The classic children's series, "Thomas the Tank Engine," is relaunching next week with an updated set of characters and a commitment to being more "inclusive, gender-balanced," and "multicultural."
A teaser trailer for the new kinder, gentler, more progressive "Thomas" dropped this week.
According to The Independent, Thomas's "Steam Team" — the core group of anthropomorphic railroad cars that make up the show's cast — will now be "gender balanced," with three "male" trains and three "female" trains taking center stage, rather than the male-heavy team that held down Sir Toppem Hat's rail yard in the original series.
For now, the trains will adhere to a decidedly regressive gender binary, but the commitment to changing Thomas for the times is long-term.
"The new female characters include Isla, an Australian flying doctor; Hong-mei, a number 1 blue tank engine from China; and Churubala, a female railway controller from India," The Independent reports. "The Steam Team is now gender-balanced, with three male and three female characters: Percy, James, Gordon, Emily and new members Nia and Rebecca, as well as Thomas."
The team behind "Thomas" hopes that'll boost the show among female viewers and satisfy viewers across the world.
“The show has undergone an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and children by opening up the world of Thomas & Friends so children can discover the world around them while being entertained," the show's senior producer, Ian McCue, said in a statement.
“The changes and new additions of characters and geographies will make the show more entertaining, inclusive and global – whilst ensuring all the favourite characters and storylines that fans around the world love remain at the heart of the action," he continued.
The "refresh" is also designed to quell parents' concerns that the show was "racist" and "sexist" and that the trains themselves were "mean-spirited" for constantly arguing with each other. The show also boasts a brand new partner in its progressive efforts: the United Nations, which demanded "Thomas" embrace "gender neutrality" last year.
Now, a team from the United Nations will consult on the show, ensuring that Thomas and friends are appropriately inclusive. Under UN tutelage, the trains will even leave their home island in the new series, traveling abroad to converse with (mostly female) anthropomorphic locomotives in Asia and Africa.
The new "Thomas" episodes will begin airing next week in the UK. American fans may have to wait a little bit longer.