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.
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★★★★ review by JC on Letterboxd
Thoughts post-TIFF *slight spoilers*:
This was one of my most anticipated films of the entire festival. When I was going through the film listing and came across this one, I knew I had to see it - and what better theater to see it in than the Winter Garden! Topping it off was sitting with a beautiful gal from Quebec City who I met in line - shame I'll never see her again.... It was also interesting that she was there solely from being Lebanese and knowing Gibran's book The Prophet, whereas I was mainly there as a fan of animation and intrigued by all the collaboration on the film.
This was directed by Roger Allers who also directed Disney's The Lion King and has writing credits with Aladdin and Beauty & The Beast. Although this didn't have the signature 90s Disney animation, the light-hearted narrative of the film sure felt like Disney - especially Aladdin as the little girl Almitra steals food from the street vendors and climbs rooftops, teaming up with a friendly seagull. Almitra's beautiful mother Kamila (voice of Salma Hayek) always has to watch her every move, and has no choice but to take her to work when Almitra follows her undetected. Kamila works as a maid and the house is shared with a political prisoner Mustafa (the calming voice of Liam Neeson), who writes poetry and draws artwork. Mustafa is soon "set free" from this house after 7 years - so long as he returns to his homeland.
Much of the film takes place on Mustafa's escorted journey back through the village on his way to leaving the city. He is stopped by many admirers who ask him about love and death and work and other general topics, which clumsily segway into one of Gibran's poems - each done by a different animator. This is where I found the most enjoyment as you got work from Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Blympton (Idiots and Angels), Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells), and many others. There's also great music from Damien Rice as well as Glen Hansard (from one of my favourite films Once). While, I'll admit, the Disney-like narrative around these poems was a bit too familiar, awkward, and flat, I couldn't help but soak up the nostalgia of feeling like I was watching a classic Disney film growing up. And with all the international flavours coming together throughout, my childhood and adult self both found something to enjoy. It also got pretty emotional in the room as one character finallyyy musters up the right time to speak...
After a dark & twisted Miike film and a wildly dramatic stage adaptation, this was a welcomed break from all the heavy-hitters. It's one that I could show to friends and family of all ages - but I think adults and knowledgable fans of animation would find more to appreciate than kids who may get thrown off by all the segways into poetry. I have now purchased Gibran's book and look forward to the revisit.
★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
"People of Orphalese, the wind bids me leave you." ~ Almustapha
I first became acquainted with the work of the Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran (1883~1931)when I was a sophomore in college in 1970. Like so many other children of the Age of Aquarius, I was enthralled by his spiritual prose-poetry and was a huge fan of his magnus opus, "The Prophet," published in 1923. Then, I had the wonderful good fortune to visit his childhood home in Bsharri, Lebanon in 1972 as part of a study abroad program.
High up in the mountains among the cedars of the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, the house had been turned into a museum, with Gibran's artwork covering the walls and his writing desk situated in a room facing the Mediterranean Sea. I was so inspired by the venue, I bought a copy of his book at the museum store and taped my ticket stub inside the front cover. According to the copyright notice, my hardcover edition from Alfred A. Knopf is the 77th printing, June 1966. Since then, that book has accompanied me to my own homes on three continents, and it is one of the few personal items I would want to grab and take with me in event of a fire.
When I heard in early 2014 that Salma Hayek was producing an animated movie version of the book, I was ecstatic. I continued to keep track of the progress of the film through its in-production preview at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, followed by its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It played several other festivals before it's limited theatrical release in August 2015, but never appeared on more than 35 screens nationwide before fading from cinemas in late September. Unfortunately, none of those screens were closer to me than Los Angeles, some 300 miles away.
So again I was thrilled when my local library indicated they were ordering copies of the DVD this year, and I hastened to become among the first patrons to request a copy on reserve. It arrived just two days ago, and now I'm sitting down to watch it with my 44-year-old copy of Gibran's masterpiece by my side.
"My words are my wings, and you are my messenger." ~ Mustafa
To make the 26 teachings of "The Prophet" accessible, writer-director Roger Allers sets up the story with a widowed mother named Kamila (Hayek) trying to raise her mute daughter Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis) in the port city of Orphalese. Kamila works as housekeeper for Mustafa (Liam Neeson), a foreign poet, painter and political activist who is under house arrest. In the book version, Almitra is a seeress, and Almustafa is a free man, but literary license must be respected.
When Almitra finally meets Mustafa by skipping school one day, the first of his lessons for her is that of "Freedom," which occurs about midway through the book. Then, he riffs on children, which is the third teaching of the book. Clearly, the various lessons have been rearranged to suit the narrative approach of the film, and that's just fine, as the original structure of the book was Almustafa randomly answering questions from those who had come to see him off, in no particular order anyway.
