Review: ‘Iwájú’

In the age of remakes, reboots, reimaginings and revivals, new IPs are hard to come by. Even harder to come by are new IPs from the minds of new storytellers. Through an unprecedented collaboration with the Pan-African storytelling company Kugali Media, Walt Disney Animation Studios found just that in the six-episode animated series Iwájú. An Afrofuturist coming-of-age tale set in Lagos, Nigeria, Iwájú plays as a vibrant, fun and extremely fast-paced exploration of some relevant and timely themes. A decade after the studio rolled the dice on Big Hero 6, Iwájú feels like a thematic sequel infused with the spirit and culture of Lagos.

At the center of Iwájú is the innocent and effervescent Tola (whose spirit is brought to life by voice actor Simisola Gbadamosi) a 10-year old girl whose father, Tunde, has kept her sheltered and safe at their home on Lagos Island. Eager to experience the buzz of the big city on the Mainland with her best friend, Kole, Tola’s curiosity puts her in the crosshairs of the nefarious Bode DeSousa (Femi Branch), a crime lord whose fortune has been made running a kidnapping racket in which he extracts heavy ransoms from the wealthy parents of the kids he steals from the streets. For Tola’s 10th birthday, Tunde–a tech genius whose work with robotics and AI have kept him from truly bonding with his daughter–gives her Otin, a robotic agama lizard whose sole purpose is to protect Tola.

Eager to experience the Mainland against her father’s wishes, Tola and Kole head to the Ajegunle Market and, ultimately, Tola ends up in the clutches of Bode. While the plot plays pretty straightforward from this point on, the thematic exploration of the economic disparity in Lagos hits hard. Tola’s empathetic and upbeat nature are central to the story and allow her and Kole –with a lot of help from Otin–to prove their mettle to Tunde.

While it’s still mainly an outlet for Disney to roll out projects from its biggest studios (Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm chief among them), Iwájú reminds us of the full potential of Disney Plus. Screenwriter/director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola along with Kugali Media cofounders Hamid Ibrahim and Tolu Olowofoyeku meant to share their stories and the rich culture of the African diaspora with the world. Their collaboration with Disney resulted in a wonderfully fresh take in a familiar genre thanks to a passionate vision and the means to convey it through strong storytelling and a beautiful and creative visual environment. If you love Big Hero 6, you’ll find yourself drawn right into Iwájú.

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