In the 1980's and 90's, many Arab children's only exposure to cartoons were dubbed, American and Japanese animations like ‘Captain Majid’ or ‘Adnan and Lina’.
However, many countries in the region are starting to produce home-grown animations, providing Arab millennial children with characters and storylines they can easily relate to.
In the UAE, artist and writer Mohammed Harib and his team created ‘Freej’, a 3D-animated cartoon series about four older women facing the challenges of modern-day life in Dubai.
The husbands of the ladies are pearl divers - a centuries-old job in the Emirates - that kept men away from their homes and families for many months at a time.
The animated female characters speak with regional accents and wear a type of traditional Bedouin face mask, commonly made from leather, whilst the tips of their fingers are decorated with henna.
Harib believes that beyond being entertaining, Freej can also go some way towards reviving the heritage and legendary “strong” characteristics of the Emirati women of days gone by.
“Not much was said about the journey of our grandmothers who used to raise the kids and work for a living,” says Harib, “And when the grandfathers were gone for seven months, they managed to keep the family together. They’re very feisty by nature.”
Harib’s animation studio is now working on a new cartoon series focused on adolescent Emirati girls.
‘Waw and Friends’ will mix live action footage with 3D graphics, marking the first time a regional studio has used such a challenging technique.
“[The actress] needs to act to ‘nothing’, and in front of ‘nothing’,” says Harib,“And it’s our role as directors to really bring all of that emotion out and also make the characters believable and lovable.”
Waw, which is short for Wadeema, is a pre-teen girl who has imaginary friends and, like so many of her peers, she’s a big fan of her electronic devices.
With the series, the studio also intends to release a mobile app product line, such as a karaoke app.
“It is not only about making something very artistic, of course, you have to think about the commercial viability of your product,” Harib explains.