Half-baked animated fantasy Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a kids film for anyone who mistakenly thinks that the one thing that would improve animated masterpiece Fantasia is an overwhelming number of pretentious aphorisms.
Based on Gibran’s celebrated book of poems, The Prophet is a narcotizing fable about Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson), a political dissident who enchants Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), a careless but well-meaning little girl, with excerpts from his spiritual writing. Mustafa’s teachings are presented in a series of partly rotoscoped, partly computer-generated set pieces drawn by various animators, including Bill Plympton (Idiots and Angels) and Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells).
Mustafa’s teachings are supposed to be radical enough to make both an unidentified pasha (Frank Langella) and his military commander (Alfred Molina) feel threatened. But Neeson’s voiceover oration is emotionally constipated, and the excerpts that writer-director Roger Allers (The Lion King) cherry-picks from Gibran’s book sound like the ramblings of a cult leader: Neeson solemnly promises that “When you reach the mountaintop, then shall you begin to climb.”
Of the film’s team of idiosyncratic but somewhat timid animators, only Nina Paley (writer-director of Sita Sings the Blues) delivers a segment — traditional shadow puppets are plunged into a vortex of psychedelic abstract shapes — that is viscerally engrossing enough to bring Gibran’s writing to life. Paley’s segment proves that The Prophet is more of a missed opportunity than an ambitious folly.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
Written and directed by Roger Allers
Opens August 7, Landmark Sunshine