The Other Side of Animation 45: The Prophet Review

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Well, my next couple of reviews will be of adaptations of books, and yes, I’m going to be on the side of the idea that a film needs to be for everyone, and not just for the vocal minority fans of the source material. I agree that the source material should be well respected in the movie form, but if it doesn’t make for a great movie, in terms of characters and story execution, then it doesn’t really matter. Like I have mentioned in a previous review, there is only so much that fan service can cover until the flaws show up. After talking to a friend and fellow film critic, I decided to make a chart of sorts as to what makes a good film adaptation and what makes a bad one. On the bad side, you have films like Green vs Red and Vampire Hunter D. Vampire Hunter D is a sloppy adaptation of the manga that doesn’t let the people, who have never heard of the franchise, into its world by explaining what the heck is going on, why things are as they are, or talk about many little details like D’s freaky hand thing. Green vs Red is a poorly put together special that focuses too much on making winks, nods, and references to the franchise, and fails in making a compelling movie. On the good side of the chart, you have films like Ernest & Celestine, The LEGO Movie, Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, How to Train your Dragon series, 1989 Batman, and a majority of the Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant Man. You can watch these movies and not even know jack squat about the source material. In that middle area of the chart, you get films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can still watch the movie, enjoy or hate it for what it is, but it isn’t a perfect translation from source material to film. So, with that entire chart now laid out, where does The Prophet rest? This film is based on Kahlil Gibran’s book of the same name. It was released in August of 2015, produced by Salma Hayek among others, distributed by GKIDS, and was directed by Roger Allers. If you know anything about animation, then you know Roger Allers was the co-director of The Lion King, and has worked on many animated classics and cult classics like Animalympics, Rock & Rule, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Little Matchgirl. Another noteworthy element of the film is that at different points in it, scenes will be animated by different directors, and we will get to who the directors are in good time. So, how good is this film? Can you watch it without knowing the source material, or do you have to get out your tablet and download the book? Let’s find out.

The story follows a young mute girl named Almitra, voiced by Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wilds, Annie). She is a little girl known for being a bit of a pest who upsets her mother Kamila, voiced by Salma Hayek. One day, Almitra decides to go to where her mother works as a maid cleaning up a house that is occupied by a “dangerous” criminal named Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson. Almitra befriends Mustafa, and the story then moves to Mustafa being deported from the country he detained in, and his many encounters with the townfolk as he drops them philosophical words of wisdom.

I am really excited to talk about the good elements of this film. During the philosophical essay parts of the film, each sequence is directed by a different director, and some of the essays are turned into songs sung by Damien Rice and the duo of Lisa Hannigan & Glen Hansard. Many of the essays focus on topics of love, children, war, death, marriage, and life. I know hearing the word “philosophical” sounds like you are about to get an earful of some angsty college professor or student thinking they are trying to make what they are saying deeper than it really is, but these essays actually have weight to them. They never sounded like they were aiming for something they couldn’t hit or a bunch of tripe that sounds important and deep, but isn’t. It all works pretty well when you throw in Liam Neeson’s calm and majestic voice. Neeson actually brings weight to the essays, and is just so soothing to listen to. I know it is easy to make fun of Liam Neeson due to his recent film endeavors, but he really puts his A+ game into this role. He makes Mustafa a very likable individual, who really wants to show the world there is a way to solve your conflicts without the need for violence. And really, that whole mindset is why he was a prisoner in the first place. He was bringing hope to people who are under a military rule. The government got afraid by his words, since they brought hope and optimism to the people they ruled over. Granted, the overall story is pretty lightweight, due to how it is really set up to focus on the essays, but you still care about the characters involved.

The animation is definitely a beautiful combination of 2D animation and CGI character models. When the film isn’t on an essay, the animation is CGI models on a 2D background. It sometimes looks a bit off, and the movements can be clunky, but it’s a consistently good looking cartoon CGI with pleasant designs. When it gets to the essays, each one is a different art style, with the directors pulling off amazingly beautiful sequences. Seriously, this is some of the best animation you will see in this decade. It is filled with so much passion and love that you can tell the creators put their all into each sequence. The directors for these moments include Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (Asterix Versus Casesar, DuckTales the Movie, TaleSpin, A Goofy movie, Tarzan, Enchanted, and 9), Joan C. Gratz (Candyjam, Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase, Lost and Found, and Kubla Khan), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Idiots & Angels, I Married a Strange Person, Cheatin’, and Mutant Aliens), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), and Michal Socha (Chick and Loop). You have some pretty amazing powerhouses here, who have all worked on films with wildly different visuals and styles, and they put their own touches into each of the sequences. The voice acting is also pretty good, with a solid cast including Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Joh Keasinski, and Frank Langella.

If I had to nitpick a few elements of this film, it would be that Quvenzhane Wallis’s acting is not the best. Her voice acting is a bit clunky, and I can forgive this since this was probably her first time doing voicework. I also found a few lines to stick out too much due to how timeless the rest of the film feels. It’s not DreamWorks pop culture lingo bad or anything close to that, but they stick out nonetheless. I also wish the entire film was 2D animated. Like I said, the CGI character models are nice and do have expressive and fluid animation, but when it gets a little clunky, it’s noticeable. Still, I have seen CGI animation at its clumsiest, so I can give it a pass. Really, these minor complaints don’t take away a lot from the overall film.

