Greetings Earthlings! 🙂
This week I would like to discuss the introduction of an autistic character to the beloved children’s TV show Thomas the Tank Engine (the series has been renamed Thomas & Friends– All Engines’s Go in it’s latest iteration).
In September of 2022, Bruno the Brake Car was introduced to season 2 of ‘All Engines Go‘ following a team-up between the show runners and a number of autism advocacy groups such as the National Autistic Society and Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in the UK. In creating the character, the creators wanted to reach out to new audiences but to also ensure that their audiences were being fully represented (which makes sense given that so many autists love trains). The creators have also ensured that Bruno is always voiced by an autistic actor- 9 year old Elliot Garcia in the UK and 10 year old Chuck Smith in the USA & Canada.
You can check out Bruno in an episode of the show below:
So what’s Bruno like in the show?
It’s not immediately obvious that Bruno is autistic, but he does have a lot of subtle traits which can help teach neurotypical children about our differences and how to love and accept Bruno as just another train in the yard. The first thing I noticed about Bruno is that he doesn’t make eye contact, his eyes generally shift from side to side and up and down, never directly looking in just one place- something highly relatable for many autists. Every so often Bruno will flap his stepladders, mimicking the hand flapping stimming action of many autists. It’s really subtle, which is quite clever as it helps autists to feel seen whilst also normalizing the behaviour for neurotypical viewers. One of the things I enjoyed most about Bruno was how whenever things were too noisy or when he pushed on the brakes, smoke subtly came down over his ears in the shape of noise cancelling headphones- a true stroke of genius from the animators!
Bruno is also very literal, for example when Thomas describes Diesel as a ‘steamroller’ for his careless racing, Bruno get’s very confused as Diesel is a shunter/switcher train not a steamroller, prompting Thomas to explain that he was acting like a steamroller but not physically one. As a brake car, Bruno likes things slow and orderly, and is obsessed with routine and the train timetable, often getting unsettled when the other trains are off schedule. He’s also very funny, frequently cracking puns and using comedy to get through difficult situations- something I’m very familiar with it. It’s nice to see autists portrayed as having a good sense of humour as too often we’re depicted as gormless and immune to punchlines.
Overall Bruno’s characterization is spot on, nice and subtle and a great character to represent the autistic community. I would say however the choice of using yellow detailing on Bruno as an autistic character is a little unusual, as some autists have colour sensitivity issues, with the colour yellow being particularly triggering.
Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂
Have a lovely weekend!
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