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Creative animation can't quite save preachy 'Prophet'
Almitra (Quvenzhan Wallis) in the animated Kahlil Gibrans The Prophet. - photo by Josh Terry
"The Prophet" is effectively an animated, 90-minute poetry reading by Liam Neeson. At times, it is beautiful and inspiring. At others, it can be preachy and tedious. In sum, it is a creative example of the risks and rewards of translating a written text to the big screen.

Kahlil Gibrans book inspired the film. It centers on a poet named Mustafa (voiced by Neeson) who has been under house arrest for seven years for writing material the government has interpreted as seditious. He has a housekeeper named Kamila (Salma Hayek) who is struggling to support a young daughter named Almitra (Quvenzhane Wallis). Almitra hasn't spoken since her father died two years earlier.

After we meet the primary characters, a local sergeant (Alfred Molina) arrives at Mustafa's home with an offer: Mustafa is free to go if he follows the sergeant down to the dock, where a waiting boat will return him to his native country. Mustafa agrees, and most of "The Prophet" unfolds on his walk to the harbor as he encounters the various villagers who have loved and supported his work.

Each stop along the way turns into a poetic tangent as Mustafa is asked to bless a wedding, expounds on the virtues of love, or makes his way through the local market and praises the value of work. Most of the interludes are narrated by Neeson and supported with unique animated sequences that interpret the poetry.

It's a creative interpretation, and it's easy to visualize how it must be to read Gibran's book. As a visual experience, many of the animated sequences are beautiful. But, without the focus of a traditional screenplay, the story drags a bit and even feels tedious as Mustafa stops every 30 seconds to expound on preachy poetic tangents.

Things kick into gear once Mustafa finally makes it to the harbor (luckily for the audience, Molina's sergeant has no intention of letting Mustafa off so easily). And a subplot about Almitra, who is fascinated by Mustafa and follows his journey, makes things a little more engaging.

As an animated piece, "The Prophet" falls on the artsy side of the spectrum and will be accessible to older children blessed with long attention spans. Adults might connect to the message more directly, though they may be slow to choose "The Prophet" over other live-action options.

"The Prophet" is directed by Roger Allers, who defers to supporting director/animators for the individual sequences. Because of this, there is some expected variation in tone and execution but, in certain segments, Neeson's narration is set aside as the passage is interpreted with a song instead. It's a little strange, 20 minutes into the film, to suddenly realize that it is, in part, a musical.

The myriad visual styles are one of The Prophets greatest strengths, though the creative interludes make the traditional cell animation of the main narrative look weak by comparison. Several powerful images resonate through the movie, such as a large tree with dozens of birds tethered to its branches.

Imagery such as this helps justify the experience, but overall The Prophet is a stretch as a full-price ticket.

"The Prophet" is rated PG for some violence and sensual imagery.