A 7th century slave of African descent who lived in Mecca, Bilal ibn Rabah rejected idolatry and became an early follower of the prophet Muhammed. "Bilal: A New Breed of Hero," the debut film from Dubai-based Barajoun Entertainment, offers a fictionalized account of the historic figure's life and beliefs in monotheism and universal brotherhood.
Part entertainment and part hagiography, the film sometimes shifts awkwardly from scenes of Bilal's happy childhood with his sister and mother, his life as the slave of a cruel master and his growing religious enlightenment, amid flashbacks and dream sequences. Much of the dialogue is too literal and undercut by its stolid earnestness, and many of the characters are left underdeveloped. Viewers unfamiliar with Bilal's story may have trouble following parts of the film.
The movements of the human figures look like motion capture, but the faces remain inexpressive. The animation is surprisingly uneven: the camels move with convincing weight and correct gaits, but the horses look awkward. Although a battle scene with an acrobatic archer borrows a little too heavily from "The Return of the King," there is some striking effects animation in the film, especially in a dream sequence in which Bilal battles a gargantuan idol made of glowing sand.
Some of the problems with "Bilal" can be ascribed to the work of an inexperienced crew, and the better scenes show real promise. At a time when audiences are seeking more diverse fare, the film's ethnically diverse cast and original point of view are welcome additions to world animation.
'Bilal: A New Breed of Hero'
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
MPAA rated: PG-13, for violence/warfare and some thematic elements
Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena