Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is a computer-animated action-adventure film co-directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal and the voice cast features Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, China Anne McClain, Jacob Latimore, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Fred Tatasciore, Cynthia McWilliams, Jon Curry, Dave B. Mitchell, and Michael Gross.
The Story/The Direction:
It depicts the life of Bilal ibn Rabah was freed from slavery and his growth to become the first muezzin, the person appointed at a mosque to lead the prayer in the Islamic faith. This film will definitely feel familiar to The Prince of Egypt which is an unavoidable coincidence because the themes and character arcs are very similar. However, the film is able to stand by itself as it is not a musical and is able to explore the themes of unity more so. Another item that stands out about this film is its animation. It is absolutely beautiful. The characters are smooth and there are moments in the film that make the audience think that the animators used real actors and then animated them in post-production. The landscapes of Saudi Arabia look fabulous and the details in the little items such as sword holsters and horse look just as good.
While the film does change the story of Bilal a little, it still holds strong to his overall story. As a young boy, his mother is killed and he and his sister are sold into slavery. This loss of freedom he has early in life and the loss of his mother is paralleled many times in the film to show the importance of “removing chains”, literally and figuratively. Bilal dreams of being a warrior but the struggle against those owning him prevents him from doing so. When Bilal meets a man who tells him of a way of life that looks to equalize everyone and that no one can own anyone, like the advice his mother always said to him, he realizes this is his calling. This message is a strong one, especially for a mainly children's film. This film examines this and allows audiences to think long after leaving the theatre. Bilal's words and actions show that freedom, on many levels, is necessary for anyone to achieve their biggest goals in life.
Unfortunately, this movie is nowhere near perfect. The story frequently advances by years, and occasionally decades, with little indication. In addition, multiple characters are introduced with a very little background. While those of the Islamic faith may recognize these characters, others may not. Each character outside of Bilal and his sister are fairly one dimensional. Certain characters are brought into the story with no real introduction or background. Viewers can gather who these people are via context as allies but there's not much more to them. Similarly, there is no clear motive to why the second half of the film is so sporadic. The sequences seem to only show Bilal's life with no real connection to the overall theme and this makes the film lose focus. While it looks fantastic, the epic battle near the end of the film is similar to that of the Lord of the Rings films which makes it feel out of place as the rest of the film is fairly grounded. Furthermore, this film does not mention Islam, Muhammad, or even shows Bilal doing the action he became famous for. With the main character being known for leading prayer, it seems a disservice that he is not shown being good at speaking in front of a crowd. There is a scene where he sings but that's it. For those outside of the Islamic faith who do not know who Bilal is at all, this film tells you nothing about him aside from a man who broke free of slavery and fought for equality. This is not to say this message is a bad one but given the importance of Islam in Bilal's life, a mention of it or the founder could have existed in the film.
This film is similar to an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. There's enough put together to see what the film is going for. The message and visuals are there. Hopefully, there will be more films similar to this in the future as it allows for non-Muslims to get an education about a deeply rooted faith aside from their own. This may allow this film to be seen once because it looks fantastic. However, the film is still missing a lot of pieces that prevent it from being completely coherent and unfortunately, this average film is only a one time watch on video on demand.
Rating: 2.5/5.0 bowties
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