Produced by Barajoun Studios and wholly funded in the Gulf, Dubai’s first entirely produced animated feature film is a grand spectacle indeed. Inspired by the real-life figure Bilal Ibn Rabah, the film follows the story of ‘Bilal’, as he and his sister are abducted as children and are raised as slaves under a ruthless merchant. Bilal will eventually find the courage to break free of his slavery and transform into a warrior fighting for equality and freedom not just for himself but for humanity as well.
The CG-animation is exemplary and easily distinguishable with other major Hollywood animated features released before it. The texture of the characters had consistent detail throughout the film, that even the tiniest of expressions could be noticed. One scene that stood out in particular was a dream sequence, where Bilal is in the middle of the desert and is up against a colossal demonic figure. The sheer gravitas of this sequence was quite a cinematic feat in itself not just for the visual impact it held but the symbolic nature of how immense his fight for freedom truly is.
The voice cast is simply stellar with the likes of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Bilal) and Ian McShane (Umayya) honing their roles respectively. McShane was brilliant as the ruthless merchant seller Umayya, especially when he gets into his monologues of power and greed. Adewale’s voice as Bilal is endearing and raises the emotional element of his struggle for freedom. The remainder of the supporting cast is enough to get the story moving along and doesn’t really offer much emotional depth as the film’s leads.
At a glance ‘Bilal’ seems like a film that has been done many times before. But seeing as it comes from this region where not many high profile animation features have graced the screen, Bilal can be a welcome sign that this part of the world is capable of creating large scale cinematic epics.