'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet': Toronto Review

The Prophet
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A compromise unlikely to satisfy either kids or adults

A 'toon take on the third-best-selling poet of all time

One of the best-selling books of poetry ever, The Prophet has been in print continuously since its 1923 publication, dispensing parable-like wisdom on subjects ranging from marriage to evil to labor. Clearly a labor of love, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (an unwieldy title meant to emphasize the connection to a book sitting on millions and millions of shelves) takes some of these soliloquies and strings them together, with one cartoon storyline serving as a frame for smaller, less conventionally animated episodes. Lovely at times but something of a bore as a whole, the film's wisdom is too adult for kids and its story too simple for grown-ups. Name recognition and top-shelf (if underemployed) voice talent may secure it niche theatrical bookings, but reception will likely be lukewarm.

Taking substantial liberties with the book, which had little plot surrounding the lead character's teachings, writer Roger Allers has too little room for the kind of narrative that worked in the Disney hits he had a hand in (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast). The story is simple: Writer/artist Mustapha has been jailed for seven years for penning supposedly subversive content; on the day he befriends the troubled child Almitra, he is offered his freedom — with a catch.

This is just a frame, though, for the metaphor-laden advice he doles out to the people around him. These short films are occasionally gorgeous, often lovely: Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells) combines Islamic decorative motifs with patterns both inspired by and lifted directly from Gustav Klimt; Joan Gratz employs her William Kentridge-like evolving-painting style (she actually uses clay for the effect); Bill Plympton gets metaphysical about food; and a couple of episodes make nice use of geometric patterns.

Unfortunately, the style we see the most of is the least appealing one onscreen. The framing narrative uses computers to animate drawn-style images in a lifeless, cheap-feeling way, an aesthetic that doesn't hide the thinness of the action.

Gifted film composer Gabriel Yared offers a busy score that works quite hard to assist the storytelling in that central plot, often feeling like something more appropriate to a kid-flick made a few generations ago, when The Prophet needed no introduction. In some of the parable sections, his music all but drowns out the words we're supposedly focused on hearing (Liam Neeson delivers them, as Mustafa). In an elegant tango number, Yared leaves enough silence for the message to come through clearly; elsewhere, one wonders whether some of the parables mightn't play best with no music at all.

Production company: The Prophet Screen Partners

Cast: Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek-Pinault, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, John Rhys-Davies, Quvenshane Wallis

Directors: Roger Allers, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Joan Gratz, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Tomm Moore, Nina Paley, Bill Plympton, Joann Sfar, Michal Socha

Screenwriter: Roger Allers

Based on the book by Kahlil Gibran

Producers: Salma Hayek-Pinault, Clark Peterson, Jose Tamez, Ron Senkowski

Executive producers: Steve Hanson, Francois Pinault, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Julia Lebedev, Leonid Lebedev, Nael Nasr, Haytham Nasr, Jean Riachi, Julien Khabba, William Nix

Production designer: Bjarne Hansen

Editor: Jennifer Dolce

Music: Gabriel Yared

Sales: CAA


No rating, 84 minutes