“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” is a lovely animation feature film decorated with eight different styles in one package. Supervised by Roger Allers, the co-director of “The Lion King” (1994), eight different animation artists freely wield each own cell animation style in their respective segments inspired by Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran’s famous book “The Prophet”, and you can just simply enjoy their styles and moods.
The main narrative holding the eight segments of the film together is initially about Almitra (voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis), a young troubled girl who does not yet recover from the grief over her father’s death. While she has been mute since her father passed away two years ago, she has also been a walking trouble to everyone in her town including her widow mother Kamila (voiced by Salma Hayek, who also participated in the production), and Kamila is frustrated a lot as she does not know what to do with her dear daughter. She does not speak even to her mother, and her only friend is a sea gull which is somehow able to communicate with her through sounds.
On one day, Almitra follows after her mother when Kamila goes to a remote house where she works as a housekeeper. A respected poet named Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson) has been held there under house arrest by the local government for many years, and this wise gentle man kindly approaches to Almitra when he finds her hiding in his study full of books and paintings. Although she keeps being silent, Mustafa quickly befriends her, and he tells her about how he can be still free in his own mind despite his restrained status. As Almitra listens to him, Mustafa’s words are accompanied with the first segment which is directed by Michal Socha, and we get dynamic images of a flock of different birds which are helplessly bound to a big tree but then eventually find a way to their freedom in the sky.
Nina Paley, who previously gave us small precious animation gem “Sita Sings the Blues” (2008), made the following segment, and her cell animation style influenced by traditional shadow puppetry is colorfully unfolded onto the screen as Damien Rice’s song “On Children” is played on the soundtrack. When Mustafa comes into a wedding party as he is being taken to the harbor by his guard and the local police chief, he gives the bride and the groom his sincere blessing, and Joann Sfar presents us a tender scene featuring a young couple dancing together alone at night.
We get more goodies as Mustafa continues to share his philosophy and wisdom with the people he comes across on his way to the harbor. Bill Plympton, who impressed me a lot through his wild, bizarre, and subversive animation film “I Married a Stranger Person!” (1997), delightfully spins his boundless imagination around a number of vividly striking images as Mustafa talks about eating and drinking as a part of the circle of life. Tomm Moore, the director of “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014), fills his segment with rich details to watch as “On Love” is performed by Glen Hansard and Lisa Hannigan on the soundtrack.
My favorite one is the segment directed by Joan C. Gratz, who won an Oscar for her short animation film “Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase” (1992). “On Work” is presented through her colored clay animation, and how colors and shapes are busily changed during its short time is a dazzling visual experience you have to see for yourself. In case of Mohammed Saeed Harib, his animation sequence smoothly flows with its simple watercolor style, and then Gaëtan and Paul Brizzi give us another fine moment to enjoy in “On Death”, which is the last segment in the film.
Compared to such a diverse array of styles and moods, the central part handled by Roger Allers feels rather flat while merely functioning as the frame narrative device for the others parts in the film. Although it is not deficient on the technical levels and there are some comic moments to lighten up the mood for young audiences, its weak plot trudges between the segments, and we often lose our interest as waiting for another segment to come. While Almitra is surely a plucky little girl despite her silence, there is not much surprise in her eventual change through her friendship with Mustafa, and the same thing can be said about a subplot involved with Halim (voiced by John Krasinski), a young soldier who has carried a torch for Kamila.
Nevertheless, the film works thanks to not only its enjoyable animation styles and but also other good things to be appreciated. According to Wikipedia, Gibran is one of the best-selling poets of all the time along with Shakespeare and Laozi, and it is definitely a pleasure to listen to Liam Neeson reciting the excerpts from Gibran’s book, which has been widely read around the world since its publication in 1923. Along with Gabriel Yared’s score, Neeson’s recognizable voice holds our attention during several highlights in the film, and he imbues the sense of humble dignity and wisdom into Gibran’s poetic prose.
While it is not entirely successful on the whole, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” is a recommendable animation film which is something different from usual blockbuster animation films, and I was entertained by its visual variety even while being impatient with its plodding main narrative from time to time. Its package may be a little too plain, but I can assure you that it will be rewarding when you unwrap it and then savor its delightful pieces one by one.