The producer of this year’s most intriguing and visually eclectic animated feature may well end up being the Mexican/Arabic actress Salma Hayek, who screened a work-in-progress version of her pet project, The Prophet, last week in Cannes. Based on the prose poetry of beloved early-20th century Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran, the $12-million feature was supervised by director Roger Allers (The Lion King, Open Season).
Not only did Hayek make the novel decision to produce a philosophically-driven animated feature with religious undertones, she also decided to make it hand-drawn. It’s almost as if she wanted no one to see it. I kid, I kid. But seriously, the film doesn’t have a distributor in the United States yet, and that’s telling of the irrationally hostile environment for hand-drawn feature animation in this country. It’s certainly not for a lack of quality; the stills gallery below and the names of the artists involved should leave little doubt that this will be a gorgeous-looking film. [UPDATE: The film isn’t entirely hand-drawn. Parts of the film are toon-shaded CG.]
Hayek recruited nine filmmakers to create different parts of the film in their own unique styles. “The more different they are, the better, because it’s a surprise,” she told Variety. “You don’t know where you’re going to go next. There’s such a freedom with the film.”
The filmmakers who participated were Michal Socha (Chick, plus that amazing Simpsons opening), Joan Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Tomm Moore (Secret of Kells), Bill Plympton (Guard Dog, Cheatin’), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), and Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (“Firebird Suite” in Fantasia 2000). Allers handled the overarching narrative which concerns the friendship between a young girl and an imprisoned poet.
Voice cast includes Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Hayek. Funding for the film was provided by Doha Film Institute, Participant Media, MyGroup Lebanon, FFA Private Bank, Financiere Pinault and Code Red Prods. The film’s official website is GibransProphetMovie.com. Here’s a good LA Times piece about the challenges of producing such an unconventional animated feature.