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Family Movie Review: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (PG)

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MPAA Rating: PG         Length: 86 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. The film is based off Kahlil Gibran’s book “The Prophet,” which is a collection of poetry and philosophical musings; although the film is rated PG, those insights about life, love, and purpose won’t really translate for young viewers. Tweens and teens may be more interested. There is some discussion of romance and the legacy of parenthood, some kisses, the discussion of a character’s death and the implied execution of another, a riot where people are beaten by police, and some illustrations that imply violence (a snake eating a bird) or nudity (like a woman’s pregnant stomach).

‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’ is beautifully illustrated, but the animated film is totally confused about its audience. Gibran’s philosophical musings are meaningful, but children will be lost.

By Roxana Hadadi

Children can handle philosophy, if it’s presented to them in a way that speaks to them: Dr. Seuss, or “The Little Prince,” or Roald Dahl. But “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” which is based on the book of poetry and life musings by the Lebanese author, doesn’t speak to children at their level. The book is hugely important (so much so that it’s never been out of print), but as a movie, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” mostly fails to connect.

There are a variety of issues here, chief among them that “The Prophet” isn’t really a straightforward narrative as a book. It focuses on a main character, Almustafa, but each of the stories about the poet acts as a little parable to share a life lesson, point of view, or thought about society and God. In contrast, the film is structured with one main story about the poet Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson, of “Taken 3”), who interacts with a young girl, Almitra (voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis, of “Annie”), as he is freed from house arrest.

Mustafa’s journey throughout the countryside of the fictional town Orphalese, where he has been under house arrest for seven years for his poetry, is punctuated with vignettes that animate his philosophy, but the dichotomy between those scenes and the main Mustafa/Almitra narrative just doesn’t work. It feels too cutesy – and honestly, too Disney-like – for a story that is fundamentally more serious than that.

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” opens with Almitra, who hasn’t spoken for two years since her father died. Her clumsiness and carelessness have alienated the villagers (the film’s opening scene borrows heavily from Disney’s “Aladdin,” with Almitra sneaking around her local market, stealing food for her and her seagull friend), and her lack of apology has pushed them to the limit. Also pushed to the limit is her mother, Kamila (voiced by Salma Hayek, of “Grown Ups 2”), who brings Almitra along one day to her job caring for Mustafa while he is under house arrest.

Almitra and Mustafa immediately see something in each other. She’s inspired by his poetry (“We are not imprisoned by houses or our bodies, not even by other people. We are spirits, free as the wind”), but when a police sergeant comes to release Mustafa from house arrest, she wonders: Are they really letting him sail home, or are their plans more nefarious? Together with her mother and Halim (voiced by John Krasinski, of “The Wind Rises”), Mustafa’s old guard who has a crush on Kamila, Almitra decides to find out whether Mustafa is in danger.

Interspersed throughout this narrative are strikingly animated, but fundamentally disjointed, vignettes of Mustafa’s teachings: one about freedom imagines a flock of birds being caged, then turning the wires of the cage into a tree; one about familial legacy sees cells dividing against a backdrop of Arabesque tiles; one about the nobility of all work, including physical labor, shows a man toiling in a field of corn. All of those colorful, detailed, fluid scenes are absolutely beautiful, but will children understand them? Doubtful.

And then there’s the question of Neeson, who doesn’t hide his Irish accent at all but is voicing an Arab character with dark skin, brown hair, and hazel eyes, who was crafted by the Lebanese Gibran, who clearly exists in the Middle-Eastern world world. The absolute strangeness of hearing Neeson’s brogue coming out of this character is jarring every single time he speaks, and will take adult viewers who are aware of this incongruousness out of the film. And aside from that white-washing, the film never makes clear what Mustafa has actually done. The government accuses his poetry of being a “danger,” but because we don’t see the negative effects of the government itself – are they oppressive, or are the people poor? – Mustafa’s role as an inspiration or savior doesn’t carry much resonance.

There is clearly veneration on the part of Hayek, for whom this film was a passion project that she produced, for Gibran’s text; the long excerpts of his writings and the attention given to those vignettes makes that clear. But how ill-fittingly those musings are tied with the film’s subpar main narrative, and the disjointedness of Neeson’s casting, make “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” more notable for its disappointments than its achievements.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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