Bilal: A New Breed of Hero
|Bilal: A New Breed of Hero|
|Directed by||Khurram H. Alavi|
|Produced by||Ayman Jamal|
|Screenplay by||Alex Kronemer|
|Story by||Ayman Jamal|
China Anne McClain
Thomas Ian Nicholas
|Music by||Atli Örvarsson|
|Edited by||Patricia Heneine|
|Distributed by||Gulf Film|
|Country||United Arab Emirates|
Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is a 2015 English-language Arabic 3D computer-animated action-adventure film about the birth of Islam, produced by Barajoun Entertainment and co-directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal. With a story by Jamal, the screenplay was written by Alavi, Alex Kronemer, Michael Wolfe and Yassin Kamel. With this film, Jamal aimed to depict heroes from the history of the Arabian Peninsula.
The film depicts the life of Bilal ibn Rabah, who, known for his beautiful voice, was freed from slavery and rose to a position of prominence in 632 AD. 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.
Bilal premiered on December 9, 2015, at the 12th Annual International Dubai Film Festival. Starting September 8, 2016, the film released throughout the MENA region. The film began an international rollout in February 2018.
Bilal won "Best Inspiring Movie" on Animation Day at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. It won "Best Innovative Movie" at the BroadCast Pro Middle East Award 2016. Bilal was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2016 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), the region's highest accolade for film.
Bilal lives a peaceful life with his mother and his younger sister in the outskirt of the village until the Byzantine soldiers come, enslave them and kill his mother.
During his childhood, he is sold as a slave to the richest man in the city of Mecca, Umayyah, one of the Quraysh's leaders. While getting water for his master, he encounters Okba, another of Quraysh's leaders, who is persuading the people of Mecca to come to his shop and buy various types of idols from him, and the mysterious and masked Charlatan Priest, who tricks people to give their money to him with promises that the idols will grant them all of their desires.
In another part of the city, Safwan, Umayyah's son, is bullying Ghufaira, Bilal's sister, along with his friends and is about to shoot her with an arrow when Bilal intervenes and saves her. Umayyah hears about this from one of his merchants and reminds Bilal of his status with brutality before ordering the guards to whip him. After that, Umayyah slaps Safwan for losing to a slave and embarrassing him.
One day, Bilal meets and befriends a white horse, whom he rides until he reaches adulthood. He becomes friends with Saad, a skilled archer. On his way back to Umayyah's mansion, he stops a hungry young boy from stealing from the idol's bowl to spare him a beating from the Meccan Priest's guards. He gives the boy his own food instead. His act of kindness is seen by Abu Bakr, a man who believes in equality for everyone and sees greatness in Bilal. However, Bilal doubts him and his beliefs, unable to see a future where slaves are treated with fairness. Unbeknownst to both of them, Safwan's servant d been watching them while they were having their conversation.
After receiving a gift from Sohaib, a slave of Persian origin purchased from the Roman lands, which is actually the gift from his master to Umayyah, Bilal is told to sing at Umayyah's feast at night. He leaves after his song to the sound of his master's friends mockingly praising, laughing and insulting his late mother. The next day, Bilal goes back to Abu Bakr to ask for clarity and accepts his beliefs that there is only one God. He also learns that even people like Umayyah are slaves as well, their master being "greed".
At the next feast celebrating Safwan's first success as a merchant, another Quraysh leader named Abu al-Hakam, warned Umayyah of the new movement opposing them. Upon learning from al-Hakam that some of his fellow merchants are beginning to join the new movement, Umayyah is enraged by this and demands to know of anymore traitors among his ranks. Seeing the opportunity, Safwan accuses Bilal of being part of the new movement. After being questioned by his master, Bilal then defies Umayyah and is taken to a cage where he is tortured everyday in an effort to force him to renounce his claims. One day, Umayyah comes and offers him an opportunity to be a spy against the movement. Bilal does not yield and is then taken out to the public where he is chained in front of the Meccans. A large boulder is put on top of him to slowly crush him, but he was saved by Abu Bakr who buys him from his oppressive master.
Ghufaira, however, was given to Safwan by his father as a gift. He chooses not to sell her just to torture Bilal mentally. Three months later, after being sold off to his new master, Abu Bakr frees Bilal. Bilal is then taught how to fight with a sword by Hamza, who is the foster brother, paternal uncle and also one of the companions of the movement's leader, while also traveling with them up north, fleeing from the persecution of the Meccans. One year later, after the migration to the great city of Yathrib, now renamed as Medina, Safwan sends Bilal a lock of Ghufaira's hair. Bilal immediately rides back to Mecca after receiving it, followed by Hamza. They find a part of the city on fire, where many who are part of the new movement are slaughtered by order of Umayyah and his fellow corrupted merchants. Bilal hurries to Umayyah's mansion and is caught by the guards. Safwan then shows him a coin that Ghufaira had been keeping safe for Bilal. However, the coin is drenched in blood, implying that Ghufaira has been killed. Just as the guards are about to execute Bilal, Hamza steps in and saves him, after which they both successfully escape back to Medina.
