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“The Prophet” shines in unique animation


Almitra, voiced by the dynamic Quvenzhané Wallis and her mother Kamila voiced by Salma Hayek. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital copy; 2014; PG for thematic elements including some violence and sensual images; streaming Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: "An Interview with the Filmmakers" features producer/voice actor Salma Hayek and writer/director Roger Allers

THE BOOK of 26 prose poems by Lebanese artist/philosopher Kahlil Gibran was published in 1923 and has never gone out of print. Still, this non-denominational celebration of the human condition is not what we first think of when it comes to animated film.

Studios have wanted to make a movie of "The Prophet" for decades – but how to interpret those poems on film? Topics include freedom, love, friendship, good and evil, eating and drinking, birth, life and death. It was producer/voice actor Salma Hayek and writer/director Roger Allers who came together to create this adaptation of a favorite author. They tell us all about in a bonus feature on Universal's presentation.

Having worked on "The Lion King," "Aladdin" and "The Emperor's New Groove," Allers knows how to blend characters and story to create an emotional impact. He takes us from light and comic moments to heart-breaking situations in 86 minutes. The story follows the plight of Mustafa (Liam Neeson), a poet/artist imprisoned for 12 years for writings that, while popular to the people, are seen as incendiary to their totalitarian government. Allers and crew do not shy away from the scary, mature stuff. Still, the prison is not a horror show; Mustafa has the freedom to create the work he loves. He is guarded by a genial soldier and attended to by a young widow, Kamila (Hayek).

Kamila has a little girl, Almitra, voiced by the dynamic Quvenzhané Wallis of "Beasts of the Southern Wild." In an "Aladdin"-type opening, we find Almitra is a bit of a trouble-maker. She is also mute having lost her voice to the trauma of her father's death. Almitra skips school to follow her mother as she goes to cook and clean for Mustafa. The poet and the child hit it off; he captures her attention and her heart with his paintings and poems. But there's crisis to come, and it arrives in the form of a sergeant, who says Mustafa's imprisonment is over. The writer is to be deported on the next available ship. What follows is a march to the village, while Mustafa relates more of his ideas to Almitra and his village friends.

"We chose 8 poems and it would be the imagination of the little girl and how she would see what this poet was saying," Hayek says. They are illustrated by teams of artists who previously worked on animated gems such as "The Secret of Kells," "Song of the Sea," "9" and "The Rabbi's Cat." The concept was to make each piece look as if it were "pulled out of a watercolor," according to "Animating Kahlil Gibran's 'The Prophet.'"

Don't expect the kind of animation seen in Pixar, Dreamworks or Disney. Almitra's journey is the golden framework for Mustafa's visions, each rendered in a unique, illustrative style. It all looks absolutely perfect on Universal's bold, rich 1080p transfer. The Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is completely immersive. The voices are magical and so is the music. Ambient sound, such as a village wedding, crowds and ocean waves, and effects – the echo of a distant gunshot – are dynamically served.

Granted, some sequences work better than others. And sometimes the framework is a bit clumsy. Gibran's material is by no means light fare, definitely not as accessible as "The Lion King." But if you're up for something different, "The Prophet" will fill the bill. Recommended.

— Kay Reynolds



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