Salma Hayek’s and Roger Allers’s and Michal Socha’s et al.’s The Prophet

Sep 15, 2015 by Nickelodeon on The Nickelodeon Blog

For decades, with a particular countercultural surge in the sixties, people passed around copies of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet as an acid test and love note. Could we be friends? Can you understand me? A cycle of prose-poetic meditations on work, clothing, love, life, and death, The Prophet loosely hangs spiritual, if not religious, parables onto a frame narrative of a man’s return to his homeland. On the way, townspeople stop him to glean his last advice, which readers have taken deeply to heart ever since. The decline of physical media has somewhat veiled the power The Prophet has had over the twentieth century, being a sort of heresy to read on a tablet, but you have probably read a solid 1/3 of it through cousins’ status updates alone. Arguably, it popularized the concept of universal human poetics and universal human emotions, extending not merely from one drawing-room to the next, but over the entire globe.

In adapting what amounts to a series of poetic lectures freighted with counter-, cross-, pan-, and multi-culturally mythic stature into a coherent animated film accessible to both children and adults, Salma Hayek had no easy task. Though her Mexican heritage most visibly informs her celebrity, this passion project represents a celebration of her paternal Lebanese ancestry. Gibran was himself Lebanese-American, and was inherited as such by communities that encouraged diversity in their members and their thought. As an objective correlative to The Prophet‘s multi-cultural adoption, Hayek enlisted almost a dozen animation auteurs to visualize the frame narrative and eight of the poems. Each director brings a definitive, singular, and gorgeous style to bear on Gibran’s heady, harmonizing thought. In the frame story, which has been elaborated into a parable of political dissent in its own right, The Lion King director Roger Allers uses clean lines and a classic cel aesthetic, much like Sylvain Chomet; for “On Eating and Drinking,” Bill Plympton pares his instruments down to colored pencils and thousands of sheets of paper; Mohammed Saeed Harib combines lush watercolor and digital movement with incredibly fluidity for “On Good and Evil”; and an incredible, virtuosic clay-painting dream from Joan Gratz illuminates “On Work”; all linked by a supple, stirring score from Gabriel Yared, with songs by Damien Rice, and Glen Hansard and Lisa Hannigan.

Narrated, or orated, by Liam Neeson, the film tackles intense subjects—exile, imprisonment, free speech, dissent, love, death—with a decided comfort in the ability of art to consolidate and console the disparate complexity of human life, and show the emotions that make us a global community. The Prophet says that “work is love made visible.” Part of The Prophet‘s work is to liberate children’s films and animation from the philosophical constraints of escapism. Art is its own liberation; the work of art, symbolized here by the visible labor put into each frame, is love for cinema and its audience.

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