Review: Animated ‘Bilal’ panders to intended audience
Based on the story of one of early Islam’s most important figures, ‘A New Breed of Hero’ doesn’t know who it is for
Too violent for kids and too kiddie for anyone else to take seriously, “Bilal: A New Breed of Hero” is a bizarre — and, at times, beautiful — animated tale about the eternal struggle for equality.
Based on the story of one of early Islam’s most important figures, Bilal is a boy raised in Abyssinia, enslaved by the evil Umayya. How do you know Umayya is evil? Well, the thickness and the arch of his eyebrows is a dead giveaway.
Umayya and other elites make their money selling idols to the poor, and encouraging people to worship them as Gods. Bilal, who is gifted with a golden voice, doesn’t buy in, and eventually helps builds an army of followers to lead a revolution against the tyranny of his corrupt oppressors.
It’s pretty standard David and Goliath-level stuff with a few wrinkles. The movie comes from the United Arab Emarites, where it premiered in 2015. Directed by first-timers Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal, it contains fluid movement and some striking landscape scenery, but the human characters all have dead zombie eyes and waxy mouths, more like the computer animation on cheap-looking Saturday morning cartoons than what we’re used to in cinema today.
The action scenes are too intense and violent for children, yet the story’s simplistic, faith-based lessons about greed, morality and forgiveness are clearly meant for young audiences, the same crowds who would be bored by the movie’s stiff, slow pacing. Just who is “Bilal” for?
The film’s lesson of living a life free of chains (hammered over and over by the laborious script) and overcoming one’s station in life is worth telling. But with the way “Bilal: A New Breed of Hero” is told, it’s a wonder who it will reach.
‘Bilal: A New Breed
Rated PG-13 for violence/warfare and some thematic elements
Running time: 108 minutes