Walt Disney Animation Studios has teamed up with a newcomer for the first time ever on a groundbreaking new series, Iwaju. Disney and Kugali have decided to collaborate to give animation fans a taste of what’s in store when the series hits Disney+ in 2023 at Annecy Festival. Disney and African entertainment company Kugali revealed new details about the original animated series which will be set in the futuristic world of Lagos.
Iwaju will include themes like class divide and inequality. “That’s the everyday reality of life in Nigeria and other parts of the world, and [themes include] the consequences they have on a society and challenging the status quo,” said Kugali co-founder and writer/director Ziki Nelson.
Disney Animation chief creative officer Jennifer Lee shared why partnering with Kugali aligned with her vision. “One of my initiatives really is that we, as Disney, can tell stories of the world, but by the people of the world. I was blown away by the storytelling. In many ways it’s epic… There were themes that I had never seen put together in that way, there were folklore that I had never had access to. Initially the idea was a series of shorts, but each idea was an epic feature, so we picked the one that we felt could translate into a series the best.”
Kugali co-founder and cultural consultant Tolu Olowofoyeku added, “Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria and what’s unique about Lagos is that it’s physically separated into two areas, there’s the island and the mainland. That means it has very unique problems that require very unique solutions.” She continued to say that the “strange but wonderful city’’ would provide an interesting base for the story and an “opportunity to give people a more wholistic view of Nigeria.”
Head of story Natalie Nourigat added that having a virtual story room with both Disney and Kugali talent was “a great way to introduce new people.” Her previous work, Disney animated short, Far From the Tree, debuted at Annecy this week and will play before Disney’s Encanto in theaters this fall. “This idea that we build a team that collaborates instead of drives in a way that diminishes Kugali was important,” Lee added.
Calling Iwaju‘s city a “Kugali-Disney mash up,” Kugali production designer and co-founder Hamid Ibrahim said, “The series design includes a mainland made up of huge towers, reflecting overcrowding, while the more affluent island has a lot of space and room for creative expression.”
The making and production of Iwaju involves talent working remotely from Nigeria, Uganda, London, Montreal and Burbank. Disney VFX supervisor Marlon West (Frozen, Frozen II) noted that it’s not just a team from around the world but from “all parts of their careers.” Lee commented that this teaming up is “moving the studio toward the future. There’s so much more we can do in storytelling if we could diversify our storytellers. … They have made us better storytellers.”
Technology is a crucial aspect of the setting, where the usage of smartphones and gadgets is extensively being replaced by the adoption of augmented reality glasses. Flying cars will solve many problems, helping people avoid flooded roads and even offering door-to-door delivery in high-rise skyscrapers. Not revealing too much about the story, Nelson said, “It’s really about that inspiration for aspiration and desire to try to engineer society forward in a more positive way.”