Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet is such a charming, sweet, innocent movie that we worry about it. The international production (USA, France, Canada, Lebanon, Qatar), assembled by director-in-chief Roger Allers (The Lion King), may have trouble finding its niche. Is it an artistic extravaganza, a commercial kiddie-matinee fantasy, or a philosophical treatise in disguise?
Part of the problem is the latter-day notoriety of Lebanese poet-philosopher Gibran's 1923 inspirational volume, which became so identified in the American mind with baby boomer hippie mysticism that it's hard to say the title without thinking of the parody, The Profit by Kehlog Albran (a breakfast cereal joke), aka advertising man Sheldon Shacket. That mockery flies out the window, however, once we get an eyeful of the new animated version, a gentle fable that showcases individual "chapters" devoted to such abstractions as Freedom, Work, Good & Evil, Death, etc., each directed by a different artist.
Nina Paley's "On Children" is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of mythological figures in the spirit of her Sita Sings the Blues. "On Marriage" is imagined by Joann (The Rabbi's Cat) Sfar as a wedding night fantasy in blue. In "On Love" by Tomm Moore, maker of The Secret of the Kells, masked red dancers swirl amid a riot of Byzantine patterns. The voice talent is equally impressive: Salma Hayek-Pinault (she also exec-produced), Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Quvenzhané Wallis, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, John Rhys-Davies, et al. Together they portray the wise sage Mustafa (Neeson), his adulation by the people of the island of Orphalese, and his persecution by the military authorities. Another major plus is Gabriel Yared's music score.
Would any child sit still for a calm, visually beautiful fable of peace, love, and understanding in the face of oppression? No robots, superheroes, or dinosaurs, true, but it's too scrumptious to miss. Assert your individuality. Be a rebel like Mustafa. See it anyway, with or without the kids.