"A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body. A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me." ~ Mustafa
The film introduces a character called Halim (John Krasinski) as Mustafa's guard, who has a crush on Kamila. There's also a Sergeant (Alfred Molina) among the jailers and a superintendent called Pasha (Frank Langella). Some of the teachings, such as "Love," have been rendered as songs with accompanying visualizations, while others, such as "Good and Evil" and "Death," are spoken almost verbatim from the book.
Gibran's book is so expansive in its scope that, apart from a direct one-man reading, no visualization could do it justice. But this comes close, combining a variety of animation styles from dozens of artists and visual effects specialists. The soundtrack is a plus and, even if the "story" is a bit trite, the thinking shines through. I was happy with what I watched, if not impressed. It's well worth watching.
★★★★ review by Tasha Robinson on Letterboxd
This animated fable, incorporating bits of the philosophical poetry of Kahlil Gibran and bringing in a variety of talented animators (including Joann Sfar, Nina Paley, Bill Plympton, and Tomm Moore) to handle individual segments, feels a little too particulated and abstract as a whole, but many of the pieces are lovely, and the effort and affection for the material and the characters really shows through. This would really be something on a big screen.
★★★★ review by MichaelEternity on Letterboxd
This is an animated cliff's notes take on Kahlil Gilbran's famed poetry collection, not all that different from the book itself as it weaves a basic wraparound tale about a philosopher heading to a boat that will return him to his home country, musing wisely about a number of life's broad topics with those he encounters along the way. Aside from the animation (an attractive blend of minimal watercolor settings and what looks like lightly computer-rendered characters), the movie tries to aim this as kids by including a little girl and her mother (voiced by producer Salma Hayek, who seems to have been the one pushing this to get made in the first place). There's some pointless cutesy comedy with her and animals and a blustery, Cogsworth-ish police captain but not too much that it takes away from the spiritual power at the film's heart. The real sneak attack is casting Liam Neeson as the prophet Mustafa. He does most of the work here reciting passages from the book, and bravo for choosing him. If "Taken" opened our eyes to how paternally badass he could be, this movie opened my eyes to what a soothing, soulful brogue he has. He's always had it, of course, and has even done voice-over work before (as Aslan, in the English dub of "Ponyo", and as the cops in "The Lego Movie"), but I never realized just how valuable it could be. I suddenly want to find out if he's recorded any audio books and listen to them immediately. He's really gone the distance in his career, thinking back on it. Seems like he's tried just about everything by now, and succeeded on all fronts.
In addition to Neeson's hypnotic soliloquies, and the celestial beauty of Gilbran's essays themselves, the other reason this should be considered essential viewing is that each time Mustafa stops to wax philosophic for a while, the film drifts into a different famous animator's interpretation of the words. Unique artists like Bill Plympton, Tomm Moore ("Song of the Sea"), Nina Paley ("Sita Sings the Blues"), Joann Sfar ("The Rabbi's Cat"), and other international talents compose sometimes lyrical, sometimes abstract sequences that retain the gentle tonal throughline of the whole movie while captivating with indelible imagery and the artful liberty of short film form. It's pretty reminiscent of "Fantasia", assigning works of classic art to distinct animation styles. As a huge fan of those films, I may be inclined to over-state the effect of this one, so your mileage may vary.
But it's a noble, lovely endeavor of a film no matter how you approach it. Notwithstanding some minor comic relief, the movie doesn't condescend to its intended children audience, nor does is it aiming to just divert kids with wacky mania for 90 minutes like other big screen cartoons. Hayek and "Lion King" director Roger Allers intended this as an educational tool to provoke thought and wonder in younger viewers, and also maybe translate a book that meant a great deal to them personally into their own medium in order to share it with new audiences. Like something out of Studio Ghibli or anything really from animation film distributors GKIDS (they pick up great alternative animation like this all the time), "The Prophet" is a much different kind of animated movie, an all-around quieter, wiser, more adventurously designed work that may not land the big laughs, big drama, and big entertainment of a Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks blockbuster, but will no doubt make a longer impression.
★★★½ review by Monty Datta on Letterboxd
The Prophet is based on Kahlil Gibran’s novel with the same title. Roger Allers, the director of Lion King, handled this project. Salma Hayek was also the producer of the film. This is the most recent film that I have seen that landed on my best of list. Really surprised this movie didn't get much attention. It's heavily underrated even by critics. It's a must see film for all animation lovers. The story kind of took a backseat, but it is still solid. It has a great message behind it. It also has Liam Neeson's voice narrating some deep poetry $#!+. How can you not love it? This is a movie that both kids and adults (especially stoners) will enjoy. A love letter to animation.
#25th favorite movie of 2015
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