Junior Nyong’o Stars In Showmax’s 1st Original 2D Animated Series Twende

Junior Nyong'o
[Photo/Junior Nyong'o/Facebook]

Showmax has just released an adorable first trailer for Twende, the first Showmax Original 2D animated series. 

Twende follows a pangolin of the same name, the slowest-moving animal in the savannah. “Twende’s belief that, ‘life is about the journey, not the destination’ is constantly at odds with his job as a boda boda driver in the bustling, fictional East African city of Milima,” says South African showrunner Greig Cameron, who also wrote and directed Seal Team, which cracked the Netflix Global Top 10 film list in January last year, as well as the hit soccer animated series, Supa Strikas. 

Twende’s pilot screened in competition at Annecy, the world’s premier animation festival, in 2021. MultiChoice Studios is handling international sales and will present Twende at MIPCom, the world’s greatest gathering of TV and entertainment executives, from 16-19 October 2023. 

Twende is voiced by Junior Nyong’o (The Legend of Lwanda Magere, Hamlet), while June Gachui (Crime and JusticeNairobi Half Life) plays his unlikely best friend and navigator, Nuru – a whip-smart bird who always looks out for her bestie, even if his chilled-out vibe drives her crazy sometimes. Fun fact: Nuru is a lilac-breasted roller, Kenya’s national bird.

Kalasha Awards nominee Elsaphan Njora (Super Sema, Kati Kati) voices Boss, the perennially broke and exhausted hyena who owns the boda boda agency where Nuru and Twende work. He’s a single dad with more mouths to feed than he can count. Fun fact: there are no fun facts about Boss, just sadness. 

The all-Kenyan voice cast also includes Charles Ouda (Crime and Justice) as showy stunt driver Kimbe and Mkamzee Mwatela (Mali) as Boss’s rival, Madam Mongoose, CEO of the evil tech empire Goober. Also listen out for Kalasha Awards winner Nyokabi Macharia (Super Sema), Joyce Musoke (Second Family) and seasoned voice actor and director Khaemba W. Edward (Ogas at the Top, The XYZ Show). 

Although poaching is not dealt with directly in the series, pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world and are now on the endangered species list. 

“It’s such a shame that this is happening to this amazing and unique animal,” says Kenyan executive producer Kwame Nyong’o (Annecy official selection The Wonderful Story of Aisha, Ali and Flipflopi the Multicoloured Dhow Boat), who was also part of the team behind the multi-award-winning Most Eligible Bachelor Tinder campaign with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy for the last Northern White Rhino on earth. “Twende is a super silly show, but we hope that, between all the humour and all the hijinks, our audience will fall in love with pangolins as much as we have and do their part to help protect them.”

Twende‘s creators Charlie and Regan Maas came up with the concept as they toured East Africa. “My older brother is always late, so we were constantly yelling at him, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go.’ And the guide started saying, ‘Twende! Twende!’,” says Charlie, whose ad agency career highlights include a Super Bowl commercial and awards at D&AD and Cannes Lions. “So his nickname for the trip became Twende the Pole Pole Man. We wrote the original theme song in the back of that Jeep and sang it about 100 times over the next few days.”

“Driving through Nairobi later, we were astounded by the traffic,” says Regan, nee Riskas, an associate producer on #1 box office hit Transformers: Age of Extinction. “We couldn’t believe the many matatu buses and boda boda drivers weaving in and out of traffic. That really left an imprint on us, so we started to imagine the slowest man on the Savannah driving a boda boda, and what that might look like. And so, in true Twende fashion, it took a long, meandering yet overwhelmingly positive journey to get from there to where we are now.”

Key to that process was leaning into local creatives. “If you want to accurately reflect the feel of the streets in Africa, you need people who drive on them daily,” says Charlie. “We knew we needed to go out and find the best African writers, directors and animators to make this.” 

That’s exactly what they did, in partnership with London-based Braintrust and Johannesburg-based Mind’s Eye Creative. Twende’s impressive credits list speaks to how African animation is having a breakout moment internationally. South Africa’s leading 2D animation studio, Mind’s Eye Creative have been quietly animating international content for the likes of Cartoon Network, Disney XD, Netflix, Nickelodeon and more for over a decade – work that has been recognised with Emmy nominations and iEmmy wins. Twende’s co-creators include South Africans Mike Scott, a Triggerfish Story Lab winner who has well over 100m views on YouTube, and Kayla Archer (DISCOP Animation Du Monde pitch finalist Hiraeth), while the all-star writing team includes Zambian Malenga Mulendema, who created Netflix’s first African animated series Supa Team 4; Nigerian Vanessa Kanu, who wrote on Supa Team 4 and the Disney+ anthology Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire; Kenyan J. Njogu Macharia, winner of ScreenCraft Animation Competition 2021 and Coverfly Pitch Week 2022 finalist; and South African head writer Sheldon Bengtson, a DISCOP Joburg Animation Pitch winner who was shortlisted for the Triggerfish Story Lab. Twende also features original music from legendary Kenyan producer and Kalasha winner Eric Musyoka (Rafiki), with a score by top South African music studios The Music Works, Phonographic and Pressure Cooker Studios.

The first 2D animated show of this scale and quality made almost entirely in Africa, Twende premieres on Showmax on 4 December 2023, with new episodes on Saturdays. Slow down and enjoy the ride. 

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