KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET
DIRECTOR: Roger Allers
VOICE CAST: Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek-Pinault, Quvenzhané Wallis, John Krasinki, Frank Langella and Alfred Molina
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
BEAUTIFULLY animated, this storified version of Kahlil Gibran’s celebrated collection of essays, The Prophet, does not quite live up to the sum of its parts. It flows when essay ideas are expounded on through haunting song and gorgeous imagery, but when it returns to the “story”, it stutters and stalls.
Framed around poet Moustafa’s (voiced by Neeson) journey from his prison to the Orphalese docks, the imagery works beautifully when he waxes lyrical on some timeless topic like love, food or freedom. But when it returns to the framing story is suffers because the narrative seems drab and clichéd in comparision.
As he moves down to the docks, Moustafa interacts with the town’s people, explaining his thoughts, leading the authorities to think he is inciting a rebellion.
Neeson’s sonorous voice is perfect for the poetic prose, giving it a necessary gravitas, and Langella pops up as a chilling commanding officer towards the end.
The film digresses from the source material by adding specific characters in the form of Kamila (Hayek-Pinault) who cleans Moustafa’s prison and her daughter Almitra (Wallis). Their story – the little one misses her dead father and acts out – and the bumbling attentions of prison guards, is not narratively strong enough to anchor the film. If this was an attempt to get children interested, then their attention will wane during the abstract sequences which explore ideas around death or marriage.
Whenever it segues off into a sequence expounding on a specific essay topic, adults will be transported and reminded of favourite passages from the book. Individual essay topics were directed by different directors, giving rise to animation styles ranging from rich oil painting-like to abstract Eastern-inspired mandalas.
Joan Sfar’s take on the marriage sequence incorporates a tango, while Damien Rice’s vocals for the sequence on children is the saddest celebration ever. And, yes, that is Lisa Hannigan providing vocals for the love sequence, but with Glen Hansard, not Rice.
The eight vignettes are visual magic compared to the Disney-lite narrative framing, so the whole thing eventually feels like it is dragging. This will work on dvd though, where fans of the original material can choose which scenes to watch at leisure.
If you liked the 2011 documentary The Prophet, you might like this.