Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (PG-13)

Action/Adventure 109 min. February 2, 2018
By Craig D. Lindsey
Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is itself in the new breed of computer-animated family filmmaking. Producer/co-writer/co-director Ayman Jamal completed the film in 2015 (it played at festivals before getting released in the Middle East and North Africa) after basically launching his own animation studio in order to make his passion project: the story of African Muslim Bilal ibn Rabah.

Bilal is known in folklore as one of the earliest converts of Islam and a loyal companion to the prophet Muhammad. The movie mostly downplays that in favor of presenting Bilal as a proud, Spartacus-ish slave (actor/singer Jacob Latimore voices him a youngster, while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays him as an adult) who breaks free from his cruel oppressors (Ian McShane comes with the oily dastardliness as Bilal's greedy-ass master) and eventually takes them on as a rebel warrior.

Bilal achieves a vibrantly noble tone even when it stumbles plot-wise, as Jamal and his fellow filmmakers come up with a predictably earnest narrative out to make non-Muslim audiences comfortable and remind them that Muslims can have the same values and want the same things as us Westerners. The animation is polished and intriguing, with the chiseled characters almost resembling the wooden idols Bilal ultimately refuses to worship.

Much like when DreamWorks used the story of Moses as cartoon fodder for The Prince of Egypt 20 years ago, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is another animated epic that shows that religious stories can also be entertaining for family audiences -- once they've had their edges sanded off.
Khurram H. Alavi, Ayman Jamal Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, China Anne McClain, Ian McShane Ayman Jamal Vertical Entertainment
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