Exiled artist and poet Mustafa embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter; together the trio must evade the authorities who fear that the truth in Mustafa's words will i... Read allExiled artist and poet Mustafa embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter; together the trio must evade the authorities who fear that the truth in Mustafa's words will incite rebellion.Exiled artist and poet Mustafa embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter; together the trio must evade the authorities who fear that the truth in Mustafa's words will incite rebellion.
The two questions you need to ask yourself if you're wondering whether you'll like Kahlil Gibran's the Prophet are: Have you enjoyed Disney movies (traditionally animated, not the studio's modern Pixar-lite offerings), and do you like Gibran's poetry?
(If the answer to one or both is yes and you actually have an opportunity to see the Prophet, please stop reading and watch it so you can add to the discussion.)
If even Beauty and the Beast, every segment in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, or the Lion King (whose co-director Roger Allers wrote and directed this) left you cold, the Prophet isn't likely to convert you. None of the key staff except Allers, storyboard artist Will Finn and segment directors Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi have connections to the Mouse House, but the Prophet's main story looks and, for the most part, feels like a Disney movie: a simple, effective parable about the power of ideas focusing on a girl (Quvenzhané Wallis)'s relationship with a poet (Liam Neeson) whose words nearly led to a Middle Eastern dictator (Frank Langhella) being overthrown years before the movie starts. (The setting resembles 1920s Algeria, but is wisely fictional, its name drawn from Gibran's book.)
After an introduction that echoes Aladdin and a lecture from her mother (producer Salma Hayek) that resembles every Disney film with a living parent, Wallis's Almitra winds up at poet Mustafa's shack, where he's been living under house arrest for seven years. But today the dictator's sergeant (Alfred Molina) arrives to inform Mustafa he's free to go - provided he leaves his adopted home forever and renounces those dangerous words.
During the long trek from Mustafa's home at one end of the capital to the dock where his ship awaits on the other, admiring townsfolk stop and ask for his advice about a variety of subjects, which Mustafa dispenses in the form of Gibran's words.
Which brings me to that second question. When Mustafa begins sharing his wisdom by discussing freedom, Liam Neeson - as he will throughout the movie - reads the original poem verbatim:
"At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,/Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them./Ay, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff./And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfilment."
(You can read the rest here: http://www.katsandogz.com/onfreedom.html)
For my money, if you want to illustrate the power of poetry you can't do much better than Gibran, a Lebanese poet whose seminal work has touched millions around the world (including me) with its articulate, spiritual, multi-faith wisdom on 26 subjects ranging from freedom and work to marriage and children (the poems for which are all included here). I believe Gibran rivals Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare, but have also read that he's less well-known in North America than elsewhere, and that academics have a low opinion of his work. (Perhaps more importantly, none of my friends seem to have heard of him.)
So if you find Gibran's thoughts trite, you might find the movie off-putting as well.
That said, if you can approach it with an open mind anyway, you might still be carried away by the film's most artistic flourish: each of the eight poems used is illustrated by a segment designed and directed by a different international animator, including Bill Plympton, Sita Sings the Blues' Nina Paley, Secret of Kells director Tomm Moore, the aforementioned Brizzi brothers (who were assistant directors on Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Mohammed Saeed Harib, creator of a Middle Eastern TV series. Two are even set to music composed by Damien Rice and Once's Glen Hansard.
Unfortunately, as of this writing the film lacks North American distribution - which, I am equally sorry to say, isn't surprising because it's a difficult sell. While the Prophet looks and - again, for the most part - feels like a Disney movie, it differs in one key respect: it knows that in real life you can't simply throw a dictator off a building and suddenly bring peace to a country. Animation is still synonymous with kid's entertainment in too many moviegoers' minds, and while suitable for children, the Prophet isn't aimed at them: little ones are advised to watch it with a parent who can answer the questions they'll inevitably have once the end credits start rolling.
The film isn't perfect - I personally didn't like the music used for the "Children" poem (Paley's segment), and have read grumbling online about Plympton's illustration of "Work" (which I thought was great). Some of the main story's action is poorly timed, and its characters aren't always as expressive as they could be (a consequence of the cel-shaded 3D animation used to bring them to life). But the voice cast (including John Krasinski as a friendly guard) is terrific - Neeson especially is the perfect narrator - and if not everyone will love every segment, each ones' artistry is undeniable. Besides, if you don't like a given sequence, another comes along within a few minutes.
Bottom line: I'm thrilled this movie exists and amazed at what Hayek, who spearheaded the project, was able to pull off with a $12- million budget. It deserves a wider audience.
- Sep 7, 2014