"It's the switch from a playful storybook to the real world that delivers the Unfairy Tales message." - Alex Danklof, Media Monks
At the end of March 2016, the firm 180LA created for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) a three-part animated film series, "Unfairy Tales," to put human faces to the stories of Syrian child refugees. The animations - true stories of the flight of children from conflict - explain why they fled and what their journey has been like. They have been animated in the style of a fairy tale and are supported by an interactive e-book experience also called Unfairy Tales. The Unfairy Tales are part of an initiative, #actofhumanity, emphasising that children are children, no matter where they come from, and that every child has rights and deserves a fair chance.
This online initiative uses an edutainment approach to bring real children's stories to life, hopefully creating awareness and understanding that children, no matter where they are from, deserve a fair chance in life. For example, 7-year-old Malak narrates her own story in "Malak and the Boat", explaining her fears as she got in a leaky boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea seeking shelter from the Syrian conflict with her family. Her narration is accompanied by simple animation, which illustrates her journey as cold water enters the ship and she fears it will sink. The spot concludes with the message "Some stories were never meant for children." (Elsewhere on UNICEF's website, the organisation details her full story, reassuring viewers that she and her mother were reunited with her father and sisters in Greece.) The approach is to juxtapose a presentation reminiscent of fairy tales with a grim reality. Likewise, "The Story of Ivine and Pillow" introduces the viewer to a 14-year old Syrian girl who lived through bombings that killed family members, and now faces new challenges in a refugee camp in Germany.
180LA co-executive creative director Eduardo Marques points to these stories' specificity. "These films highlight the human story and experiences of the young refugees and migrants, they aren't anonymous stories you can't put a face to," says Marques. "This is Malak. This is Ivine. This is Mustafa. By showing the children's stories one-by-one we ultimately build a sense of solidarity amongst refugee and migrant communities as well as the global community at large."
UNICEF has built on the initiative by taking the animated journey of one 13-year-old child, depicted in one of the three animations, "Mustafa Goes for a Walk" (see video, below), and turning it into an interactive storybook. Users can work their way through Mustafa's story, explore his surroundings, and have an impact on the narrative. In a voiceover, Mustafa describes the reasons for fleeing from his homeland, and the hardships and terrors he has endured along the way. (After bombing and armed conflict in his home town - and the chance his brothers might be targeted by warring factions - Mustafa is scared. "I keep thinking about what is happening to us. Are we going to die? God forbid!") The interactive storybook was created by digital creative production company, Media Monks. Creative director Alex Danklof says the idea was to make the user part of the story. "The user makes difficult choices like Mustafa had to do and takes the viewer from a passive audience member to an active member," says Danklof. "The viewer is immersed into the lives of the children in these stories, allowing them to really get a sense of the journey they experienced." Danklof says the intention was to tailor the experience to native digital behaviours. "The ways parents and their children interact with mobile devices are tab and swipe based. Following this behavior we didn't have to explain how to interact, so the focus is all about the story without any distraction from the user interface," says Danklof.
Like the earlier films, the storybook invites users to help with "act of humanity," asking them to share, learn, and discuss the refugee and migrant crisis. UNICEF asks: "Show an #actofhumanity towards refugee and migrant children and young people. Use #actofhumanity to share stories and inspire us and others." 180LA co-executive creative director Rafael Rizuto explains: "None of these stories end. Even after surviving...escapes[,] the children now face the challenges of living in foreign communities that may harbor hostile sentiments towards them. By leaving the films open-ended we're implying there is action you can still take. You can show a child an act of humanity."
UNICEF's Head of Communication, Paloma Escudero, says: "The stories of the three children are not unusual. At least 65 million children and young people globally are on the move - escaping conflict, poverty and extreme weather - looking for a more stable life and a place to call home."
UNICEF and 180LA, with help of animation houses Consulado, House of Colors, Bubba's Chop Shop, and Gilles+Cecilie Studio, along with Media Monks, which produced the interactive e-book.
"180LA Tells 'Unfairy Tales' for Unicef", by Erik Oster, February 3 2016; "UNICEF launches 'Unfairy Tales' of refugee and migrant children"; "UNICEF Makes The Syrian Conflict Personal With New 'Unfairy Tales' Animated Series", by Jeff Beer, March 29 2016; Join A Syrian Child Refugee On An Interactive Journey To Freedom", by Louise Jack, May 26 2016; and "Mustafa Goes for a Walk - One Syrian Child's Journey", by Malcolm G. Farley, April 1 2016 - all accessed on August 2 2017.