To me, The Prophet is a fantastic movie, with likable characters, deep messages, and astounding animation. If you can get the film, I highly recommend doing so. I would consider it a new modern classic that everyone should check out. It’s so much more ambitious and different than what we usually get to see today, and shows how amazing the field of animation can be. This is definitely one of GKIDS’ best films. Well, next time, we go from well done philosophy, to one of the worst adaptations in film history with Tarzan. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and see you all next time

Rating: Criterion/Essenstials

The Other Side of Animation: The Rabbi’s Cat Review

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Among the animated films I was going to review on The Other Side of Animation, I think The Rabbi’s Cat was one I was most curious about. Out of all the films GKIDS distribute, this one stands out for many reasons. The Rabbi’s Cat was directed by Joann Sfar, the director behind Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, The Rabbi’s Cat was released back in 2011 to positive reviews. The big reason this film stands out though is because when it was brought over here in the states. It’s a film that is drenched in heavy conversations revolving around religion, and it’s one of the few films that GKIDs has helped distribute that has no English casting. It’s all in subtitles. It’s also a rather weird and unique film. I mean, it’s unique in the sense of the themes that are tackled in an animated film. So, is this film a gem? Or should you scoop it out of the litter box and throw it away? Let’s find out!

The story takes place during the 1920s in Algeria, and revolves around a rabbi, voiced by Maurice Bènichou, and his cat. After walking home one day, his cat, in an honestly clever way, gains the ability to talk after eating a parrot. The cat is voiced by François Morel, and ends up being rather cynical about religion and some of the themes revolving around it. However, at the same time, he worries that he isn’t a full Jew, but is curious about Judaism, and wants his own bar mitzvah. Outside of that main plot, the story also revolves around the interaction between the rabbi and a Russian Jew, and a journey to find the origin of black Jews in Africa.

As you can tell, the story has a lot of little plots that fill the 90-minute runtime. Maybe it’s because each of the plots is based around individual books that this film is based on. It also results in a film that doesn’t have a traditional three act structure. This is both good and bad, but let’s talk about the good. Due to the story not having a strict flowing narrative, it gains the ability to go at its own pace and have the characters shoot the breeze and talk about the ins and out of Judaism. I wouldn’t say it’s a full-on educational film, and definitely nothing on the level of those terrible Veggie Tale shows, but I think seeing the insight of the characters and their opinions on Judaism is interesting. I don’t mind films that are of mostly shooting the breeze/waxing philosophical conversations, but you have to make them interesting, or else it feels pretentious and time wasting. Luckily, for me at least, I enjoyed hearing the individual characters talk to one another. It was a film where I could lay back, enjoy the visuals, and hear interesting characters talk to one another. Seeing the struggles, the nerves, the happy moments, the shocking moments, and the funny moments are enjoyable.

The animation and designs are huge elements that make this film pop. The lining is thin, and it has a very doodle-style look to everyone. The entire look of the film reminds me of something from artists that I know about, like Sam Hurt. The animation is still very expressive and result in giving individuals a lot of personality. I even like the design behind one of the main female characters, the rabbi’s daughter, who is voiced by Hafsia Herzi. She has a voluptuous design, but nothing like Jessica Rabbit or the male pandering women of anime. She is rather beautiful in that regard. She isn’t some stereotypical-looking girl. She actually has a curvy body that is probably more realistic in terms of how actual curvy women look in real life. I don’t mean to make a big deal about this one character, but it’s refreshing that it isn’t some sexualized design or some typical Disney design. I also think having the film be in its original language was a good idea. I don’t think having an English cast would make much sense in terms of some of the story elements, like how the Russian Jew is not understandable to the rabbi and his cohorts. Plus, I think finding actors for this film would have been very tricky. Sometimes, just a good translation with subtitles is good enough. I’m also glad this film is not one-sided with the topics of religion. It has multiple opinions on the subject, and I never felt like it leaned toward one side or another. However, that could just be me, since I am not fully educated on such topics.

With that being said, I do think the no “three act structure” narrative is part of the film’s problems. The film has little focus, and has multiple stories happening at once, from the rabbi’s test, the discovery of the Russian Jew, to the origin of African Jews. It’s nice for the film to take its time and have interesting characters, but maybe having one big plot would have been better than multiple little plots. I also found some sudden scenes of violence were not really needed. In the film, you meet a rather drunk and volatile character who ends up killing someone, right before he himself is killed when they are in Africa. It comes out of nowhere, and it feels out of place. I also found the ending to be odd and disappointing all at once. Later in the journey into Africa, only the young Russian male, his new wife, and the cat actually find the original birthplace of African Judaism. The artstyle definitely changes in an obvious way to look more like a Farside comic than what we have been seeing for the majority of the film. The ending journey just feels underwhelming, since not everyone got to the location, and we never see them make it back to Algeria. This is like how The Sopranos and Lost had really weak endings. they had huge things building up, but the punchline or end result was less than stellar. Why does the Russian guy not tell the rabbi that they found the birthplace of Judaism? Why not show them? Why was the cat suddenly so interested in his bar mitzvah when for a good chunk of the film never brought it up? Why can’t we see what happens to them when they get back? Do they get back to Algeria?

Even with my problem with the ending and some pacing, I really like this movie. Instead of following a stereotypical route or formula, the film tried something different, and for the most part, it succeeded. It might be odd, and I can understand if some people can’t get into this film due to the themes, but it’s something different. The Blu-ray combo pack will probably run you at $25. For a film that is rather original, it’s definitely worth that price. I wish I could say it was on Netflix, but apparently they thought they needed space to put the five sequels to Alpha and Omega on there. Well, I know I am in October, and it’s under contractual obligation that I must review something spooky or horror related. How about the scariest thing of all? An Adam Sandler film that is actually good! Next time, we look at Hotel Transylvania! Thank you for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Go See it!