Ad of the Day: A Syrian Child Refugee’s Real Ordeal Becomes a Storybook Nightmare

180LA creates jarring 'Unfairy Tales' for Unicef

A heartbreaking new animation from Unicef calls attention to the plight of the millions of children suffering in the Syrian refugee crisis. 

"Malak and the Boat," a two-minute video, tells the story—in her own words—of a 7-year-old girl crossing the Mediterranean to escape civil war. Battered by cold water, she admits to being terrified she and her mother will drown. 

Storybook-style illustrations recreate the nightmare with ominous storm clouds and crashing waves; at one point, the sea even takes the the shape of a monster octopus. The ad is part of "Unfairy Tales," a new series from Unicef and 180LA, which pairs the actual journeys of displaced Syrian children with animations like the one in Malak's story.

It's an effective technique, even if some surreal instances of creative license—like the kraken made of saltwater—risks downplaying the seriousness of the message. But the tagline, "Some stories were never meant for children," drives home the point: No kid should have to go through this.

Design firm House of Colors animated the dark spot. A small clip of live action footage at the end, featuring Malak, signals hope for her future. Elsewhere, Unicef details her full story, along with that of her family. You'll be glad to learn that she and her mother were reunited with her father and sisters in Greece, but that her brother is in Germany—and, as the PSA notes, she misses her friends.

The United Nations organization will release a second video, "Ivine and Pillow," in March, along with other content in the "Unfairy Tales" series, to mark the five-year anniversary of the conflict's start in Syria. 

According to Unicef, 2 million children live as refugees in nearby countries or are on the run from the war. But as a result, more than 8 million children total require humanitarian aid, both inside and outside Syria's borders.


Client: Unicef

Film: "Malak and the Boat"

Ad Agency: 180LA

William Gelner, Chief Creative Officer

Michael Allen, Chief Executive Officer

Stephen Larkin, Chief Marketing Officer

Rafael Rizuto, Executive Creative Officer

Eduardo Marques, Executive Creative Officer

Dave Cuccinello, Creative Director

David Povill, Creative Director

Tamara Brown, Associate Account Director

Meredithe Woodward, Account Manager

Andy White, Social Media Director

Michael Allen, Account Planning Director

Natasha Wellesley, Director of Integrated Production

​Jason Lau, Art and Content Producer​

Meagan Phillips, Associate PR Director

Loretta Zolliecoffer, Director of Business Affairs

Florian Bodet, Irene Luevano, Bethlehem Herhane, Translators

Melvin Editorial

Dave Groseclose- Editor

Brian Scharwath- Post Production Manager

Animation House: House of Colors

Adhemas Batista, Designer Director

André Holzmeister, Script and Director

André Holzmeister, CGI

Adhemas Batista, André Holzmeister, Visual Direction

Edu Luke and Elisa Gatti for Hefty Audio, Sound Design & Music

Jonathan Marshall, André Holzmeister, Adhemas Batista, Character


Jonathan Marshall, Adhemas Batista, Concept Art

Jonathan Marshall, Adhemas Batista, Storyboards

Ricardo Almeida, Guilherme Neder, Animatic

Luiz Abud, Project Manager

Rodrigo Augusto, Render Wrangler

Rendering Sponsored by

RebusFarm GmbH / Reederservice

Edu Luke and Elisa Gatti for Hefty Audio, Sound Design & Music

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