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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