Watching Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, Disney Plus’ new anthology series of short films produced by South African animation studio Triggerfish, you can feel the influence that Marvel’s Black Panther franchise has had on Disney as a production company. In Kizazi Moto, you can see how, after projects like Star Wars: Visions, Disney’s truly begun to embrace the reality that there’s a global audience hungry for fantastical worlds dreamt up by bold, new storytellers working outside of Hollywood like the various African filmmakers behind the show’s 10 episodes.
Though they all feel part of a whole, no two of the anthology’s shorts — imaginative, 10-minute-long modern myths and explorations of the many amazing shapes Africa’s future might take — are exactly alike. But something each of Kizazi Moto’s shorts has in common is an undeniable, unmistakable commitment to truly centering a variety of African cultures and worldviews without ever feeling the need to bend over backward in the name of making themselves “relatable” in Hollywood’s typical sense of the word.
Similar to way that Star Wars: Visions has felt like an astonishingly fresh reimagining of iconic stories because of how much freedom those studios had to speak in their own culturally-specific voices, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire is a collection of tales that are as distinct as they are informed by the sci-fi pop cultural canon.
“Mkhuzi: The Spirit Racer,” from South African co-directors Simangaliso Sibaya and Malcolm Wope — a high-octane action / adventure parable about a young boy who stands up to the speed-addicted aliens terrorizing his neighborhood by racing them — plays like a heady blend of Speed Racer, Redline, and The Phantom Menace. Nigerian-born illustrator Shofela Coker’s “Moremi” builds upon the legend of the Yoruba queen who saved her people from raiders by making a deal with a river god, only to discover the deity wanted her son’s life in exchange.
But more than just retelling her story, “Moremi” transforms its eponymous queen into a brilliant engineer and her son into a being caught between life and death, and Coker’s reframing ingeniously puts his characters in conversation with many of the ideas present in Frankenstein and the countless works inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel. Other chapters, like Kenyan animator Ng’endo Mukii’s breathtaking mother / daughter parable “Enkai” and “You Give Me Heart” — Lesego Vorster’s dazzling rumination on social media stardom — humanize gods by turning them into people defined by their anxieties about work, and how they’re perceived by others.
Despite their brevity and tendency to skew on the detail-rich end of things, none of Kizazi Moto’s shorts ever really feel like they’re in a rush or struggling to find the space to fit beats in. They’re compact, and more than a few of them come to a close in ways that viewers might be surprised by because of their lack of clear, straightforward resolution. But they’re also fully formed and whole in the sense that they don’t just feel like proofs of concept waiting to be turned into full-length features of a series, which is likely why it’s so easy to imagine any one of them getting that treatment down the line.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where, specifically, that quality of consistently feeling unrushed and solely focused on telling the story at hand stems from. But often, you get the sense that executive producer Peter Ramsey, and fellow executive producers Anthony Silverston and Tendayi Nyeke, deeply understood the importance of giving Kizazi Moto’s storytellers both resources and the space to deploy them as they saw fit.
It’s rare to see Disney-branded projects that don’t seem as if they were both workshopped within an inch of their lives and / or crafted with a mandate calling for them to be “universal,” which is really just shorthand for “appealing to white, western audiences by way of downplaying their cultural specificity. It’s difficult to imagine Disney not wanting the series to become a global hit. But in the way characters effortlessly code-switch between English and an array of other languages spoken across Africa, you can hear Kizazi Moto’s creators placing their realities at the center of these fictional worlds and inviting other people to appreciate those realities as sources of profound beauty.
Regardless of what kinds of sci-fi or style of animation tend to light you up, there’s more than likely something in Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire that will speak to you personally. It’ll make you wonder why Disney hasn’t been shouting from the rooftops that it’s putting out some of this year’s best and most exciting animation from outside the US, but even more importantly, it’ll put a whole bunch of exceedingly promising new talents on your radar.
The first season of Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire is now streaming on Disney Plus.