Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saladin The Animated Series

It looks like Disney and smells like an American production where all the characters revolve around a plucky, courageous Alladinesque character with a heart of gold (or at least an untainted moral code).

What emerges as unique about this production is the POV. For those who aren't in the know, Saladin is really Salah al-Dīn Yusuf ibn Ayyub, founder of the Ayubbin Dynasty, an Islamic leader renowned even among his crusader enemies for his honor and leadership. He took Jerusalem back from the infidel Christians (don't it make a chill run up and down your spine, just saying it, my nominally Christian reading majority?). Saladin will focus on the historical figure's pre-Sultanate Crusader Ass-Kicking later days. The young Saladin is like the young Aladdin: adventurous, somewhat impetuous, and still discovering how his destiny is supposed to unfold amidst the generic and really powerful enemies he and his friends pick up along the way.

My first problem with this all-CGI animation attempt (made in part by the good people at Al Jazeera, no less) isn't even mine. I'm afraid that purist elements may be criticize the show for following what looks like a patently Western, Star Trek formula. All American (okay, Iraqi) leader and his band of merry misfits. Cynical thief love interest, cynical Christian ex-crusader best bud, trusted (if flawed) sidekick. All of them get thrown into the Adventure of the Week where the characters' characters are tested. And at the end of the day Captain Kirk-- er, Saladin-- pulls everyone's butts out of the fire and everybody's happy. At least until the next episode or story arc.

People who aren't officially part of the West's hegemony get touchy about borrowings and cultural contamination coming from the Evil Godless Amoral West. And many times they are right to be cautious. Uncle Sam has had a history of screwing with his allies who aren't white like him. But I can think of no better way to press the case for the essential commonality among human beings, especially to the children who will be watching this show.

We're trying to fashion a world where the only Jihad or Crusade that anyone should be fighting is the inner one: the eternal battle between good and evil within the self. And I know a show like this can help do just that.

My other problem with this show is wholly mine (mea culpa). My own adult foreknowledge has basically rendered me incapable of enjoying the show for what it is-- a show. I may enjoy the sexual and dramatic tension between the young Saladin and his cynical thief on and off girlfriend, but I know those two are headed for breakup city because she appears nowhere in Saladin's later (real) history. And what about his ex Crusader (token) Christian best friend? Will they have a major falling out over faith? Because he doesn't appear in the histories either!

When the show does air, I hope (though I doubt) I'll be able to catch it. As Disney-esque as it smells right now, it's nevertheless a breath of fresh desert oasis air. And Lord (oops, I mean, Allah) knows I need to experience something new on the tube.

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