Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (GKids, PG)

Kahlil 75It’s certainly a kid-safe movie as well as a great introduction to Gibran’s work for people of any age.





Kahlil 500

If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s, then you probably also remember a slim volume, The Prophet, written by the Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran. While not exactly a critical darling, The Prophet was a staple of the counterculture and found its way into many a progressive artist’s work (Sweet Honey in the Rock, anyone?). If you’re not that old, don’t worry, because the greatest charms of the philosophy offered in The Prophet include its simplicity and directness.

No background reading is required, in other words, to enjoy the new animated film Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, directed and written by Roger Allers. It consists of eight sections of philosophical prose poems woven within a frame story (the latter invented by Allers, as in the original narrative was pretty much confined to prompts like “Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death,” after which the Prophet would enlighten the townspeople with his thoughts on the subject at hand) using characters and large sections of text from Gibran’s work.

Mustafa, the prophet of the title (voiced by Liam Neeson) has been living in a foreign city for some years, under house arrest as he is considered a threat to the ruling powers. Kamila (Salma Hayek), Mustafa’s housekeeper during that time, has her hands full tending to his needs and watching over her mischievous young daughter, Almitra (Quvenzhane Wallis). The local big bads tell Mustafa he’s being released and must now return to his home city, but you can guess that they have something far less pleasant in mind.

The linking narrative, animated by Eric Prebende, is the weakest aspect of this film. The animation is acceptable but not particularly original (it achieves an old-fashioned, almost rotoscoped look), while the story creates an unnecessary distraction by making Mustafa into a dissident who clashes with the local authorities, as if audiences simply couldn’t accept a film without an easily summarized plot. Where Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet really sings is in the separate animated sections, which act like arias to the linking narratives recitatives and allow each of the animators to present their individual take on Gibran’s words.

Besides Prebende, the animators include Michael Socha (section “On Freedom”), Nina Paley (“On Children”), Joann Sfar (“On Marriage”), Joan Gratz (“On Work”), Bill Plympton (“On Eating and Drinking”), Tomm Moore (“On Love”), Mohammed Saeed Harib (“On Good and Evil”), and Paul Brizzi and Gaetan Brizzi (“On Death”). My favorite is Sfar (he also does the Rabbi’s Cat books, among other things), with Tomm Moore (whose other works include The Secret of Kells), but above all I appreciate the variety of different approaches to animation on display. It’s sort of like surveying the desert cart at a nice restaurant—even if you end up choosing whatever you always choose, an essential part of the experience is the fact that so many different (and delicious) treats are on offer at once.

The tone of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is relentlessly sunny, even when bad things are happening to good people, and it does feel sort of like “Walt Disney does Gibran” (Allers co-directed The Lion King and has worked on many other Disney productions). The intended audience seems to be school-age children, and it’s certainly a kid-safe movie as well as a great introduction to Gibran’s work for people of any age. Gibran was not noted for his hard-hitting prose, after all, and this film captures the essential sweetness and positive attitude characteristic of his work. | Sarah Boslaugh

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