Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET, animation, rated PG, Violet Crown, 2.5 chiles
Few books are as beloved as Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, a story of a sage entreated by a group of people while on a journey home from the city of Orphalese. In the book, which has been in print since it was first published in 1923, the prophet Almustafa dispenses knowledge to the group on the topics of good and evil, beauty, freedom, friendship, pleasure, and death, to name a few. A new, animated film version is a succession of segments based on chapters from the book. Each segment was directed by a different animator: Roger Allers (The Lion King), who directed the framing narrative, Michal Socha, Gaëtan Brizzi and Paul Brizzi, Joan Gratz, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Tomm Moore (The Secret
of Kells), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Cheatin’), and Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat). Despite all this talent, the visions of so many artists do not necessarily amount to a cohesive film.
If you’ve read the book, you’ll note some changes. The framing story involves Almitra, voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis. She’s a young girl who has refused to speak ever since the death of her father. Almitra takes an interest in Mustafa, a confined artist and poet in exile, and she accompanies him and his escort of soldiers to an awaiting ship that will take him to his homeland. Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson, imparts his philosophical ideas on the journey and gains such a crowd of followers, who flock to hear his profundities, that the authorities fear he will incite them to revolution and, so, sentence him to death. Neeson’s voice is, perhaps, a little too recognizable, and this is jarring. One is always thinking, That’s the voice of Liam Neeson. Meanwhile, Almitra and her mother, Kamila, voiced by Salma Hayek, who helped produce the film, salvage what they can of Mustafa’s art and letters for the sake of prosperity. Within this framing story, each director adds his or her contribution. The different segments illustrate Mustafa’s powerful lessons, which sometimes come off sounding like New Age platitudes or so much claptrap: “When you gather the grapes for the wine press, say in your heart, ‘I, too, am a vineyard.’ ” The visions of the animators, such as Moore’s trippy animation for Mustafa’s thoughts on love, are inspiring and inventive. Plympton’s segment (on the topic of eating and drinking) is more subdued than his own solo efforts are. But having so many guest directors who work in different styles is distracting, and The Prophet calls too much attention to this novelty. The film tells a rather simple story that gets swallowed up by the impressive visuals as each new sequence vies for your attention. — Michael Abatemarco