New characters give 'Thomas & Friends' a jolt of girl power

NEW YORK — Girls are finally getting a bigger role in Thomas the Tank Engine's boy-dominated world.

Mattel will add two female main characters to the "Thomas & Friends" TV series next year. Nia and Rebecca will appear in each episode and help fix the gender imbalance at the shed where Thomas and the other main characters live. Three of the seven engines at Tidmouth Sheds will be female, up from just one.

The gender shakeup is just one of the many changes coming to the 30-year-old show. Thomas visits real countries for the first time; the animation will move at a faster pace; there's a new theme song; the characters will crack more jokes; and the narrator will be gone, replaced by the voice of Thomas.