The new series of Thomas the Tank Engine will see a significant overhaul as two male engines make way for female trains.
American toy company Mattel, who own the rights to the show, teamed up with the United Nations as the organisation sought to meet its Sustainable Development Goals. As part of the changes Thomas and Friends will leave the comforts of the Island of Sodar to travel the world for a wide-range of adventures.
Engines Henry and Edward will depart Tidmouth Sheds to be replaced by Nia, an orange train from Africa, and the yellow-coloured Rebecca. Joining theme will be Japanese engine, Hiro.
There will also be a new theme tune and the traditional Liverpudlian narration, which began with Ringo Starr in 1984, will be replaced.
The new engines will team up with Thomas, Emily, Percy James and Gordon as they embark on a worldwide trip, with half of the 26 episodes taking the trains to exotic places.
Ian McCue, series producer, told The Telegraph: “This all stems from a lot of research we did, listening to our audience of parents, carers and young children. One thing stood out: a little boy saying, ‘Trains can go places but Thomas never goes anywhere.’
“We have done over 500 episodes and I don’t think we could sustain just doing episodes on Sodor any longer. We wanted him to discover new things, and for the first time he will be leaving Sodor and England.
“It opens up so many new things - colours we can use, animals he can meet. We couldn’t have him encountering a new animal in Sodor every week, but now he can meet kangaroos in Australia, tigers in India, pandas in China.”
The show, based on the books of Rev Wilbert Awdry, had come in for criticism for being sexist and classist.
“In the past there have been other female engines, but they’ve tended to be there for a couple of episodes and then disappeared into the background. Now the core team will have four males and three females,” McCue said.
“We’re not making these changes for the sake of it. We know that a lot of girls love the show. The audience on [Channel 5’s] Milkshake is 50:50.”
In its evolution the cartoon will tackle and teach kids about quality education, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and life on land.