A year later, two more cities join the new movement like Medina, resulting in Umayyah and his merchants deciding to declare war on them for threatening the Meccans' power. In the midst of the battle, Bilal faces Umayyah and asks that they end war for the sake of peace. However, Umayyah refuses and is killed by Bilal. Due to the deaths of Umayyah and al-Hakam in the battle as well as help from divine warriors who come to the movement's aid, the army of Qurayshi Meccans quickly fall into disorganization and are subsequently defeated.
The death of Umayyah spreads fast in every city and the angry Safwan prepares for revenge with his troops from various allying cities of the peninsula. A year later, Hamza dies in another battle against the Qurayshi warriors of Mecca, becoming a martyr along with those who were killed in the battle.
Many years later, most of the cities in Arabia have fallen and only Mecca remains opposing the newly-emerged and unified polity. The High Priest of Mecca is dead after an attempt to please the idols by fasting. However, his attempt ends in vain and all idols of Mecca have proven to be powerless. Bilal confronts Safwan during the conquest of Mecca, and asks why he had to kill Ghufaira. It was then revealed that Ghufaira was alive. Safwan reiterates Bilal's words, that a man is judged by his actions and says that freeing Ghufaira will be his one act of morality. Bilal spares Safwan, leaves his chamber and encourages him to continue on this path.
After Bilal and Ghufaira reunite, Safwan hears the noise coming from the city's holy site and comes out to see Bilal call for prayer at the Kaaba after the statue of Hubal and the other idols have been removed.
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Bilal:
The hero of the story, Bilal's strong will often lands him in trouble with the masters of Mecca. Nonetheless, Bilal's yearning for a higher calling keeps him going, for no amount of physical or mental abuse are able to break his strife for freedom and equality.
- Jacob Latimore as Bilal (teenager):
Bilal's teenage years are torturous as he bears the wrath of his masters on a daily basis. It is in the love of his mother and sister where Bilal finds purpose. His mother's wisdom being the beacon of light that keeps him going, and reminds him to never enslave his heart, and break free.
- Jacob Latimore as Bilal (teenager):
- Ian McShane as Umayyah:
Bilal's ruthless master, and the wealthiest merchant of the time and one of the Quraysh's leaders of Mecca. Much like his tribesmen, Umayyah suffers from a superiority complex that is amplified by his desire for power. What makes Umayya truly dangerous, however, is his ability to manipulate the people of Mecca by means of enforcing his will, one way or another.
- Dave B. Mitchell as Hamza:
Known as “The Lion of God”, Hamza is a strong and wealthy warrior with a strong moral character, and brutal fighting skills. Feared and respected in all of Mecca no one dares to stand up against him. In this story, Hamza proves to be a worthy ally and mentor to Bilal.
- Cynthia McWilliams as Hamama:
Bilal & Ghufaira's mother, and their inspirations. Descent of Ethiopian's royal blood, Hamama is a wise and elegant woman who was murdered by raiders. However, Hamama's voice still resonates in Bilal's heart and mind, helping him overcome the many unimaginable trials and distress he endures.
- Fred Tatasciore as Al Siddiq:
The Lord of Merchants, father-in-law of the new movement's leader and also the first to catch sight of the goodness in Bilal. Al Siddiq approaches Bilal sensing his inner struggles and guides him patiently towards his salvation. When Bilal is severely punished for rising against his master, Al Siddiq offers to buy him which in turn wins Bilal his freedom.
- Fred Tatasciore as Charlatan Priest:
The devil personified. This enigma is the eternal mischief mongerer in Bilal's world. No one has seen the face that lies behind that mask, and maybe there isn't even one. Heavily dependent on Umayya's corrupt system of business and trade, the priest compels the common people to worship idols and pay tribute in the form of food and money.
- Thomas Ian Nicholas as Saad:
The son of a wealthy merchant who, along with his family, is not tainted by Umayyah's corruption. The courageous Saad was known for being the best archer of his time. A loyal friend to Bilal.
- China Anne McClain as Ghufaira:
Bilal's supportive little sister. Bilal does all he can to protect her and keep her out of harm's way, which often leads to some form of punishment at the hands Umayyah and his cruel son Safwan.
- Jon Curry as Sohaib:
Like Bilal, Sohaib is also a slave of Persian origin purchased from the Byzantine Empire, who's working for his master as a blacksmith. Big and strong, Sohaib can fight ten men without working up much of a sweat.
- Al Rodrigo as Abu al-Hakam:
One of the Quraysh's leaders of Mecca and also Umayyah's right hand confidante, as crooked and mischievous as they come. Abu al-Hakam is a ruthless leader who inflicts his wrath upon anyone who dares question Umayyah's corrupted system of business and trade.
- Mick Wingert as Safwan:
Umayyah's son and heir. Being so close in age to Bilal cultivates an animosity between the two, quickly turning into a rivalry of sorts. Safwan is constantly trying to impress the abusive Umayyah through his fighting, trade skills, and ruthless demeanor.
- Michael Gross as Okba:
A mirror to the men of Bilal's time and also one of the Quraysh's leaders of Mecca along with Umayyah and al-Hakam. He is a greedy, shrewd, and sycophantic merchant. Known for being a joker, Okba has this ‘bubbly’ energy coupled with over-the-top theatrics leaning towards a feminine exuberance.
