Review: Shaabiat Al Cartoon and Freej 6 track UAE's evolution with heart and humour

Both animated Emirati TV shows are back and, after almost 20 years on screen, they still provide zany yet clever takes on everyday UAE life

Provided image of Shaabiat Al Cartoon characters  Courtesy Fanar Production
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Children's cartoons may seem an unlikely place for real discussion of social issues. But in two of the UAE's longest-running favourites, that's exactly what viewers have come to expect, and what has woven them so tightly into the fabric of contemporary Emirati society.

That doesn't mean, of course, that there's no room for classic slapstick humour along the way.

For example, we may know the “natour” – also spelt natoor – as the maintenance person of our apartment building. But is that really all that he does? In the case of the popular Emirati animated series Shaabiat Al Cartoon, a natour's adventures may go far beyond the boiler room.

In the tenured hit, a natour has a side gig as a delivery driver, musician and rocket scientist. In last week’s two-part season premiere, Professor Natour, things get a bit over the top, but like all loving satire, the laughs stem from genuine conversations shared by UAE residents.

This is part of the reason why it remains successful year after year, having first aired on Sama Dubai in 2006. Its 18th season is currently airing nightly during Ramadan. Despite the technological advancements in animation, giving more definition to the already expressive characters and an almost 3D and somewhat futuristic rendering of Dubai, Shaabiat Al Cartoon remains true to its mission of providing zany yet clever takes on everyday UAE life and social issues.

Episode four, Shimbo, is an example of its deft approach. Telling a story about a vigilante resembling the main character Shambee roaming Downtown Dubai’s streets, the episode finds an insightful way to tackle the inherent dangers of identity theft.

In the sixth episode, Merab Hill Challenge, the action moves to the Liwa desert where, in an attempt to win a racing competition, the character Atooqa illegally boosts her car to such an extent it becomes a dangerous menace on the road. All of this might have come off too dry if it wasn’t for the winning humour and colourful Emirati colloquialisms dotted throughout the proceedings.

Much of the charm comes from Shambee, a lovable larrikin who, despite the occasional dim-wittedness, embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of Dubai, with a keen eye for spotting an opportunity and an inherent openness to other cultures.

For Freej 6, another Emirati animated series that began in the same year as Shaabiat Al Cartoon, the show's long-awaited return brings things back to business as usual.

This is a good thing, as the sporadic nature of the series, which returns to the small screen in Ramadan after a 10-year hiatus, still crackles with colourful takes on serious topics affecting UAE society.

Created by Mohammed Saeed Harib, the MBC series follows the lives of four elderly women (Umm Khamas, Umm Saeed, Umm Alawi and Umm Saloom) residing in a nondescript neighbourhood of Dubai as they come to terms with the evolution of modern-day society.

The detrimental impact technology can have on the social fabric of UAE communities is a theme in the first batch of episodes. The season opener, Gossip, looks at social media’s role in inflaming local tensions after an overly enthusiastic Umm Khamas is put behind bars for spreading rumours online.

In the two-part episode The AI Invasion, it is Umm Saeed who finds trouble after falling prey to a financial scam, purchasing a robotic vacuum that had her exposing her financial details to online crooks.

While more conservative than Shaabiat Al Cartoon in its treatment of these issues, Freej 6 remains engaging because of the mirthful banter between the golden girls. Nearly 20 years on since their first appearance, the enduring appeal of both series lies in their ability to track the UAE’s continuous growth.

Shaabiat Al Cartoon is available on and Freej 6 can also be streamed on

Updated: March 24, 2024, 10:15 AM