Cartoons for grown-ups, a new Ramadan trend

Amid the crowded soap opera programming during Ramadan this year, cartoons targeting grown-ups are gaining popularity. As a result, these cartoons are attracting the biggest stars for voice-over work this season, and have the traditional Ramadan soap operas fearing for their audience share.
Cartoon Akhbar
The cast from Frej, which revolves around the lives of four Emirati women.

BEIRUT, September 5, 2008 (AL-AKHBAR) - Cartoons for "grown-ups" began appearing in the Arab world only as recently as two years ago. Before that, the concept of the three-dimensional cartoon was always related to children.

But Arabic cartoons like the popular Bakar, which had been broadcast for eight continuous seasons on the Egyptian Satellite Channel, had become widely popular with children. And so the producers of these series in Egypt and the Gulf decided to have a go at addressing the adult market, whose audiences are particularly ripe for entertainment during the month of Ramadan.

Attracting big names

Yes, the scripts of these new cartoons are more adult and treat everyday "grown-up" problems while keeping the visual elements that attract the younger viewers. But what makes this phenomenon different is the fact that the stars of the Arabic film world are strongly attracted to voicing these cartoons because of the ease of production.

It means that many episodes can be recorded in a few days time, placing the greater burden on the shoulders of the producers who have to make sure that the characters are properly drawn and that the voice-overs are in sync with the cartoon movements. This is especially tedious work when you consider that some of the cartoon characters are based on the very same stars who are contributing their voices to the work.

So it is no longer strange for famous names in the Arab film and television world, such as Mohammad Henedi, Samir Ghanem and Fayez al-Maliki to be seen, or rather heard in these cartoons. Older stars such like Hanan al-Tirk have also found a safe haven in the animated world, where voice takes precedent over celluloid beauty.

The success associated with many cartoon sitcoms last season, has also stirred fierce competition between the channels.

Fierce competition

After the second season of the cartoon Super Henedi was canceled by Egyptian TV because producer Sharif Jamal of the production company SpaceToon insisted it be broadcast immediately after breaking the Ramadan fast at sunset – a time normally set for children – Dubai TV wasted no time in picking it up.

Seeing an opportunity to increase its market share in Egypt, Dubai TV launched Super Henedi two days before Ramadan.

Super Henedi.

Super Henedi’s plot revolves around a secret agent, based on the actor Mohammad Henedi, who performs death-defying stunts. It features guest appearances from other Egyptian television stars like Amro Adib and Amro Diab, and the Egyptian football team coach, Hassan Shahata.

It is the second "cartoon for grown-ups" directed by Sherif Jamal, after The Family of Mister Amin, which featured veteran Egyptian comedian Samir Ghanem, his wife Dalal Abdul Aziz and their two daughters, Dunia and Amy.

Another popular cartoon soap opera, also from Dubai TV, is Freij, which is in its third season and revolves around four Emirati women who reveal their social situations through the different relations connecting them.

Meanwhile, Sama Dubai is premiering Shaabiyat al-Cartoon, a social comedy treating the problems of the Gulf community through the lives of people from different cultures living in Dubai.

The popularity of these shows has also had an affect on production, with series producers rendering the cartoon worlds with state-of-the-industry 3D modeling programs. Freij, for example, was produced in collaboration with a specialized company in India.

If these cartoons succeed in attracting a bigger audience, it is likely that more will be produced in the coming seasons.

This article was republished with permission from Al-Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon.