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Animation renders a soulful tale

  • GKIDS FILMS
    Almitra, a girl who has been mute since her father’s death, is at the center of “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” an animated presentation of the poetry collection. She shares the company of the poet Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson.
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Though some might find it hard to conceptualize “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” as a cartoon, animation turns out to be a nifty way to visualize this collection of world-famous poems about spiritual enlightenment.

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet”
Rated: PG
***
Opens Friday at Kahala 8

The interesting experiment by “Lion King” director Roger Allers will probably be too Disney-esque for some people’s tastes — there are friendly birds, bumbling guards, a young girl at the center of things — but in the end this is soulful work, without a cynical frame. And it was no small accomplishment to adapt a 1923 book that’s virtually void of cinematic elements.

The story, basically built from scratch, introduces us to Almitra, a rebellious girl who hasn’t spoken a word since her father’s death.

Her mother (voiced by Salma Hayek) does housework for poet Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson), whose wise, earnest teachings have riled the authorities and led to a comfortable confinement somewhere in the Middle East.

Everyone’s life changes when Mustafa is released and ordered out of the country.

Though the story has changed, the spiritual and more adult musings of Gibran remain intact, whether it’s a meditative segment on love, children, good and evil, work or marriage.

The plot is basically an excuse for Mustafa to philosophize, while top-notch animators, all with their own distinctive styles, provide the images.

These set-pieces, most of them lovely, are by far the strongest part of the film, though some of them get a bit lost in the music, even if both the score and the songs are beautiful in their own right.

“The Prophet” is clearly trying to appeal to both children and adults, but it’s hard to imagine a kid enraptured with soliloquies about death and marriage, despite the presence of animation. Whatever the case, the film is likely to attract new readers to the book — and remind longtime fans why they were attracted to the writings in the first place.

Review by David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle

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