a beloved children’s show.

Nia and the other new characters will debut in a feature-length special titled Big World! Big Adventures! before becoming part of the regular cast in the 22nd season of the Thomas and Friends TV series in 2018.

For more information about the new characters and adventures, visit the official Thomas and Friends website here.

Source: Associated Press

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