7 JUN, 2011

Los Angeles, CA – June 7, 2011  – Shane Acker, Academy Award® nominated director of the animated film, 9, has signed on to transform the Island of Sodor, home to Thomas the Tank Engine™, one of the world’s most popular character brands, into a next generation fantasy adventure film franchise for the whole family.

To help realize the ambitious vision for the project, Acker and the film’s producers have assembled an all-star creative team, comprised of Weta Workshop and Mattel’s entertainment properties design team, to re-imagine the core characters and the world in a way that will appeal to a wide kids and family audience. The creative team announcements were made jointly today by Jeff Dunn, CEO of HIT Entertainment, which owns the Thomas franchise, and the film’s producer Julia Pistor, an industry veteran whose producing credits include the live-action films Charlotte’s Web and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.

Acker will direct from a script by Chris Viscardi and Will McRobb (Alvin and the Chipmunks), and Josh Klausner (Shrek the Third, Date Night).

“Shane is a visionary director whose talent for creating new worlds knows no bounds. He is the perfect creative partner to bring a unique interpretation of the Island of Sodor and Thomas to the big screen,” said Julia Pistor.   “The look and feel of the world and characters will be an entirely new experience.  Under Shane’s direction, we are excited about the opportunity to thrill and entertain a wide audience, and ideally set the foundation for the next great family adventure franchise,” Pistor elaborated.

Acker added, “It is a privilege to have the opportunity to bring a franchise that was a childhood favorite of mine to the big screen in a unique new way.  To me, the Island of Sodor was always a magical place.  Having the chance to imagine this world, Thomas and the other iconic characters in a whole new way will truly be an amazing journey. I look forward to offering an exciting new adventure that expands far beyond the borders of Thomas’ current world.” 

Acker directed the feature animated fantasy, 9, produced by his creative mentors Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov and released by Focus Features.  The film was based on his 2005 student film, which he co-animated, wrote and directed.

The design team charged with helping Acker and HIT Movies transform this franchise for the big screen represents some of the industry’s most in demand and acclaimed companies.   David Voss, VP of Mattel’s entertainment design group, partnered to give the narrative and visuals a franchise-minded structure.  “For us, an evergreen property like Thomas is a unique opportunity to both enhance and reinvent the characters to live across multiple media.  This is an exciting opportunity to take Thomas to a whole different level, while maintaining its core essence.”  Mattel will continue to contribute to the project in concert with the filmmakers and brand marketing teams.

Weta Workshop has won many awards including 5 Academy Awards for its work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and King Kong.  The company has also provided conceptual design, creature design, makeup effects, props and more for such films as Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, District 9, The Lovely Bones, and The Last Samurai.

Dunn commented, “Mattel is a major strategic partner for the Thomas toy franchise and integral to its phenomenal success. Engaging Mattel’s entertainment design team to re-imagine the toys for an older audience was a natural choice for our film production group.  Similarly, we’re delighted to have the expertise of Weta Workshop to bring state-of-the-art design to this compelling project.”

The new movie universe for the franchise will complement the continued robust presence Thomas & Friends™ has in the preschool arena.  Thomas & Friends is the Number One preschool toy property in the UK, a position it has held for the past 11 years.  It remained the Number One preschool toy license in the US for 10 straight years[1] and has been the Number One preschool home entertainment brand in the US since 2009[2].

Cinetic Media and UTA’s Independent Film Group are working with HIT on the finance and distribution plan for the picture.  Acker and Klausner are represented by ICM.

About Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop houses a range of disciplines under one roof - including conceptual design, weapons, armour & chainmaille, specialist props, vehicles, specialty costumes, models & miniatures, special makeup & prosthetics, public art & displays.  The team at Weta Workshop enjoys engaging in projects holistically, from the earliest stages of technical analysis and conceptual design through to manufacture across all departments and final delivery on set to anywhere in the world. Drawing on more than 25 years of filmmaking experience, five-times Oscar-winning Design and Effects Supervisor Richard Taylor is intimately involved in all projects from concept through to delivery.  Although best known for the company's design and effects work on award-winning film projects, including Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia and Avatar, Weta Workshop offers services to all creative industries throughout the world.

About Mattel

Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ:MAT - News) (www.mattel.com) is the worldwide leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of toys and family products. The Mattel family is comprised of such best-selling brands as Barbie®, the most popular fashion doll ever introduced, Hot Wheels®, Matchbox®, American Girl®, Radica® and Tyco® R/C, as well as Fisher-Price® brands, including Little People®, Power Wheels® and a wide array of entertainment-inspired toy lines. In 2011, Mattel was named as one of FORTUNE Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" for the fourth year in a row, and also is ranked among Corporate Responsibility Magazine's "100 Best Corporate Citizens." With worldwide headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Mattel employs approximately 30,000 people in 43 countries and territories and sells products in more than 150 nations. At Mattel, we are "Creating the Future of Play."

About Thomas & Friends™

Thomas the Tank Engine was created by a father for his son over 65 years ago and today is enjoyed by families in more than 185 territories and in 30 languages.  Thomas & Friends is the Number One preschool toy property in the UK, a position it has held for the past 11 years.  It remained the Number One preschool toy license in the US for 10 straight years[3] and has been the Number One preschool entertainment brand in the US since 2009[4]. The unrivaled popularity of the global brand continues with Thomas also being the Number One preschool toy license in Germany and Australia, as well as the Number One foreign preschool brand in China, Japan and Korea.  More than 55 million Thomas & Friends books have been sold in the US, and more than 30 million Thomas & Friends wooden engines have been sold. The Thomas & Friends website (www.thomasandfriends.com) has over 300 million monthly viewers.  As the number #1 Home Entertainment brand for Preschool boys, Thomas & Friends has sold over 45 million titles on DVD & VHS in the United States.  (SOURCE: AC Nielsen, 1/1/10-12/31/10). Each DVD release is consistently ranked in the Top 10 new releases for Children’s Non-Theatrical (source Nielsen) and many have received significant awards and recognition from organizations such as Parents’ Choice and KIDS FIRST!

About HIT Entertainment

HIT Entertainment is one of the world's leading independent children's entertainment producers and rights-owners. HIT's portfolio includes properties, such as Thomas & Friends™, Barney™, Bob the Builder™, Fireman Sam™, Angelina Ballerina™, Mike the Knight™, Pingu™ and Rainbow Magic™. HIT represents Chapman Entertainment’s Fifi and the Flowertots™ and Roary the Racing Car™ in North America, as well as Wallace & Gromit™, Shaun the Sheep™, Timmy Time™ and Aardman Classics from Aardman Animations.  HIT also acts as representative for The Wiggles® in the UK. Launched in 1989, HIT’s lines of business span television and video production, content distribution, publishing, consumer products licensing and live events and has operations in the UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong and Japan.  HIT is a part-owner of US-based preschool channel, Sprout®. For more information, visit www.hitentertainment.com.



Noelle Dong \ HIT Entertainment PR – United States                   

T: 646.467.5336 \ ndong@hitentertainment.com  


Patricia Lodge \ HIT Entertainment PR – UK & International

T: +44 207 554 2566 \ pldoge@hitentertainment.com


Jeff Klein \ Dan Klores Communications                                         

T: 212-981-5189 \ jeff_klein@dkcnews.com                                


Chris Day \ United Talent Agency, Corp. Comm.

T: 310-860-3723 dayc@unitedtalent.com

[1] Source: The NPD Group / Consumer Tracking Service

[2] Source: Nielsen

[3] Source: The NPD Group / Consumer Tracking Service

[4] Source: Nielsen