African Tales: The Movie Review

AKA: N/A
Genre: Fantasy/Action/Drama
Year Released: 2009
Distributor: TransTales Entertainment
Origin: Nigeria
Running Time: Anthology, 3 short films, 12-31 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Sim, Black Panther, Malika: Warrior Queen, Scrapped Princess, Alias, The Secret Princess, Chika: The Rite of Perdition, Art of the Short Film
Notes:
-African Tales can be streamed on YouTube with the whole film or with the three shorts respectively.

-Shout-out to blkpride for making me aware of this animated anthology movie.
Fun Facts:
-This is the directorial debut of Nigerian animator Obinna Onwuekwe. Him and his partner Segun Williams created TransTales Entertainment going back to 2005. His other works consist of The Secret Princess and Chika: The Rite of Perdition.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: The Exterminator in the final short wears sunglasses during her mission at night. The musical reference joke writes itself.

Another example of Nigerian animation has appeared. I’ve been waiting to check this particular project and this would be the first time reviewing another animated work, but this time it’s not animated by Anthill Studios. This is by no means a knock on that animation studio since they’ve been doing good things in giving Nigeria, let alone Africa a shot at being in the global animation scene. I don’t want to be stuck with reviewing animated works from America, France, or especially Japan and this is coming from someone who has liked anime for most of his life now. I really want to see an African animation scene that could get recognition and be on par with what Japan and America has to offer. The fact I get to do this in my Black History Month series just makes way too much sense and I hope that the anibloggers who are a good chunk of my viewer base will pay attention even though some of them read my other reviews as well.

How does TransTales’ debut full-length film fare with other Nigerian animated works or animated movies in general?

African Tales is an anthology project with three unrelated animated shorts that take place in different environments.

The first film is Mark of Uru. This takes places in a fantasy setting in what’s presumably a precolonial Nigeria. There’s a girl named Azuka who is being hunted down because of cursed birthmark on her hand that resembles an evil sorceress named Uru. She’s rescued by a leopard spirit named Isi-Agu and his partner Etido who eventually raise her as she can’t go home lest she be killed to end said curse. She grows up around them and face many dangerous trials as people and spirits want to kill her. Azuka eventually teams up with a motley crew of outcasts. It’s great seeing Afro-fantasy works since Africa is a severely underutilized locale for the fantasy genre. The whole outcast aspect was something very relatable even though there were some weird twists with the secret trials of Azuka activating her powers. There was a good usage of traditional African instrumentation in the soundtrack that certainly felt epic. With all that said, I wasn’t a fan of the character designs as well as the animation. It was too herky-jerky and some of the characters look straight up ugly. What was up with the guy with the skull mask? He looked like a mix between Skeletor and Dr. Facilier from Princess and the Frog. I wasn’t a fan of the voice acting as there were unnecessary effects and I can tell there was obvious pitch-shifting in the vocals especially with the characters with deeper voices. I was also disappointed with the cliffhanger of the short and the promise that there would be more stories in that universe, but I haven’t seen anything else yet. That’s a shame because one could easily make a full series with Mark of Uru.

The second film is Enemy of the Rising Sun. It’s a war drama that takes place in Nigeria during a civil war. The two sides fighting are the Igbo and the Hausa ethnic groups. One of the soldiers Ikenna tries to defend his uncle despite being of a different ethnic group (the soldier is Igbo/Hausa mixed) which is seen as traitorous as he rescued that relative who’s part of the other side. He is now under attack and flees from the troop. A story covering civil war and tribalism is certainly daring as it’s sadly something that has happened in different countries before such as what happened in Ethiopia recently in the Tigray region or the Rwandan Genocide back in the 90s. Having a story like that in an animated context is certainly bold and I do applaud the story. Unlike the previous short film, there is an actual ending instead of some random cliffhanger, so that was a plus there. Unfortunately, the animation was worse as the CGI was poorly rendered. I’ve played games on the Dreamcast and the PS2 years prior to African Tales coming out and there was better graphics in some of those games than this short. There was obvious vocal pitch-shifting of the vocals and even some clipping that didn’t feel natural. The tribalism aspect was necessary for the story, but it got preachy with the presentation. The violence shown was just lackluster and didn’t have the right kind of spark for a war drama.

The final film as well as the shortest one was Business and Pleasure. This takes place in modern day Nigeria (presumably Lagos) where a female assassin is hired to kill someone she actually likes. This exterminator’s real name is Idara and she spares his life. This doesn’t sit well with her employers, so they send some goons to take her and the target out. Business and Pleasure did have some fun action in it and it was fascinating seeing an African markswoman around. Okay, she did look like some triple fusion between a rule 63 Raven from the Tekken games, Bayonetta, and Zoe from Firefly, but it was cool seeing a character like that existing. Besides that, there’s little known about her, so that could’ve lead to more storytelling. It didn’t happen though. This flew by way too fast and nothing was resolved. The short promised more on this story, but I have yet to see any continuation in Business and Pleasure. The CGI wasn’t desirable and the voice acting felt mechanical. Did they get vocaloids or bored voice actors? I wasn’t so impressed.

I really wanted to like African Tales since the continent deserves to have quality animation, but I was so underwhelmed. The CGI was dated, the voice effects were so weird and didn’t feel natural, and two of the stories were unresolved. There was a lot of potential with the stories and there were some unique things going for it like intergender fights in Mark of Uru or the critique of tribalism in Enemy of the Rising Sun, but I wanted so much more. Most of these things were average at best. There was some effort, but I felt that a higher animation budget, complete stories, and better voice actors would’ve helped.

Scores:
Mark of Uru: 5/10 points
Enemy of the Rising Sun: 5/10 points
Business and Pleasure: 3/10 points

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like short film compilations.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want pristine animation.

Pros:
-Unique story concepts
-Good soundtrack
-Positive representation of Black animated characters

Cons:
-Mediocre and aged CGI animation
-Lackluster voice acting and sound design
-Incomplete stories with Mark of Uru and Business and Pleasure

Final Score: 4/10 Points

Content Warning: I would say that these animated shorts would be fine for older children and up. There is a few cases of mild swearing in the final short film and there’s violence including some monsters getting beheaded in the first one, but it’s not as gory as one would expect. Some of the women wear skimpy outfits in the first and final short films. Concepts of tribalism and abandonment are mentioned in some of the stories. The monsters in Mark of Uru would scare younger children.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. African Tales: the Movie is property of TransTales Entertainment. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of TransTales Entertainment.

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