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Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet 

Wednesday, Aug 12 2015
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At last, here’s our animated film of the eternally popular 1923 prose-poem collection from Lebanese-American writer and wedding speech go-to guy Kahlil Gibran. Adapted by The Lion King’s Roger Allers, The Prophet comes pre-stamped with a Disneyesque blend of anglicization and reductive Middle Eastern exoticism, as dissident poet-in-exile Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson) enchants the puckish young daughter (Quvenzhané Wallis) of his housekeeper (Salma Hayek, who also produced the film) with a series of romantic philosophical sermons. Early on, the girl’s relative muteness is a plot point, at least in that it renders her a captive audience to Mustafa’s wise-man musings. Of course, these musings aren’t at all seditious, as the authorities in Mustafa’s unnamed Mediterranean village maintain, but they do get a little annoying after a while. So it’s helpful to have each little lecture illustrated by a different animator, which underscores the universal appeal of Gibran’s lyricism and alleviates the general condescension. Even at their most artful, though, the vignettes — by master animators Tomm Moore, Nina Paley, and Bill Plympton, among others — tend to veer toward bathetic literalism, reminding us how this sort of poetry prospers best in the reader’s mind. That said, the film accords well with its earnest source material. If in the long run it accrues about as much cultural value as a set of inspirational refrigerator magnets, well, we all need to eat.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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