Best Thomas & Friends Toys

Updated January 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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Buying guide for Best‌ ‌Thomas‌ ‌&‌ ‌Friends‌ ‌toys‌

If you have a young friend who loves Thomas & Friends and would like to learn more about toys on the market that celebrate the little blue engine and his cadre of companions, you’ve come to the right place.

Thomas the Tank Engine originated in the early 1940s in the mind of Reverend Wilbert Awdry, who invented the engine persona at the bedside of his son Christopher. Christopher was ill with the measles at the time, and Awdry sought to comfort his son with some fun train stories. By 1945, Awdry’s first book about Thomas the Train was published. Fast-forward 70-plus years and that initial seed idea has germinated into a beloved franchise.

Kids today can still read Thomas & Friends books. They can also watch Thomas & Friends TV shows and movies. In addition, they can own Thomas & Friends merchandise, and if you want to score big points with a young train lover, Thomas toys are the way to go. But which toy would be best? We created this guide to help you figure that out. 

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When choosing a gift for a Thomas lover, it’s hard to go wrong with a new engine. Before you buy one, find out which type of engine the child uses (electric or wooden) and which engines the child already owns — although some kids don’t mind owning duplicates!

Key considerations

Backstory and characters

If you plan to buy a Thomas toy, it helps to know a little bit about the character behind it. Thomas is a little blue side-tank engine with a kindhearted personality and lots of friends. He resides in a roundhouse called Tidmouth Sheds on the Island of Sodor, which was loosely based on Reverend Awdry’s experience on the Isle of Man.

Thomas’s friends

Most of Thomas’s friends are other engines, although he interacts with humans at times. Most of the engines have their own number and color, as well as a face, which appears at the front of the car and resembles a human face.

Many kids who love Thomas & Friends have a favorite engine. Here’s a look at some of the common favorites:

Percy: Percy is a green saddle tank engine who wears the number 6. He is a jovial train and Thomas’s best friend. His job is to deliver the mail.

Gordon: Gordon is a fast and powerful “senior” train who wears the number 4. He is blue with an adult-like face. Some view him as a helpful and good-natured older brother figure.

Henry: Henry is a large, fast green train who wears the number 3. He has been described as a “thoroughbred” and a bit of a “worrier.”

James: James is a midsize engine that can pull passengers or freight. He has a high opinion of himself, which invariably gets him into trouble. 

Emily: Emily is a dark green engine with gold trim. She does not have a number. She can be bossy at times, but she is a good friend to the other trains.

In addition to these main characters, numerous additional players take part in the story of Thomas. Here are just a few of the notables:

Harold the Helicopter: Harold is not a train at all: he’s a helicopter! Nicknamed “Whirlybird,” he appeals to kids whose interest in engines extends beyond the train tracks. 

Marion: Marion is a steam shovel who loves to dig. She’s a talkative gal who is prone to sharing her knowledge about everything under the sun.

Toby: Toby is a square engine who exudes an “old-fashioned” look and persona.

Troublesome Trucks: These mischievous wagons get pulled around by the various engines on the Island of Sodor. As the name suggests, they like to cause trouble for everyone else.

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Did You Know?
In some regions, you can see Thomas the Train live. Search for “A Day Out with Thomas” to see if any live events are coming to your area.
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Types of toys 

Now that you know a little bit about the backstory and cast of characters who make up Thomas & Friends, it’s time to decide what type of toy you want to purchase.

Train track sets: Perhaps the most popular and coveted type of Thomas toy is the train track set. These sets come with a number of track pieces that can be configured in different ways along with extras, such as one or more motorized engines, one or more push-along engines, and scenery pieces (windmills, tunnels, bridges, and more).

Battery-operated engines: A huge part of the fun of owning a Thomas train track set is the joy of configuring it and allowing engines to run their courses. The more engines a child owns, the more choices they have when making up scenes and stories. Bear in mind that batteries are required to run these engines, so if you plan to give one as a gift, a pair (or more) of batteries would be appreciated.

Wooden engines: These engines are enduring toys made of solid wood. If your child has a wooden track, wooden engines will complement it nicely. These engines do not run on battery power, but they still connect front-to-back courtesy of magnets built in to either end. 

