I sat down with Hayek recently in Doha, where her animated film, which debuted at Cannes, closed the Ajyal Youth Film Festival. Hayek, who produced “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” (opening Friday from GKIDS) and voices the character of Kamila, described how her connection to Gibran’s inspirational book, which has sold more than 100 million copies since its 1923 publication, initially came through her Lebanese grandfather.
With its absence of plot and parable-like soliloquies, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” was always going to be a tough adaptation but Hayek brought the same stubborn determination that allowed her to get “Frida” and “Ugly Betty” made to bring her labor of love to fruition. Creatively, her solution was to install “The Lion King” director Roger Allers at the helm and give individual chapters to different internationally renowned animators, granting them total creative freedom. Allers then wove these eight strands together with a framing narrative added on top of Gibran’s poems.
The result is exquisite in places, with the standalone chapters giving the film a charmingly distinctive quality; the segments by Nina Paley (“Sita Sings The Blues”), Joan Gratz and Tomm Moore (“The Secret Of Kells”) in particular, on Children, Work and Love respectively, stand out as the most striking. Gabriel Yared’s score is punchy, and Liam Neeson’s soothing tones giving voice to Gibran’s musings in the lead role of philosopher/revolutionary Mustafa have a mesmeric effect.
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If there’s a weakness, it’s the linking storyline, where the animation is surprisingly drab and the narrative, involving Kamila’s mute, wayward daughter Almitra wreaking silent havoc on her town, a thin gruel to pour on top of the philosophizing. (In Cannes, Hayek explained that a nightmarish hiccup during production with the financing meant she and Allers were forced to compromise on the aesthetics for the framing segment.)
The film, which Hayek says cost $12 million, received mixed reviews when it world premiere at Cannes. The actress-producer also discusses on this video the challenges of getting North American audiences to embrace this more adventurous sort of animated film, and her hopes, of course, that they will.