Year Released: 2016
Distributor: Anthill Productions (streaming on YouTube)
Running Time: 4 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 7+
Related Films/Series: Plaything (upcoming series)
For Fans Of: Toy Story, Small Soldiers, Digimon, Eleanor’s Secret, X-Men (90s cartoon) Notes:
-Special thanks to Ben Richardson for getting me to randomly check out this short on a whim!
-Anthill Studios is the largest animation company in Nigeria. They’ve also created Adventures of Lola and Chuchu and the upcoming Malika animated project.
-Plaything was directed and animated by Eri Usumu and Nurdin Mamodu. Both of them are the lead CGI Artist and lead CGI generalist respectively at Anthill. Eri Musumu has also directed The Sim and was an autodidact animator.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Hold on…those action figures fighting each other are red and blue respectively. That fight gives new meaning to Red Vs. Blue, don’t you think? You’re welcome, Halo fans and Rooster Teeth fans!
My dear reader, this is a HUGE Iridium Eye first with this particular review. Everybody, this is the first ever African animation I’ve seen in my life and one that I’m reviewing right now. To be honest with all of you, I wasn’t sure if there was anything animated that was directly made in that continent. I have covered multiple countries with animated films and series. For starters, I like anime, so I’ve seen several anime projects from Japan. I’ve covered French animated films such as Ernest & Celestine, The Rabbi’s Cat, and Fantastic Planet to name a few. Latin America has been covered with Boy and the World (Brazil) and Vampires in Havana (Cuba). Even Ireland got representation all from the works of Cartoon Saloon with The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. This forced me to get out of my comfort zone to see if anything existed.
Ready? In the words of British independent wrestler The OJMO: “NOW WE PLAY!”
Plaything is about Ayodeji. He’s just your average boy busy with life, playing on his tablet, and gets bored. However, his discarded action figures somehow come to life in his bedroom and battle right in front of his eyes. What is Ayodeji to do with this phenomenon?
This may be a small CGI production that doesn’t have a big plot, but this was an eye-opener for me. The animation quality was very competent even if it was on the cartoonish side. The battling going on between the action figures is Hollywood animation quality with all these crazy acrobatics, frenetic pacing, and some nice parody elements of certain bigger movies (The Matrix, Star Wars, and the MCU). Plaything really delivers every second of fun throughout it’s run time and it will grab your attention once those action figures come to life. There was also a surprisingly meaningful artistic statement that wasn’t lost on the viewers when the blue action figure tosses a pencil like a javelin. The camera zooms in on the pencil which says “Made in Nigeria” as it whizzes by to strike the red one. That was brilliant as it shows that Plaything was made independently without any help from Hollywood while also having a sense of pride in their autonomy. Much like Lunch Time Heroes, one aspect that I liked more than I should was the fact that this takes place in what looks like a middle-class neighborhood at worst. The opening scene has a decent house in a suburban environment and there’s an Audi in the driveway. The environment alone would shatter negative preconceptions about Africa as it’s clearly not a mud hut or some shack near the Serengeti (which isn’t even near Nigeria at all). If it wasn’t for the aforementioned pencil scene or Ayodeji’s mom calling him to dinner in the Yoruba language, this film could’ve easy taken place in an American town, so there’s a nice universal theme that was present whether intentional or not.
Plaything wasn’t always a perfect example of animated playtime. For starters, it was way too short. Don’t get me wrong, Plaything never stops being a fun watch, but I wanted far more. I hope that’s the case when Anthill expands on this universe with more shorts, a TV series, or even a movie franchise. As I mentioned earlier, there’s not a big plot which would be a turn off for those who want something deeper. Ayodeji was also underdeveloped as a main protagonist. Sure, his room does give insight to his character with the action figures starting out in the trash and him messing around playing games on his tablet, but there wasn’t anything else more.
This Nigerian animated short was a very pleasant surprise when I discovered that African animation actually existed without my knowledge. The level of entertainment and fun is extraordinary even for a jaded reviewer like myself. Please, if Pixar, Dreamworks, or even Blue Sky animated this and had it as a pre-roll to their movies, people would eat it up no questions asked. I do wish there was more to Plaything such as a bigger storyline or more character development. I guess Plaything is like Shinesman for me in a weird way. Both were short, but they made their run time count with how exciting it was. I’m glad to know that Anthill stepped up to the plate to animate something. It sure beats so many Western companies trying to animate something that takes place in Africa. I’ll spare you the potshots since you know at least one popular movie franchise I’d bash with that last sentence. Hahaha! Way to keep the imagination alive, Anthill!
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1 point if you like great fight scenes in your animation.
Subtract 1-3 points if you like more mature animation.
-Universal themes of imagination aren’t preachy
-Incredible fighting with the action figures
-Destroys African stereotypes
-Way too short
-Underdeveloped lead character
-Could use a stronger storyline or worldbuilding
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Plaything would probably be on par with whatever’s on Nickelodeon, Disney XD, or Cartoon Network nowadays. The action is only limited to the action figures fighting each other with their own accessories and with various other objects in Ayodeji’s room. The blue one has a severed arm, but reattaches it before fighting.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Plaything is property of Anthill Productions. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Anthill Productions.