Interactive toys: For toddlers and preschoolers who may not be ready to tinker with delicate tracks and small engines, a larger interactive toy with music and lights may be the right choice. Storytime Thomas is an interactive toy standing approximately 8 inches tall with music, lights, and stories. Count with Me Thomas is similar in size and invites children to count as they deposit ten large, easy-to-hold coins into a slot. Pullback Puffers are hand-powered plastic trains that come in the form of Thomas, James, and Percy. Plastic smoke rises and falls above their expressive faces as the engines move.

Plush toys: Unlike some other toy franchises, “plushie” Thomas collectibles do not permeate the market. That said, you can purchase some “pillow buddy” versions of Thomas, James, and Percy that may be used in pretend play and would certainly look nice sitting on a Thomas bedspread.  

Minis: For kids who love collectibles, there are more than 80 Thomas & Friends minis available. Minis do not run on track and are not interactive, but they are delightful to look at, and they capture the uniqueness of the numerous characters seen in Thomas & Friends media. You can collect a variety of minis without spending a fortune, and they look wonderful when displayed in a curio cabinet or on a child’s bookshelf.

Other toys: Whereas most of the toys we have mentioned thus far are made by Fisher-Price (owned by Mattel), other Thomas-themed toys exist, though they are a bit harder to find. That said, it’s possible to find Thomas jigsaw puzzles, coloring and activity books, storybooks, play tents, bathtub toys, and outdoor riding toys.

Some Thomas & Friends trains — particularly the rare and discontinued ones — are highly collectible and worth a fair amount of money. However, you’re unlikely to get rich by collecting the mainstream Thomas toys sold today.

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Pricing

Inexpensive: For under $20, you can find some excellent Thomas & Friends gifts that would definitely be appreciated by a Thomas lover. These include coloring and activity books, miniature figurines, and storybooks. Single engines made of solid wood tend to cost around $15, whereas battery-operated engines tend to cost closer to $10 or $12. Pullback Puffers and some interactive toys for toddlers and preschoolers cost under $20 as well.

Mid-range: For $20 to $40, you will find multipacks of engines, interactive toys geared toward toddlers and preschoolers, mini train collections, and plush pillows meant for decoration and play. You will also find some simple track sets with shorter track lengths and one or two bells and whistles, 

Expensive: Spend more than $40 and you’ll find elaborate track sets that offer exciting build possibilities, as well as some notable Sodor landmarks, such as Tidmouth Sheds and Knapford Station. You will also find a stand-alone replica of Tidmouth Sheds that can become a permanent part of your child’s setup. 

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Did You Know?
Thomas & Friends toys stimulate the imagination and thinking skills, and hands-on play can help develop a child’s fine motor skills.
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Tips

  • Remind your child to turn off battery-operated trains when not in use. Engines that aren’t turned off will continue to quietly run, and the power will quickly drain from the batteries.
  • Consider investing in rechargeable batteries for your trains. You’ll save money on batteries in the long run. Along with rechargeable batteries, you’ll also need a battery charger.
  • Consider buying an expansion pack. Although not flashy and colorful like a new train or plush toy, an expansion pack opens up a world of possibilities to the train owner who can never have enough track.
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Train track pieces from brands other than Fisher-Price may be compatible with your current Thomas tracks. Check for compatibility with brands including Melissa & Doug, Brio, and Ikea.

FAQ

Q. If I buy my child a new Thomas train track set, will it be compatible with an older track set we already have?

A. Thomas & Friends engines and tracks have been around for a long time, and ownership of the rights has changed hands from TOMY to Fisher-Price to Mattel. Considering the fact that there are both plastic and wooden trains and tracks available, the compatibility issue can be downright confusing. 

We advise potential buyers to read the product literature about compatibility before buying something new. However, Mattel has been very conscientious about keeping older items compatible with newer items. Often, this is achieved with the addition of small wood or plastic pieces called track adapters that slip between track sections to help them connect.

Q. When is a child too old for Thomas & Friends?

A. Some people never lose their love for Thomas and his friends. In fact, many adults have fond memories of playing with Thomas engines, reading Thomas books, and watching Thomas TV shows in their youth. That said, the toys available today generally appeal to kids from toddlerhood through the elementary school years. 

Q. How many batteries do Thomas trains require?

A. Most TrackMasters require two AAA batteries to run. Storytime Thomas requires four AA batteries. 

 

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