A locomotive with traits on the autism spectrum will join Thomas the Tank Engine in a new blockbuster film based on the children’s favourite, voiced by Hugh Bonneville. Thomas & Friends: Journey Beyond Sodor, released this Summer, introduces a new cast of “experimental engines”, including one designed to give children with autism a sympathetic character they can identify with. The CGI-animated film marks the 72nd anniversary of the first Thomas The Tank Engine book, written by the Rev W. Awdry, which was published on Friday May 12, 1945. Now a £600m franchise, the latest Thomas big-screen spin-off stars Bonneville as the voice of new engine Merlin along with a range of characters designed to reflect modern sensibilities.

Thomas helps children with Autism Ian McCue, Senior Producer of Thomas & Friends, said: “With the characteristics of Theo, there is an intentional nod to autism, albeit a subtle one for our autistic fan base, some of who have become good friends.”

A National Autistic Society survey found that children with autism spectrum disorders associate far more strongly with Thomas the Tank Engine than with other children’s characters. Children on the spectrum responded to the engines’ easy-to-read expressions.

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