21 September 2008

Cartoon Creativity

Ramadan 2006; the typical khaleeji family gathers to eat and drink after a long day of fasting, followed by hours of being slumped at the TV to watch the regular, bland TV shows. TV shows that covered topics that have been over and done with year after year, offering nothing new.

But not this year; this was 2006, and something was different. Apparently someone thought that taking the khaleeji culture, turning it into a funny cartoon, and throwing in a few modern day topics seemed like a good idea. And a good idea it was; "Freej" instantly caught on with both children and adults, becoming an instant hit and appealing to the crowds that watched. Although essentially Emarati, all khaleeji's could somehow relate to this cartoon; the story of four old traditional women, caught up in the fast-evolving changing world that is Dubai.

All those originally from the region somehow managed to relate; the older people who had seen the Gulf countries develop from tiny villages and deserts to huge international cities, the teenagers who have brief memories of days when things were much more simple, and the children who have finally found a cartoon that has characters from their part of the world, rather than anime monsters and superhuman robots.

And yes, it was a creative concept; a cool breeze of fresh air in a region where Ramadan TV shows every year seemed to bring the same old thing. Although the viewers loved it, most TV show producers turned their heads. It was just a cartoon after all, why should they bother with such a childish concept?

Freej went on to grow with a marketing strategy to spread it's brand to dolls, toys, branded clothes, stationary and much more (and yes, they all sold like crazy). Freej was everywhere; in children's bedrooms, at your local DVD store, and the characters were even found in various festivals and events.

Now, the TV show producers started to notice; their initial impressions that this was a childish short-term thing were apparently wrong. Freej was one hell of a brand that was marketed right, and stole a niche in the Ramadan TV show market that no one even knew existed.

So what do we get for Ramadan now? A million different cartoon/animated shows.. Seems the producers figured that animated shows were actually the way to go, and so they just dropped all their effort into coming up with mind-numbing stories animated with the newest graphics and animation technologies..

Err.. No..

That's not what made Freej popular. It wasn't the fact that the animation and graphics were advanced. It was partly the stories it portrayed, the issues it addressed, the thought and passion of it's producer (who I have utmost respect for, way to go), which showed in every detail of it, from sound production, to script, to everything else.

But no, these producers figured they could just slap on some hi-tech graphics, and instantly achieve the success of Freej. Unfortunately most of them are total misses, try hard to be funny (and fail), and have stories that, although based in the region, are hardly related to anything here, and are actually a bit of a drag to watch.

The point is, this topic isn't just about Ramadan TV shows. It's about the Gulf countries in general; One GCC country achieves great success in building luxury resorts and properties, so the surrounding countries decide to copycat the concepts hoping to achieve the same success. One GCC country builds a Formula One track bringing in attention from the whole world, and all of a sudden 2 others want to build their own F1 tracks too. Tallest tower in the world? Nope, a few other countries decide they'll build their own tallest tower.

But it's all for the best right? We're all growing right?

Wrong. We're all biting at each other, and minimizing the chances for each others' success, rather than working together to help complement each other with different services and products.

And unfortunately, this trend of copycatting everything seems to continue. What we need is more original ideas. Why don't we see investment in technology? Science? Energy? Entertainment?

Creativity guys. Bring it on, that's what we need.


Wardat_il'7leej said...

Isnt this typical human nature and the whole "theory" of reinventing the wheel.

The mentality is...if it aint broke, then dont fix it.
If the cartoon works then make more, if the towers work, then bulldoze a few zones, if you can drive really fast then build your own freakin tracks.

Do I have a point? Then just comment(i am bored and it shows)

Redbelt said...

Thank you.
A real good write up, I agree with every letter.
Its good to see you posting real posts again.

ammaro said...

Warda; true, to an extent. But reinventing the wheel doesn't get anywhere. Somebody thought, hey, let's put some rubber on that wheel, put some metal on it, slap an engine inside, and boom, you've got cars. That's moving forward. What we're doing is just copying each other. Where's the development? Each gulf country is almost a copy of the others (besides the restrictive rules and so on)

Red: haha.. yeah... no, hopefully i'll be back now :)

Abid said...

