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Why Does Nollywood Need AntHill’s ‘Mikolo’ To Succeed?
Niyi Akinmolayan's latest effort is an animated children's film that follows a mythical creature's interactions with two siblings. It is an easy watch that bears heavy weight on its wings.
In Mikolo, a teenage girl, Funke (Pamilerin Ayodeji) believes in mythical creatures and because she does, the audience does. At first, they struggle to go along with it until the titular creature comes on screen and her interactions with him leads everyone to fall in love with him.
When the bird-like, CGI generated Mikolo is attacked and whisked away, Funke calls out his name in agony and the audience, clearly invested, echoes her concerns and begins to do the same.
They know his name and love him almost as much as the characters in the film do. Young and old, the cinema hall is filled to the brim with people chanting “Mikolo” and sighing simultaneously in relief when he is found.
Anthill Studios has a potential hit in its hands and the rest of the gamble is left to marketing, the Nigerian economy and the audience’s readiness to give Niyi Akinmolayan’s latest effort a chance.
With Mikolo, Akinmolayan and his company, Anthill, might have just found their sweet spot, a genre that allows them to be as imaginative as possible with the least possibility of multiple twists and turns venturing into an unlikeable maze for the viewer. The filmmaker and his people are ambitious and have previously served the audience with a platter of projects where sometimes, the ambitions do not match the eventual outcomes, or at least that’s how the audience often sees it.
That is not the case with this film, which has strong animation components. In this project, the vision is clear and the passion seeps through most of it. More importantly, the project has come at a pivotal time in Nollywood’s growth where the industry needs it to succeed.
Its success, if and when it happens, will open the door for more defined and audacious explorations in Nollywood on two fronts — first, the children/family entertainment market and second, the VFX/animation market.
The children film market in Nigeria remains underdeveloped for a myriad of reasons, especially on the side of suitable non-Nollywood options. The Hollywood titles do well but the margins are not much when compared to an adult franchise or big budget Nollywood films.
For example, three of the biggest children/animated titles globally are The Little Mermaid, Super Mario Bros and The Lion King: Live Action. Their individual cinema grosses is directly proportional to the number of adults who were as interested in them as the children and the local context, which is useful for relatability.
The Super Mario Bros made $1.358 billion and Nigeria contributed ₦69.2 million ($90,516) as of June 4th. The Little Mermaid made $567.5 million globally with Nigeria contributing about ₦137.8 million ($180,771) as of July 30th. The Lion King: Live Action made $1.663 billion and Nigeria contributed ₦316.1 million ($414,540).
When the Mikolo trailer was released, Nigerian film audiences raved over the context, the use of Nigerian languages and the familiarity of the characters. This is good news and should boost confidence in the film’s box office projection but Akinmolayan told In Nollywood, the Nigerian audience is interesting.
“The [response] made me feel like I know what I am doing. The Nigerian audience is quite a dicey one, you can be 100 percent sure of something, and you still have surprises… I was as surprised as everyone else; what it says is that people just want to see new stuff,” he said.
The film cost ₦120 million ($157,420) to make and has strong points to prove. As Akinmolayan puts it, success in theatrical distribution “will reveal something is here” but there is no clear base line to determine how much the film is likely to make.
The last attempt at making a Nigerian animated film for the cinema was Adebisi Adetayo’s Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters released in December 2020. It made ₦1.2 million ($1,574) in two weeks and was soon pulled out of the box office. Whether it was the length of the name, the audience’s struggle with relating to the film or the distribution partner choice, something didn’t work.
The animation wave remained under the surface until recently, with all forms of Computer Generated Images (CGI) and Visual Effects (VFX) attracting tough scrutiny by the Nigerian audience.
Across film industries, CGI is an interesting topic and fans are quick to point out bad ones, even in Hollywood where there’s all the expertise. In Nollywood’s case, there’s the twin problem of meagre resources and low interest. Simply put, very few have interest and are prepared to do it well and even then, they hardly have access to the resources they need. This is the second reason why Mikolo’s success would mean a lot for the industry.
Given how much the industry struggles with resources, new experiments have to show solid proof of concept before they are funded further. The proof is almost always box office and streaming acquisition success. Essentially, the question to answer is — how much is the audience willing to spend on this experiment and/or how much are platforms prepared to pay for it?
The CGI in Mikolo is not exceptional but there is clear growth when compared to the other works Anthill and similar studios have put out. With the industry’s renewed interest in CGI, especially its use in the slate of Yoruba epics presently making the waves, studios need more profitable projects that give them runway to experiment and build expertise.
If Nollywood is going to continue its epic and animation experiments, it needs solid dreamers and doers focused on these, and Anthill has made the boldest moves and experiments in this regard. The experiments need resources and proof that the audience is interested. Akinmolayan understands this and believes more is needed to entice investors. “You have to have something [more tangible],” he said.
A fundamental and important part of Nollywood’s future is riding on Mikolo’s wings and we hope the mythical bird can fly high enough.