From the time we are children, our books contain some kind of moralistic lesson or cautionary tale that we may not fully understand. Whether it is Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go or Homer’s The Odyssey, or even the Christian bible, each has its own message for us. Kahlil Gibran’s poetic magnum opus, The Prophet, is no different, even when the insight it offers speaks volumes beyond its pages.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet consists of eight vibrant vignettes, each produced by separate people and fit together in the story with Liam Neeson’s soothing voiceover. Each of them holds one of Gibran’s lesson, with many visual liberties taken. Each one was lovingly created with their own stylistic interpretation of the text, and there is beauty in that. There was no collaboration between the vignettes, yet they somehow fit perfectly together despite coming from various, scattered sources. There is a lesson in there somewhere about a greater human connection we all share.
There is an over-arching story that is supposed to tie the film together and transition into the vignettes, but it proves to be more of a means to an end. The original text originally has Almustafa going through the village on his way to a boat, where he encounters other people and gives them life-altering advice through passionate prose. Luckily, the film remains purely spiritual, rarely ever crossing the line into a religious slant, making the message universal to adults rather than having it come off as preachy. In an obvious attempt to make the film more family friendly, writer/non-vignette director Roger Allers decides to add a family to the classic story.
Altering the original story in an attempt to make this film more palatable for children was the first of many mistakes Allers made. His treatment of the story did not add anything, but instead cheapened the feel of the film, giving it the old Disney treatment. That is not surprising, because his filmography consists of Disney films like The Lion King, which he also directed. The Lion King has an emotional and spiritual depth that adults could enjoy, but it was still, ultimately, a children’s film. Allers’ second mistake was to even attempt to water down Gibran’s text so that it could be a film for kids, which it could never be.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is full of ideas and teachings that will majestically soar miles above most children’s heads. There are lessons on marriage, divorce, freedom, and death. All are ideas too complex, and frankly unentertaining, to most kids whose parents might accidentally take them to see this film. The main story would be all but unnecessary if it wasn’t used as a vehicle to move us into the vignettes, or if it wasn’t also a chance to get to hear the voice acting talents of Salma Hayek, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, John Krasinski, and of course Liam Neeson. Neeson’s voice lends itself especially well to the role of the Prophet, reading the prose in a calming, almost meditative way. Although the animation may flow wildly on the screen, Neeson’s voice is what anchors you to the film, and it remains your soothing guide through the entire journey.
RATING: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)