"Each gulf country is almost a copy of the others"

I think this also is because the culture of the Gulf countries is more homogenous than other groups of coutnries.

For example, each European country has a distinct culture/language/traditions, whereas the Gulf is (mostly) all the same.

iNaar said...

Well I do agree with you ammar.. ramadan television drama started like a decade ago and gained popularity within the next few years, but I could not help but notice that a lot of these "television-series" depict the same exact scenarios with similar story lines. Claiming that these shows are meant to "showcase the social issues of our khaleeji times" well it just bothers me that many producers choose to show more of the "sucidal" "single parent" "all boys do drugs" issues over and over again. That is why the cartoon "fereej" came as sort of comic relief because it was indeed a breath of fresh air.

I personally hope that our current bahraini generation can come up with better and more creative things for the future. With the help of universities offering media classes in photography and film studies (which is hope to get into after surviving the application process), the doors are wide open for creativity to foster, believe me!

rosh said...

"It wasn't the fact that the animation and graphics were advanced. It was partly the stories it portrayed, the issues it addressed, the thought and passion of it's producer..."

True indeed! Freej season one had a soul. Season 2 was DXB-like, i.e. lotsa glam with little or no soul to the story. Stick to the basics, work on what captures a viewer's heart - not just what appeal to the eyes.

This is such a lovely post. Nicely written - nicely told.

soso said...

i totally agree with you .. all the tv shows nowadays are pretty much the same .. there's nothing new .. and if you noticed the arabic tv it's all the arabic version of different shows .. for example the biggest loser , mn sayarba7 al million --> it's even the same music and the theme :S:S .. star academy , superstar , they even tried to copy big brother !! lool it's funny coz this show is NOT possible to be casted here .. we're not that open countries lol
besides .. the egyptian movies are pretty much lame nowadays coz it's also the arabic version of american movies which sucks .. i think the problem is that no one really gives that much attention to this issue and people don't really bother to come up with something new coz it needs people who would give their time and effort it's not an easy thing to do

soso said...
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soso said...
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moon-light7 said...

Great post :D

I agree. Scattered efforts, millions r being thrown away, & lack of creativity! This is making us stand in one place, competing with each other, instead of moving forward together.

In Ramadan, I've always lamented the fact that millions r being wasted on 'cheesy' TV shows with no substance. Instead, it should be a collective, creative effort to bring the khaleeji community a respected show that the whole family can watch & enjoy.

Too bad they don't think this way! Come on Ammar! You're interested in directing, producing, acting, & film making in general, you could give your creativity a shot, who knows! Some of the most memorable shows were more simple in essence that we might have thought. Lack of resource is not much of a problem to the creative mind ;)

Woozie said...

You guys have Ramadan TV too? What?

Single and Fabulous said...

well written, an enjoyable read.
Unfrotunately, Freej is losing its audience as their new season seems a bit lame, dull and not funny at all like the first one.

It is true that we are copying each other here in the Gulf and i think it would be ages before creative initiatives take place around here . . it is good that we started being creative in the media, but I really wish for our countries to boost in other vital and crucial areas in order to be fully independent in the future and not be labled "3rd world countries" !

Dr. Shale bin Agnon said...

One person from a crappy little backward country got rich to another, at least you don't have our economy right now!!

icon said...

That is just like the same old song. Who would listen? Producers will not give a shit about this believe it. It made that huge wide success to some country so they won't think about it twice, they will only think about how big is the success they're getting, so no creativity, just the same projects, same ideas ..and what do they mostly get? nothing but failure.

Homers Secret Mistress said...

great post, and i do agree on what you have said, althou i must admit that i am a number one fan of shambeih in sha3beyat alcartoon:P

well as the first comment mention: "re-inventing the wheel", there is nothing wrong with that, you didnt see Walt Disney bring us Micky Mouse and stop right there, as if to say: "we have been creative: full stop". It continued growing. Growing slowely, yet growing nevertheless.

I say we just allow these "copy cats" to copy, at some point and within time another creative streak will shine, lets just not speak before our time.