Soneiaa fi Masr (Made in Egypt, 2014) is a New Century production that launched in cinemas in August during Eid. It’s hard to tell if it’s a kids’ movie that can also appeal to older audiences, or a grown-ups’ movie that can appeal to kids.
In 2011, New Century released a comedy for kids titled Amn Dawlat (Dawlat’s Security) starring singer Hamada Helal. The plot took a very similar track to Disney’s 2005 Vin Diesel vehicle The Pacifier, but contained a socio-political message that made the movie a bad replica. And Vin Diesel’s fan base is far bigger that Helal’s. It did poorly in cinemas.
These two movies, along with several other attempts at films for kids by New Century, such as Aaeilat Mikky (Mikky’s Family) and Geddo Habibi (Grandpa my Love) in 2010, bear similarities to the 1985 national television production Ethnan Aal Hawa (Two on Air) directed by Youssef Francis, starring Nelly and Karam Metawie. It was a wannabe kids’ musical about a working mother who tries to create a happy life for her sick daughter following the death of her father. Despite its melodramatic plot and Mettawie’s theatrically exaggerated performance, it contains some of the best musical sketches ever made. Asfouret al-Asafeer (Little Birdy), Kan fi Farasha Soghayara (There was Once a Small Butterfly) and Al-Torta (The Birthday Cake) skits remain favorites for many 1980s kids. But the love story part of Two on Air remains forgotten in the television archive.
All these middling productions share one thing: an uncertainty in terms of genre. They’re kids’ movies but not really kids’ movies. Fearful of limiting the audience, the industry created a formula that proves to be a failure every time: Rather than the craftsmanship and layered jokes and references that make great Disney movies appeal to viewers of every age, they make kids’ movies tainted with hard-hitting social lessons and/or tangled in romantic comedies. Producers aim to appeal to everyone but end up creating a disfigured entity that repulses all.
It also works the other way: Many recent grown-ups’ movies have a non-stop-entertainment quality, and subplots about children. In romantic comedy Matab Senaaei (Road Bump, 2006) by Wael Ehsan, Ahmed Helmy plays the lead, but his romance competes with his relationship with a little girl he looks after while her father is in a coma.
Made in Egypt, directed by Amr Salama, is about a little girl who wishes her grown-up brother Alaa (Helmy) would become a panda-like stuffed toy and that the stuffed toy would become her brother. And indeed, the lazy, crude deadbeat Alaa gets trapped in the furry body of a made-in-China panda he mistakenly imported for his toyshop, while the disciplined, hardworking panda wanders around in Alaa’s body doing good left, right and center.
Then, after the human/toy body switch occurs, a crush between Alaa and Ola (Yasmine Raees) develops into a love story. Up till that point the movie possesses all the elements that could make it a box-office success. But suddenly the screenplay starts straying from its original message and gets lost in a series of small ineffectual sketches, in which the panda (with Alaa inside) attempts to see Ola naked in her room and steals money from hardworking Alaa (with panda inside) to sabotage his new project to create Made in Egypt dolls. The film becomes a nationalist endeavor strewn with mislaid punch lines.
Alaa’s lazy mother (Dala Abdel Aziz) and step-father (Bayoumi Fouad) do little for the course of events. Two dimensional characters, they lounge in front of the TV and their existence in the screenplay appears to be solely as a source of quick, funny one-liners.
Despite all this, Made in Egypt may be the closest Egyptian cinema has come to creating a real kids’ movie in years. The colorful set design of the toy shop and Alaa’s 1970s-style house, with its art deco furniture and floral wallpaper, makes the movie impressively appealing to the eye, especially the eye of a child. Even scenes set in the amusement park and a mental hospital seem to belong to a fantasy-like parallel world, due to unreal vivid colors and retro design. The acting suffices, and the comedian Edward cameos with a witty portrayal of a spiteful, lustful and narcissistic neurologist. Finally, Amir Hedayah’s playful, funny and dreamy soundtrack, especially the prologue and epilogue, couldn’t have been better. Its melodies conjure up theme parks, Tom and Jerry episodes, and strolls in the snow.