Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet
2015, PG, 84 min. Directed by Roger Allers. Voices by Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Quvenzhané Wallis, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Aug. 28, 2015
Based on the iconic book of prose poems haunting young romantics’ bookshelves since it was first published in 1923, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet has long been a passion project for producer Salma Hayek. She and director Roger Allers (whose Disney work includes The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast) have assembled an international group of animators to visualize Gibran’s life-affirming musings. Taken individually, there are segments that carry you along with profound beauty, but the film as a whole is too disjointed, the tone swerving from somber meditation to silly slapstick so quickly it feels like emotional whiplash.
If you are unfamiliar with Gibran’s story, here are the basics: The poet Mustafa (Neeson) has been exiled in the fictional Mediterranean island of Orphalese for 12 years as a political prisoner, his writings suppressed for fear of inciting the people to rebellion. When he finally gets word that he can return home, he makes the journey to the docks, stopping often to speak with the locals on subjects ranging from love, grief, friendship, passion, and work. Those segments are the film’s highlight, as each poem is animated by a different artist, including Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), and Bill Plympton (Idiots & Angels), and a few of the poems have been set to music, sung by Damien Rice and Glen Hansard. The problem here is the narrative framework (directed by Allers) that binds the film together. Allers introduces Almitra (Wallis), a young girl struck mute by the death of her father. She’s the town troublemaker, stealing fruit from the market and getting into all kinds of trouble with her seagull companion. Her mother, Kamila (Hayek) is Mustafa’s caretaker, and they join Mustafa on his journey through the province, along with a couple of bumbling soldiers. These segments play to the broad appeal of a younger audience, with pratfalls, mascot animals, and a light-hearted tone that is often at odds with Mustafa’s orations. Aesthetically, the animation is straight out of the Nineties, not a surprise given Allers’ history, but the juxtaposition between Neeson’s eloquent reciting of Gibran’s poems against fluid, experimental images and Allers' Disneyfied exaggerated physical comedy is jarring enough to break any spell the poems may have cast. If you are a fan of Gibran’s work, this film is recommended for those sections, just be prepared for some schmaltz to go along with the transcendentalist philosophy.