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Iconic Thomas & Friends franchise welcomes its first autistic character, Bruno the Brake Car

Bruno will be voiced by autistic actors Chuck Smith (10) and Elliot Garcia (9) in the US and the UK, respectively.

Iconic Thomas & Friends franchise welcomes its first autistic character, Bruno the Brake Car
Cover Image Source: Mattel

The beloved children's TV show "Thomas the Tank Engine" has taken a monumental step toward diversifying on-screen representation. Mattel—the U.S. toy giant that acquired the franchise in 2011—announced in a press release Wednesday the introduction of the show's first autistic character, Bruno the Brake Car. The company developed the character with the help of autistic writers and organizations in the United States and Europe, including the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and the U.K.'s National Autistic Society, the release states. According to CNN, Bruno will be voiced by autistic actors Chuck Smith (10) and Elliot Garcia (9) in the U.S. and the U.K., respectively.


Expressing his delight at bagging the role, Garcia said he was "really excited and happy" about the popular animated series welcoming autistic characters as a series regular. "He (Bruno) 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," the youngster said of the character. According to Mattel, Bruno is "a joyful, pun-making brake car" who rolls in reverse at the end of the train, "which gives him a unique perspective on the world." The detail-oriented character "enjoys schedules, routine, and knows where all the tracks lead on Sodor," the press release states.


"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 introduce audiences to a positive, neurodivergent role model," it adds. He also features ear defenders that can puff steam if he feels sensitive to loud noises. The company said it "carefully curated Bruno's character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of an autistic child in the real world."


Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at ASAN, shared that the most important aspect of Bruno's development was getting autistic input from experts throughout the process. "It was great to be able to contribute to that as part of a team of consultants from 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," Gross added.


Christopher Keenan, senior VP and executive producer at Mattel, said that the introduction of Bruno to the iconic "Thomas the Tank Engine" franchise, "organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children's programming." Tom Purser, from the National Autistic Society, hailed the move as a "real moment for autism." He added: "It's so important everyone sees autistic characters on our screens because 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."


Young Garcia said he relates on a personal level to Bruno's ear defenders "because if there's a really loud noise, I can't cope. I have to think of new strategies, same as Bruno." Bruno will debut with the premiere of season 26 of "Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go" on September 12 in the U.S. and September 21 in the U.K..

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