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Move over, Disney; African audiences want African stories

By Léo Pajon
Posted on Wednesday, 23 June 2021 08:48

Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters
Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters, directed by Adebisi Adetayo from a story by Stanlee Ohikhuare and a script by Ayo Arigbabu © Hot Ticket Productions

In Africa, the world of cartoons is booming. It can be seen in the success of the series ‘Kenda’, co-produced with the Ivorian company iMotion, and the Nigerian feature film ‘Lady Buckit and the motley mopsters’ (LBMM), broadcast by Trace.

The student delegate elections are beginning at Kenda’s school… Will the little girl and her friends choose Gros Jules, who offers them strawberry-filled biscuits (‘without any ulterior motives’) but cheats and spreads rumours? Or will they prefer the upright Adamo?

The answer can be found on Trace network that is co-producing the animated series Kenda with Stéphane Mendonça’s Ivorian company iMotion. Kenda (with 15 episodes each lasting five minutes) has been selected for the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival alongside Lady Buckit and the motley mopsters (LBMM) – a Nigerian animation by director Adebisi Adetayo that is also broadcast on Trace.

Their high-profile success is testament to the current buzz in the world of African animation.

Networks (African Animation Network, based in Johannesburg…), festivals (Accra Animation Film Festival, Abidjan Animation Film Festival, Fupitoons festival…) and more professionals are emerging on the continent. Meanwhile, the sector’s giants – such as Pixar – offer the services of local animators for production of their films.

Today, 95% of the clips consumed by our audience are African; that’s what people here want to see and listen to, not more polished videos from elsewhere.

However, there are many constraints in this emerging market. “Making animation is complicated, no matter where you are,” says Olivier Laouchez, CEO of the Trace Group. “You need to be able to rely on people who are highly specialised in their trade, to use sophisticated software… Unfortunately, there are still too few trained people on the continent, and there are no ‘hubs’, ecosystems that bring together talent, even if things are starting to move in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire.”

This emerging market also suffers from a lack of funding and structuring. “We must not forget that the development time for an animated film is very long, and that it is incredibly expensive,” says Laouchez. “Even making a trailer lasting a few minutes costs tens of thousands of euros! In Africa, few producers can put that much money on the table.”

Appetite for local stories

For transparency, the CEO agreed to reveal the budgets of the films in competition: €43,000 for Kenda, and about €655,000 for the feature Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters. These are large sums, but they do not compare with blockbusters like Disney’s that have budgets of about €123m each. Consequently, the quality of African productions suffers. Kenda does well because it relies on modest but masterful 2D animation. On the other hand, Lady Buckit (in 3D) suffers from garish colours, imprecise animations and sometimes saturated dubbing.

The fact remains, however, that these productions are right on target. “First of all, there is an appetite for local stories,” says Laouchez. “The public’s expectation is less about the quality of the image than about the quality of the narrative. I remember that when we started to propose African clips, we were told that they wouldn’t hold up. Today, 95% of the clips consumed by our audience are African; that’s what people here want to see and listen to, not more polished videos from elsewhere.”

“Finally, even though production times and costs are much higher than those of traditional fiction, animated films have many advantages. It’s easier to produce the same content for several territories, you just have to change the voice-overs…,” says Laouchez. “And animated works have a longer lifespan. They seem less dated than other audiovisual works.” See you in 10 years time to watch Kenda again!

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