Mattel introduces autistic character to Thomas & Friends series
September 7, 2022
Mattel has announced the introduction of Bruno, the first autistic character in the iconic Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go series and franchise. Mattel Television developed Bruno in collaboration with respected organisations including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and Easterseals Southern California, as well as autistic writers and spokespeople. Voiced by nine-year-old actor Elliott Garcia from Reading, Berkshire, who is himself autistic, the new character will make his debut on ‘Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go!’ on Channel 5 Milkshake! from September 21st.
Bruno is a joyful, pun-making brake car. He is great at his job and keeps big, heavy cargo steady with his strong brakes—a vital role in ‘Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go!’. Bruno rolls in reverse at the end of the train, which gives him a unique perspective on the world. Describing the character Bruno, Elliot Garcia, who voices the new character in the animated television series, says: “Bruno is a Brake Car, and he is a new friend for Thomas and his friends, and he’s also autistic, like me. He 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. Bruno loves schedules and timetables and when everything goes to plan.”
Elliot Garcia continues: “He can flap his ladders to tell you if he’s upset or if he’s really excited, so he can use his items to show you how he’s feeling. His ear defenders, I do relate to, because if there’s a really loud noise, I can’t cope. I can get quite worried about things, I have to think of new strategies, same as Bruno. When I won the role of Bruno, I imagined that it was a dream, but it wasn’t! I felt really excited and happy. It’s great that they are representing autistic characters because I watch the Thomas & Friends series and for there to be an autistic character makes me feel very happy and excited.”
Detail-oriented Bruno enjoys schedules, routine, and knows where all the tracks lead on Sodor. 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 introduces audiences to a positive, neurodivergent role model.. Together with key partners, Mattel has carefully curated Bruno’s character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of autism.
Experts from ASAN and Easterseals Southern California, alongside the creative and writing team at Mattel Television, leveraged years of experience dedicated to the understanding of autism to respectfully and artistically create an accurate, on-screen representation. Through their hard work, dedication and care, Bruno opens the door for global audiences in a way the Thomas & Friends brand has never done before. In the UK, the National Autistic Society, who have historically had a close relationship with Thomas & Friends brand over many years, helped cast Elliott for his role in the series, and have given their wholehearted endorsement of the character of Bruno.
Tom Purser, Head of Guidance, Volunteering & Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, says: “It’s important that 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, but it’s also important that non-autistic children get insight and understanding into what it can be like to be autistic. What Elliot brings to this role is his joy and enthusiasm, his autistic experiences and he just brings the character to life.”
“This is a real moment for autism because the history of autistic children and their relationship with the Thomas & Friends brand has been massive and I think to really recognise the importance of reflecting neurodiversity and autism in Thomas & Friends series is an amazing moment for Mattel, for the Thomas & Friends brand, and for autistic people”, concludes Tom Purser.
Autism is a developmental disability that affects how autistic people experience the world around them. There are at least 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means it affects everyone differently including how autistic people think, communicate and interact with the world.
Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may: be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life difficult; be unable to or find it harder to speak, face delays processing information or find it hard to hold conversations; experience intense anxiety around unexpected change and social situations; or become so overwhelmed that they experience debilitating physical and emotional ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’.
“The most important aspect of Bruno’s development was getting autistic input throughout the process of creating the character and his interactions with his world,” says Zoe Gross, Director of Advocacy at Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). “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.”
While Bruno thoughtfully reflects the traits and preferences of some autistic people, one animated character could never encompass the real-life experience of every autistic person. A key character within the Thomas & Friends franchise, Bruno’s introduction will span across all content with appearances in a YouTube series, music album, the ‘Thomas & Friends Storytime’ podcast, the upcoming ‘Mystery of Lookout Mountain’ special, and consumer products set to debut later this year.
“Our commitment and contributions alongside Mattel have ensured that an honest version of Bruno is what kids and families across the world will experience,” says Dr. Paula Pompa Craven, Chief Clinical Officer at Easterseals Southern California. “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.”
“Bruno’s introduction organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children’s programming,” says Christopher Keenan, Senior Vice President & Executive Producer, Global Content Development and Production at Mattel. “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.”