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All Aboard for a New ‘Thomas & Friends’

27 Jul, 2009 By: Eui-jo Marquez

After nearly 65 years, Thomas the Tank Engine and his train friends are getting a facelift.

Lionsgate and HIT Entertainment Sept. 8 (prebook Aug. 12) release Thomas’ first-ever CG-animated movie, Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails, on DVD at $19.98.

“I think [CG animation] is more in line with what [kids are] seeing from other preschool properties,” said Kristin Moss, VP of marketing for family entertainment at Lionsgate. “It allows Thomas to stay competitive with everything else that’s out there. But it’s not a huge departure from who he really is.”

The Thomas brand was created in 1945 as a children’s book and has been a popular kid’s entertainment franchise since, most recently as the narrated PBS stop-motion cartoon and last year’s DVD release The Great Discovery.

“We don’t want to change the whole program,” Moss said. “We want to freshen up and keep it modern for today’s preschoolers.”

In addition to the new look, the CG-animated “Thomas & Friends” will feature individual voices for the characters, which will allow children to relate to the characters in a new way, Moss said. Through these changes, Thomas stories will be more adventurous and exciting, and the characters’ personalities will show through their different motions and facial expressions, she said.

“What makes [Thomas] so special is that he has this classic storytelling that engages kids of all ages,” Moss said. “Thomas really represents that essence of childhood more than any brand out there for preschoolers.”

Lionsgate and HIT are confident the Hero of the Rails DVD, with its 30 related products, including toys and books, will surpass the success of last year’s The Great Discovery DVD, which had just five related products, according to Moss.
“We’re spending a significant amount of media and advertising on the release, delivering about 26% more impressions than last year’s DVD release,” Moss said.

The advertising campaign launches just prior to the street date and will continue through the holidays.

“Since it is the evergreen title for Thomas this year, we expect to have a really strong street week, but also expect to see it sell very well throughout the holiday season,” Moss said.

“Thomas & Friends” is not the only Lionsgate/HIT property coming to video in CGI. Fireman Sam: Help Is Here arrives on DVD in CG animation Aug. 25 (prebook July 29) at $14.98.

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