The Prophet produced by Salma Hayek and animated by Roger Allers, who co-directed The Lion King, appeared on Netflix recently. Originally I’m pretty sure I had it confused with The Breadwinner. I have no idea why. I also had no idea what it was about, so unlike previous reviews, I was going in completely blind.
The movie is based on Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, a book of prose poetry focused on a man named Almustafa who gives talks about life, love, death, and other topics regarding the human condition. It’s Gibran’s best known work.
The movie expands the premise a bit: Mustafa, the poet and titular prophet, was imprisoned in a house for seven years and is freed. The movie follows him, as he is escorted to the docks to get on a boat home. Along the way he stops and talks with townspeople about different subjects and is followed by a mute girl Almitra who was traumatized by her father’s death.
The plot here isn’t important or the focus of the film. The focus is on the poetry segments, eight of which are featured in the film. Each segment is animated in a completely different style by a animator. Included in the film are the Brizzi brothers, co-founder of Cartoon Saloon Tomm Moore, Joan Gratz, and Joann Sfar who directed The Rabbi’s Cat.
They’re all very beautiful, and kind of surreal. And they’re very hard to describe. My favorite segment was “On Love” directed by Moore, which features two lovers who become infatuated by others and must find their way back together. The style has a distinct Middle Eastern flare that I think the other segments miss, a shame considering the movie’s setting.
When I first watched it, I didn’t know Moore was involved, but I was pleased since I absolutely love his work. It has his distinct style, particularly the geometric backgrounds. Everything moves so smoothly and there’s a beautiful contrast and symbolism in the colors. It is intense. The way the poem is interpreted musically is also great. It makes the entire movie worth it for me.
“On Death” by the Brizzi brothers was another favorite. It uses a hand-drawn, colored pencil style that relies heavily on colors to help set the mood. The colors don’t contrast but are more monochrome, which works nicely in this segment. It features a young maiden, or nymph surviving in the woods. I think it’s very beautiful and very surreal.
“On Work” by Joan Gratz with animation that utilizes an oil painting style where a farmer works to create something to give to his son to show how much he cares for him.
The other segments include: “On Eating and Drinking,” “On Children,” “On Good and Evil,” “On Freedom,” and “On Marriage” each have their own unique styles and are beautiful in their own way.
The only interesting character though is Almitra, who though mute seems to be able to communicate with birds and has a habit of stealing and getting in trouble much to the chagrin of her mother, who was taking care of Mustafa’s house. The fact that she can only use shrieks and grunts to communicate means she has to rely a lot on body language, which is great. Even if the movement of the characters in the non-poetry segments seems awkward and stilted, you can still see the emotions in their faces.
I also do not like Mustafa. He’s too good. People are inspired by art and poetry, and literally stop to greet him after he was imprisoned for seven years. While he was imprisoned unjustly, it seems odd to me how reliant they are on him for hope. It’s as though they can’t find it themselves. For some reason, this is so frustrating to me.
He’s too perfect. He doesn’t complain about his situation, he’s a pacifist and accepts his situation as is, and doesn’t try to fight. I won’t blame the filmmakers for that, since I assume, that was Mustafa’s characterization in the book but I find it hard to empathise with this kind of character.
My biggest issue is that this movie doesn’t seem to know who its audience is. The animation style and young protagonist made me think this is a movie aimed at children, but the content less so. The poems are about erotic passion, hard-work, and death. Not necessarily things that apply to children. And that’s fine. Animation doesn’t mean that it’s childish.
However, the animated slapstick comedy in the film also makes it seem as though that young children will see and enjoy the film. In this case, I think it would have been best to leave the humor out and cater to a more mature audience.
If you’re looking for something visually interesting or are interested in Gibran’s work check the movie out anyway. If you loved Fantasia then you’ll almost certainly enjoy this film.
The film as a whole, really isn’t my cup of tea. I appreciate the work that went into it, and how unique each segment was. Part of it, probably, is that I’m not too heavily into Gibran’s style of poetry. I prefer Poe, myself. But, this was a movie that was obviously put together with a lot of care and passion.
I just wasn’t the audience for this kind of narrative. But, truly, do watch it, even if you choose to skip the plot and just view the poetry segments, or one or two of them. I promise you will find one that you enjoy, and will re-watch again and again.