The movie “The Prophet,” screened at the Charles B. Wang Center Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 7, celebrates love, freedom and death through a series of visually stunning animated essays.
Mexican-Lebanese actress Salma Hayek spearheaded production of “The Prophet,” which is based on Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 collection of 26 poems about the questions of life. Director Roger Allers (“The Lion King”) and nine international animators carefully weave eight selected essays into a cinematic experience.
“The Prophet” retells its prose through Almitra, voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis, a young girl shocked into selective silence by her father’s death. Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson, is a foreign poet and political prisoner under house arrest. Almitra runs around town, stealing goods from the market and skipping school to the chagrin of her mother, Kamila, voiced by Hayek. Mustafa befriends Almitra after Kamila, his housekeeper, discovers Almitra has followed her to work instead of attending school. That same day, Mustafa is released on the condition he leave the fictional Lebanese town of Orphalese and reunites with the townsfolk who croon at his reappearance on his way to the port. Halim, Mustafa’s bumbling skinny guard, serves as comic relief in between the sermons of poetry. His repeated tough-man act combined with his head-over-heels feelings for Kamila leads some light-hearted moments.
“I have one thing that fills me with fear,” Halim dramatically whispers to Mustafa. “Expressing feelings of love.”
The film overlooks character building to focus on the breathtaking vignettes that depict Gibran’s poetry. We only vaguely know why Almitra refuses to speak and is known as the town nuisance or why Mustafa is imprisoned in the first place. “The Prophet” fails to build a world outside of Gibran’s words, and the little time spent with the main characters makes it hard to really care about their story.
The film also struggles to recognize its audience. Despite the Pixar-esque animations, “The Prophet” deals with heavy-handed issues of authoritarian government and censorship that may be too scary or confusing for a younger audience. Older audiences may itch for the juvenile dialogue to pass to the next animated essay sequence.
The truly exciting moments arrive when the scene transitions into another fantastical artwork, each time surprising the viewer with a different style. From Bill Plympton’s pencil sketches in “Eating and Drinking” to Joan Gratz’s flowing claymation in “On Work,” the poems become a feast for the eyes. Not an inch of screen is wasted.
Gabriel Yared’s original score, decorated with original songs by singer-songwriters Damien Rice, Glen Hansard and Lisa Hannigan helps with the modern rehashing of Gibran’s poetry. Their soothing baritone voices elevate the audience to a dreamy, entranced state with the artwork.
For art-lovers, poetry ponderers and philosophical musers, “The Prophet” is a must-see ode to the wonders of humanity. Those looking for a casual night in should opt for a Disney film instead.