“Bilal: A New Breed of Hero” stars Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, China Anne McClain, Jacob Latimore, and Thomas Ian Nicholas. Released on December 9, 2015, the film chronicles Bilal Ibn Rabah and his attempt to lead his people to freedom.
The film is directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal. You probably haven’t heard of this one yet, so I’m going to give this to you briefly. The film made its first appearance at the 12th Annual International Dubai Film Festival back in 2015 before its official release in Dubai theaters a year later. Despite receiving some positive reviews from critics, the film failed to recover its $30 million budget during its theatrical run. Two years later, it finally made its way to the rest of the world, including the United States. When I found out that it’s playing at my closest cinema, I wound up having to choose between seeing this or Winchester. Seeing that I have a busy schedule ahead of me, including my job, I decided to go with the former. Fortunately, I had made the right choice.
The story depicts the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah (voiced by Akinnuoye-Agbaje), from growing up as a slave to becoming an inspiration to his people. The film takes place during the time where the rich people proclaim themselves as gods and overpower the lower-class people. The specific themes that are shown here still remain as the most important messages that people should remember for many generations, especially equality, and the story behind these themes surprisingly has enough quality to fully compensate with them. While the third act had a few rushed parts that almost derailed its consistency, the story was able to pay full respect to Bilal’s journey while providing a few emotional scenes to boot. This is one of those times where an animated film doesn’t always have to be made for kids. There were plenty of scenes that can be quite disturbing for the younger viewers, especially the conversations about slavery and equality and the violence, so I would suggest you talk to your children about this type of stuff before you show them this. The cast behind these characters did a very nice job with their performances, with Akinnuoye-Agbaje and McShane as Bilal and Umayyah, respectively, being the main highlights. I was used to Akinnuoye-Agbaje playing supporting roles in his other movies, so it was nice to see a change of pace by having him take on a leading role, especially in an animated movie. Speaking of animated, I do feel that the animation team behind this film were attempting to provide a highly-detailed and realistic world that took place more than a thousand years ago in terms of the character and set designs. If that was the case, I would say that they did an impressive job with it. Although there were a couple of sequences that left me feeling either unconvinced or disturbed, especially some of the people’s facial expressions, the film is another fine example of using animation as a storytelling tool rather than as a source to entertain children with its cartoonish shenanigans.
Overall, with its decent voice performances from the cast, some solid use of animation, and a story that’s respectable and quite emotional, “Bilal” is a surprising treat that was unfairly left out in the shadows. I wouldn’t say that it’s a perfect representation of Bilal’s journey, however, due to its rushed third act and some slight issues with the characters’ facial expressions. Despite these flaws, the film was able to impress me well enough to warrant a recommendation to those who are familiar with the legend of Bilal.