Ayman Jamal pursued the project for over seven years, doing intense research in order to pay homage to the countless historical accounts and descriptions of the characters and set locations in the movie. He finally founded Barajoun Entertainment in 2013, establishing the company in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It was truly challenging for Jamal to both open an animation studio and develop the animated feature simultaneously, as both endeavors were the first of their kind within the MENA region. State of the art facilities were employed in the pursuit of industry standard content development, enabling Barajoun to deliver a movie that is on par with any international animated feature.
The film features an ensemble of highly detailed and imaginative elements. It boasts a stylized world with complex characters, setups, props, and environments.
As a character the presence of the Falcon was as a companion of Hamza the warrior. The Falcon in Arabic literature and culture is a representation of authenticity, pride and bravery.
Special Programming Scripts were used in order to achieve the hyper realistic animation of the falcon as it folded (and spread) its wings. The falcon rig setup was made up of a number of joints and controls which allowed the animators to deliver a hyper realistic animation performance for the bird's neck movement. Each wing hosted close to 150 controls for the feather sets only. Getting the wings to look correct during the action of folding and unfolding was no easy challenge either.
The rig is undoubtedly the most complex setup Barajoun built for the film. Each shot of the falcon in the film took over 5 terabytes. 
Creating the Battle of Badr
This battle scene in Bilal is the longest in animation history. Conventionally, each frame can only hold 7 items in animation.
The battle scene held a grand total of 310 figures, including weaponry, warriors, and horses. It was so ambitious that many crew members left believing that it could not be done. The remaining team, however, did not give up. They hired actual Chinese warriors to act out the battle for the perfect animation.
Apart from the technical mastery it took to create them, the animals that appear in the movie create a beautiful symbolic message. The horse to Bilal was a symbolic representation of courage, power and strength. The idea of having a wooden horse toy as a child represented a dream of being a warrior. He grew up trying to master a white horse in the stable, and up until he learnt how to gallop through sand dunes and tread long distances, he had to be patient. This whole process of waiting and enduring being thrown off the horse many times, is the process of Bilal turning into a warrior himself.
The production team at Barajoun researched and created case studies of horses that were available at that historical era. The team went later to Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid equestrian club, as he holds one of the most extensive horse collections in the world, and they built the horse's research database there. The Arabian horse was a point of reference, so the art team took it from there, visualizing stylized interpretation of the majestic animal. Numerous patterns and landmarks were incorporated into the design of these beasts, so that every horse had a presence of its own. Heavy research on the mannerisms of actual horses were undertaken by Barajoun's animation wing for a span of three months. The same was employed by the FX team taking them two years to develop the complex fur, rig, and animation. 
Every horse has more than two million hair strands, making it take over four hours to render a single frame. The complex rig contained nearly 1000 controls along with the skeletal and muscle systems. The epic “Battle of Badr” used anywhere from 50 to 1000 of these horses in most of its shots.
The music was composed by Atli Örvarsson, with additional music by Claudio Olachea, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studio. Örvarsson employed a unique blend of Icelandic music fused with Oriental music in order to develop a language that spoke to a wider audience. Music recording and mixing engineering on the show was done by Steve McLaughlin. Stephen Gallagher performed mix duties during the final mix of the show, also producing the song "Distant Shadows", with lyrics by Khurram H. Alavi.
The musical score and sound design were mixed and finalised at Peter Jackson's Park Road Post in Wellington, New Zealand. The final mix was handled by academy award-winning Michael Hedges and his team of seasoned PRP engineers.
A special screening was held at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival in Doha, Qatar on November 9, 2015. The film premiered at the 12th Annual Dubai International Film Festival on December 9, 2015. It continued its festival circuit over the course of 2016 being screened in Berlin, Cannes, Annecy, and Toronto. It was released in cinemas all across the MENA region. It was scheduled to be released in the US and other parts of the world on February 2, 2018.
The film has been also released in Turkey dubbed the lead character Bilal by Engin Altan Duzyatan.[clarification needed] Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the premiere show and highly praised the film.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 59% based on 39 commercial reviews (85% on Audience), and an average rating of 5.9/10 (Audience: 4/5) . On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 52 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Awards and nominations
The film was officially selected at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival under Best Feature Film. It was also nominated for APSA, the region's highest accolade in film for Best Animated Feature Film after winning "Best Inspiring Movie" in Animation Day in Cannes Festival and "Best Innovative Movie" at the BroadCast Pro Middle East Award. The film was also nominated for “Best Animated Feature Film” at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) and screened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA last March 2017. The film is currently in the list for 100 best animated feature films by USA Today, as well as in the Top 10 of 2018 list of animated movies on IMDB.
- "Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (2015) – Box office / business". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
- "Press Kit". Bilal Movie. Barajoun Entertainment. Archived from the original on April 27, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
- www.bilalmovie.com Characters
- "Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (2015) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- Official Website Archived 2019-06-21 at the Wayback Machine Behind the Scenes
- "Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
- "Bilal: A New Breed of Hero Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 8 February 2018.