Who hasn’t hung a Kahlil Gibran poster on their wall? Or sent a greeting card with one of the verses from his 1923 book “The Prophet,” which has sold more than 100 million copies? Whether regarded as the writings of visionary or hack, his words seem more inspired when illuminated by the renowned animators working with director Roger Allers (“The Lion King”) in “Kahlil Gibran’s the Prophet.”
Unfortunately the drawn-out, drably rendered framing device that strings together these flights of fancy does them no service, and the devout detours merely detract from the minimal appeal of the story.
The prophet in this case is Mustafa (Liam Neeson, in prime Aslan form), detained by unnamed (but clearly Turkish) authorities like a kind of anti-Marquis de Sade for his seditious love poems and potted philosophy. Actually, his jail seems more like a cushy writer’s retreat, a well-appointed house with a nice view, domestic service by beautiful Kamila (Salma Hayek), and diverting visits from her mute, mischievous daughter Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis). To keep things legit, the bumbling, lovesick soldier Halim (John Krasinski) guards the prisoner, supervised by the plump, equally bumbling sergeant (Alfred Molina).
Here Mustafa writes and sketches and at the drop of a cliché recites a Jack Handy-like deep thought, stuffed with fruity metaphors and intoned like a Messianic proverb. But the animators transform the words into sometimes rapturous imagery, in particular the Klimt-like arabesques in the adaptation of Gibran’s “On Love” by Tomm Moore (“The Book of Kells”).
“What is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?” the placid windbag intones as the mood darkens. “Life and death are one, just as the river and sea are one.” Comforting words, and they placate an angry crowd that threatens rebellion when the authorities try to take him away. So much for sedition. Wrongheaded as usual, the despots in “The Prophet” fail to see that far from being revolutionary, Mustafa’s verse is an instrument of complacency and conformity.
Directed by Roger Allers. Written by Allers, Hanna Weg, and Douglas Wood, based on the book by Kahlil Gibran. Starring Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, John Krasinski, Quvenzhané Wallis, Alfred Molina. At Kendall Square. 96 minutes. PG (thematic elements including violence and sensual images).
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.