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An ambitious, unique adaptation of ‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’

It’s only October, but we can already say with certainty that 2015 is a banner year for animated features. Consider that this is a year of two Pixar films (“Inside Out,” the soon-to-be-released “The Good Dinosaur”) and the well-reviewed “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” Plus, 2015 has also seen the American releases of Studio Ghibli gems “When Marnie Was There” (2014) and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (2013).

Meanwhile, the boldest of the bunch, Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa,” will be released in December. (That one, a stop-motion animated gem about an author’s life-changing night at a Cincinnati hotel, is most assuredly not for kids.)

Just as ambitious but nowhere near as satisfying as “Anomalisa” and “Inside Out” is “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” a beautifully animated feature based on Gibran’s volume of 26 poetic essays. The book has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1923.

For this animated adaptation, “Lion King” director Roger Allers put together a team of acclaimed animators; a diverse group of actors, including Salma Hayek (also the film’s producer), Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Frank Langella and Alfred Molina; and a roster of musical heavyweights like Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, Yo-Yo Ma and Gabriel Yared.

The resulting work is visually resplendent and appropriately respectful. “The Prophet” is a sweet, gentle film, yet one that feels a tad undercooked.

This is, perhaps, due to the film’s structure, which involves a basic skeleton of a story, and periodic visual vignettes, all accompanied by lovely poetry. While the words, sights and sounds often are glorious, this journey becomes rather rote.

As in Gibran’s text, a celebrated poet living in confinement is finally granted his freedom, on the condition that he return to his own country. He is Mustafa, a man beloved and known throughout this Mediterranean city, but hated by the government for his work as a truth-teller.

Allers could not have picked a finer actor to voice Mustafa than Neeson, back in non-“Taken”/action-star mode. It’s a wonderful, soothing performance, one of the actor’s finest in some time.

Mustafa is joined in this journey by his housekeeper, Kamila (Hayek); her young daughter Almitra, who has not spoken since her father’s death; and two authority figures, one sweet (Krasinski), the other a conniving bully (Molina).

Almitra is an intriguing figure, an introspective and imaginative child who is known as a “silent thief” in her village. The early scenes of Almitra and her mother are among the film’s best; like Neeson’s, Hayek’s voice is simply ideal for the part.

The story, such as it is, truly begins when Almitra accompanies her mother to work, where she works for Mustafa. The poet makes an instant connection with young Almitra, and so begins the film’s interspersed poetry.

Many of these are stunningly beautiful, especially the first, a sequence of chained birds attempting to break free.

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” is ambitious and unique. While it might not have the book’s shelf life, this all-star cast and fine animators do justice to the beloved text. And if it causes even one tween to pick up a book of poetry, we should all be thankful it exists.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

2.5 stars

With the voices of: Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, Quvenzhané Wallis

Director: Roger Allers

Running time: 84 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence and sensual images.

The Lowdown: An exiled artist and poet embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter in this animated adaptation of the beloved text.

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