Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Iwájú: A Celebration of Afrofuturism and Rich Storytelling

MEET OTIN — “Iwájú”, an original animated series set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria—a world bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos. Among them is Otin (voice of Weruche Opia), a high-tech robotic pet lizard with powerful capabilities. Kugali filmmakers—including director Ziki Nelson, production designer Hamid Ibrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku—take viewers on a unique journey in this six-episode event. Produced by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, and written by Adeola and Halima Hudson, “Iwájú” streams exclusively on Disney+ Feb. 28, 2024. © 2024 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Where to Watch: Disney Plus

Release Date: February 28th 

Season: 1

Episodes: 6

Starring: Simisola Gbadamosi, Siji Soetan, Dayo Okeniyi, Femi Branch, and Weruche Opia

Synopsis: In a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria, “Island Dreams” unfolds the captivating tale of Tola (voiced by Simisola Gbadamosi), a spirited young girl hailing from the affluent island, and her companion, Kole (voiced by Siji Soetan), a gifted self-taught techie. Together, they embark on a journey of self-discovery, unraveling the mysteries and dangers lurking within their disparate worlds. As they navigate through the complexities of their society, Tola and Kole unearth hidden truths that challenge their perceptions and redefine their destinies.

We’ve all eagerly anticipated the prospect of a Wakanda series making its debut on Disney Plus. Yet, until that day arrives, audiences have a really good alternative in Iwájú. Set against the backdrop of a futuristic Lagos, this animated series offers a blend of high-tech marvels, a celebration of STEM within a vibrant Black community, and top-notch animation that immerses viewers in its richly envisioned world. Walt Disney Animation Studios collaborated with the Pan-African entertainment company Kugali, founded in 2017 by Tolu Olowofoyeku, Olufikayo Adeola, and Hamid Ibrahim. This partnership has proven to be a resounding success, with Kugali’s mission to share African stories globally, paving the way for a significant impact in North America.

At first glance, one might assume that this animated series is solely aimed at children. However, I can say, as an adult, that you’ll find yourself engulfed in the series, whether watching with children or simply on your own. Within the first ten minutes, I found myself captivated by the backstory of Otin, a robotic lizard armed with non-lethal but formidable capabilities designed to safeguard young Tola.

IWÁJÚ – (Pictured, L-R): Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Toluwalakin Olofoyeku, and Hamid Ibrahim. Photo by Emily Shur. © 2024 Emily Shur. All Rights Reserved.

The Characters

Tola: Tola’s presence on-screen is simply enchanting; her adorableness instantly won me over. The 10-year-old has charm, intelligence, and compassion, making it impossible not to melt in her presence…I know I did. Despite her privileged upbringing, she longs for a more grounded human experience, evident in her eagerness to engage in everyday activities with her best friend, Kole. Her innocent wide eyes only add to her appeal.

Kole: Kole emerges as a beacon of intelligence and resourcefulness, reflecting the untapped potential of many young people who lack access to opportunities and face significant responsibilities. The creators astutely imbue his character with emotional depth and complex decision-making, leaving viewers eager to witness his growth in potential future seasons.

Tunde: As Tola’s father, Tunde embodies the archetype of the super-intelligent and wealthy engineer. Yet, beneath his seemingly perfect exterior, he grapples with the challenge of achieving a healthy work-life balance and providing for his family. His internal struggles add depth to his character, making him relatable despite his affluence.

Bode: Bode commands attention with his imposing stature, manipulative demeanor, and considerable wealth. He evokes shades of Michael Clarke Duncan’s “Kingpin”, albeit with a more ruthless edge. His ability to exploit weaknesses and manipulate situations makes him a formidable antagonist, instilling a sense of unease whenever he appears on screen.

Otin: While my expectations for Otin initially fell short, the character’s development in the final two episodes proved to be redemptive. Otin shines when fully functional, showcasing its diverse range of abilities. Initially reminiscent of “Rufus” from Kim Possible, Otin gradually reveals its unique role and significance, adding depth to the narrative.

BEST FRIENDS — In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, Walt Disney Animation Studios teams up with Pan-African entertainment company Kugali for “Iwájú”—an original animated series set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria. This exciting coming-of-age story follows Tola (voice of Simisola Gbadamosi) and her best friend Kole (voice of Siji Soetan). Kugali filmmakers Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim, and Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku take viewers on a unique journey into the world of “Iwájú”, bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos. Produced by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, and written by Adeola and Halima Hudson, “Iwájú” streams exclusively on Disney+ Feb. 28, 2024, in a six-episode event. © 2024 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The Animation 

The animation in Iwájú is truly stunning, seamlessly blending the characters into a vividly imagined cartoon world while still maintaining a sense of uniqueness separate from real-life environments and people. The attention to detail is commendable, with intricate textures in clothing and environments, as well as fluid character movements that enhance the overall visual experience.

One standout aspect of the animation is the striking fashion design, characterized by bold patterns, vibrant colors, and stylish outfits that perfectly complement each character’s personality. In particular, Bode’s henchwoman, Ms. Happiness, stands out as one of the most stylish characters, sporting a chic afro, sleek low-cut glasses, and impeccably curated ensembles that add flair to every scene she graces.

MEET TOLA – Set in futuristic Lagos, Nigeria, “Iwájú” is a coming-of-age story from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pan-African entertainment company Kugali. Tola (voice of Simisola Gbadamosi) is a curious and opinionated girl who’s eager to learn more about the world around her. Kugali filmmakers Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim and Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku take viewers on a unique journey into the world of “Iwájú”, bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos. Produced by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, and written by Adeola and Halima Hudson, “Iwájú” streams exclusively on Disney+ Feb. 28, 2024, in a six-episode event. © 2024 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Lessons in the Series 

One of the most commendable aspects of the series is its storytelling. While the narrative could have easily fit into a feature film format, the extended runtime allows the audience more opportunities to connect with the characters and delve deeper into their motivations. This approach mirrors the success of films like Meet the Robinsons and Mega Mind, where viewers are encouraged to empathize with even the most unlikely of characters, including the villains.

Iwájú skillfully explores themes of classism, poverty, and discrimination in a subtle yet digestible manner, offering valuable lessons without being overly didactic. The series presents these complex issues in a relatable way, making it accessible to viewers of all ages.

Conclusion: 

Overall, Iwájú is a great animated series that deserves recognition and, hopefully, gets greenlit for future seasons. It effectively balances entertainment with meaningful life lessons, earning an 8/10 rating on my scale.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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