Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Prophet

Year 8, Day 20 - 1/20/16 - Movie #2,220

BEFORE: I'm leaving Latin America for a side trip tonight, I think to somewhere near Lebanon.  Salma Hayek carries over, serving as the voice of an animated character, plus she was also an executive producer of this film.  She grew up in Mexico, but her grandfather was Lebanese, so she wanted to get this film about Kahlil Gibran's writing made as a way of connecting with her ancestry.  

I should point out that I work for one of the animators who drew a segment, the one on "Eating and Drinking", so I've seen some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into this film.  Roger Allers, who directed "The Lion King", directed the framing sequences, and the call went out for other prominent animators to work on different segments, creating something unique, even for the world of animation.  I've also had the opportunity to meet some of these other animators over the years, like Joan Gratz and Tomm Moore and Nina Paley - so the fix really is in tonight.  That doesn't necessarily mean I'll give the film a stellar review, however.  We'll have to see.

THE PLOT:  Exiled artist and poet Mustafa embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter; together the trio must evade the authorities who fear that the truth in Mustafa's words will incite rebellion.

AFTER:  Rebellion, right, that's what this week has been about so far - how could I have forgotten?  I guess I was distracted by some boobies in "Bandidas".  We had the uprisings in Argentina in "Evita", then Communists fomenting in Mexico in "Frida", and even in "Bandidas", the peasants were rising up against the unscrupulous railroad barons.  And tonight we've got the ideas of Gibran leading to political unrest - so it's all about rebellion.  (And boobies.)

I can't name another film that's tried to bring together so many different animation styles in one film.  I think doing something like that can't help but create something that feels patched together - but whether the result works as a coherent whole is up to the individual viewer, I suppose.  The framing sequence bears a strong resemblance to a Disney-style film, probably closest to "Aladdin", but once the fantasy sequences start, it's definitely a mixed bag.  

Still, animation is often the best vehicle for concepts that are not straightforward, and sometimes it does seem to be the only way to "illustrate" the ideas that Gibran put forth.  Referring to parents as a bow, and a child as an arrow, launched into the world - that's a high concept that just wouldn't come across in a live-action film, but with animation, you can make exactly that thing happen.  

If I've got any regrets about writing short essays on film (almost) daily for the last 7 years, there's this: I wish I'd added a line or two each day from a rock song, just to illustrate a concept here and there.  There's ample material to choose from, maybe it could have been from a song I listened to that day, that also channeled an idea from the film, for further synchronicity.  For example, here's Kahlil Gibran on marriage, a passage which was also read at my wedding:

"But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."

To put it another way, in the words of .38 Special, "Hold on loosely, but don't let go. If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control."

Same thing, right?  Now here's Kahlil Gibran on death:

"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?  And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?"

and here's Blue Oyster Cult: "Seasons don't fear the reaper, Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.  We can be like they are, Come on baby - Baby, take my hand, We'll be able to fly."  See?  It's all essentially the same idea.

Now, let's get all nitpicky.  I can get why this film sought to depict the normal person's reactions to the teachings of "The Prophet", but if it wanted to champion the writing of Gibran, why was there the need to create another character, Mustafa, who supposedly wrote such great poetry?  Are we supposed to believe that Mustafa is a plagiarist?  Ah, wait, a little research tells me that this is really the plot of Gibran's novel - Mustafa is in there, and he speaks on these subjects with people on his way to his ship as he heads home, so I stand corrected.  Please continue.

I'd wager, then, that this film created the housekeeper character and her (temporarily) mute daughter, so that kids would have a more accessible entry point to the proceedings.  Makes sense.

My timing on finally catching this seems to be perfect, it JUST got released on iTunes, and is coming to DVD on Feb. 2. (I watched an in-house screener.)  If the teachings of Gibran ever turn into a real alternative religion, which I'd sort of be down with, now would be the time to get on board.

Also starring the voices of Liam Neeson (last heard in "The Lego Movie")), Alfred Molina (last seen in "Frida"), John Krasinski (last seen in "Jarhead"), Frank Langella (last seen in "Noah"), Quvenzhané Wallis (last seen in "12 Years a Slave").

RATING: 5 out of 10 seagulls

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