Grandmas Supporting Diversity For Preschool Toys and New Thomas the Train Products

ThomasToy companies seem to get criticized when there is no diversity in brands and when there is.  Mattel’s Barbie is an example, with criticism for body image before and for efforts after changes to Barbie.  Now, Mattel is again on the hot seat with Thomas the Train brand, criticized for lack of diversity in its famous engines and now criticized for how it has added diversity.

In the New York Times business section, March 26, 2016, “Locomotives Arrive on the Island of Sodor With Fresh New Faces,” the author, Brooks Barnes, shares Mattel’s new entries into becoming more diverse with Thomas the Train products.  My grandchildren all went through the preschool stage of being fixated on Thomas the Train, television show, movies, and other products.  This Grandma loved the softness of the life lessons messages and the fictional island of Sodor.  I must admit that I enjoyed watching the shows as much as my preschool grandchildren, and that is always a good thing.  Having a grandchild on one’s lap to hold and hug is joy alone, but to also share the message through an enjoyable story increases the joy.  I did not know, shared by the author, that Thomas the Train was created in 1946 by a British clergyman.  It seems that the fact that there have been a vast majority of male and white train engines portrayed continually from that time was increasingly under attack.  Add to that a desire for Mattel to increase revenues by increasing markets to around the world and we now will have fourteen new Thomas train engine friends coming from other countries, four of which are female trains.

Yes, the new trains do seem to be stereotyped, but, as Ms. Barnes notes, “avoiding stereotypes can be difficult.”  Take, for example, those new Thomas engines included by the author in the New York Times article:

Young Bao of China.

Mattel describes this new Thomas engine as “driven to achieve and make progress.” Of course, the creation of Bao has to do with China becoming Thomas’ second largest market, behind the United States, and pushing England to third.  Bao apparently also makes Thomas the Train history for breaking from the standard British sounding names the Thomas engines have.

Raul of Brazil.

Mattel describes this new Thomas engine as “feisty,”” strong and agile.” Yes, this engine was created and included in a new Thomas the Train movie, “The Great Race,” with the upcoming Olympic games in Brazil in mind.  I image that Mattel has already secured a booth somewhere at the Olympic site in Rio de Janeiro for those grandparent attendees wanting to bring something home for the preschool aged grandchildren.

Ashima of India.

Mattel describes this new Thomas engine, a female engine, as “shows no fear,””happy to help out.”  Is the feminine part of being helpful balanced by the masculine part of being fearless?  It turns out that Mattel has made Ashima the fastest engine, and says Ashima is about “developing a relationship. How does Thomas develop a relationship with someone who looks very different from him and in some cases can do things better than he can?”  Is it as much about Mattel developing a relationship with the successful outsourcing country of India and its huge upwardly mobile population with increasing disposable income to purchase Thomas the Train products?

Carlos of Mexico.

Mattel describes this new Thomas engine as “proud,””always wearing a smile.”  The New York Times article is in black and white, but this Grandma could just picture that it is colored in pinata colors!  Then, I read that Vincent D’Alleva, who oversees Thomas the Train products for Mattel, said “Mattel went to great lengths to make sure each new character had a color palette and personality reflective of a particular country’s culture.”  However, he added, “wherever possible, each locomotive was designed after a train from a country it represents, Carlos, with his red, green and black design, is patterned after a Fero-carriles Nacionales de Mexico locomotive known as 903.”

Yes, the new Thomas engines do seem stereotyped, but Mattel does seem to make a concerted effort to match the new engine to an existing engine in the country of origin.  Yes, Mattel is increasing diversity , probably to assuage criticism for lack of diversity, and probably mostly to make money by increasing markets and market share.

Increasing diversity is a good thing, whatever the motive.  Now, it is up to us grandmas to applaud, encourage and support Mattel by introducing all of our grandchildren to the new engines, as if those of us with preschoolers could avoid buying new Thomas the Train products!

The new Thomas the Train engines and as introduced simultaneously in the new Thomas DVD movie,  “The Great Race,” are being released first in some foreign countries, including England,  in May, so if anyone you know is going to England  this spring or summer, have them bring some back for your grandchildren.  After all, we grandmas love to be the first to give our grandchildren the newest and best.  Then, worldwide release is going to be staggered beginning in August.  Of course, this Grandma checked Amazon for you, but the new Thomas the Train movie and engines are not yet listed, even for preorder.  I would suggest checking in May when release begins abroad.

Thank you, Mattel.  You have given us grandmas another way to broaden our preschool grandchildren’s horizons.  We can now show them where Brazil, China, Mexico, India, and all the other countries are on a globe and introduce them to cultures and worlds beyond their own through toys they already love and cherish.  We can hold our grandchild and Raul of Brazil on our laps as we watch the Olympic games in Rio with

Joy,

Mema

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