Prince of Egypt

Parting the Red Sea as a theme park event.

Parting the Red Sea as a theme park event.

(1998) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Sandra Bullock, Patrick Stewart, Danny Glover, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Mel Brooks, Phillip Ingram, Amick Byram, Aria Noelle Curzon. Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells

I was surprised to discover that when I reviewed this back in 1998 for the Triviana website, I wrote “As the stranglehold on quality animated features once held by Disney has weakened, we can expect a glut of animated movies to hit the local multiplexes, since they are extremely profitable to the studios when marketed correctly. Every parent will have, somewhere in the recesses of their home, a toy of the cartoon-du-jour picked up from one fast-food place or another.” And wow, that actually came to pass. I had to take that opportunity to pat myself on the back.

Prince of Egypt came from the nascent DreamWorks animation studio which hoped to cut into the Disney pie and wound up cutting the largest wedge, if you please. Featuring a stellar cast of vocal talent, Prince of Egypt retells the story of Exodus. Those familiar with the Bible (or, at least, who have viewed The Ten Commandments any number of times) will know the story: A fearful mother, watching the children of Israel being slaughtered at Pharaoh’s command, puts her son into the waters of the Nile to escape the sword.

Plucked out of the Nile by Pharaohs’ wife, young Moses (Kilmer) grows up to be a bit of a hellion, a constant rival to the Pharaoh’s legitimate son and heir Ramses (Fiennes). The two, however, have developed a bond that, while tested occasionally, proves strong. Tzipporah (Pfeiffer), a high-spirited slave from Midian proves to be the undoing of the Prince as he allows her to escape, then attempts to follow her, only to run into his actual brother Aaron (Goldblum) and sister (Bullock), who tell him who he really is. Confused, Moses finds his erstwhile father Seti (Stewart), who confirms his heritage, and the terrible act that brought Moses to him. Horrified, Moses flees Egypt and makes his way to Midian.

Jethro, the Sheikh of Midian (Glover) takes the young man into his home and his heart. Eventually, Moses marries Jethro’s daughter Tzipporah (surprising how convenient these Bible epics can be). However, Moses destiny is changed forever when he encounters a burning bush while chasing a lost goat. The bush is the manifestation of the Almighty, who directs Moses to return to Egypt and free the Israelites. Most people should know how the story ends.

A great deal of dramatic license is taken here, although to be fair they do warn you at the beginning of the movie, and to the credit of the filmmakers they do refer you to Biblical sources for the lowdown. Still, it’s disconcerting to see figures such as Yeshua and others written out or reduced to minor roles.

The animation is gorgeous. The special effects of the Parting of the Red Sea, the Pillar of Fire and the multiple plagues are breathtaking. The songs are a bit treacly and I can do without hearing that diva duet between Whitney and Mariah ever again – have two more overrated performers ever shared the same soundstage? All in all, this is one animated movie that is not going to put either restless kiddies or their long-suffering parents to sleep.

It’s nice when a kidflick comes out with at least a worthwhile message and some intrinsic value beyond its marketing scheme. While watching The Prince of Egypt is no substitute for reading Exodus directly, it does make for a worthy introduction to the story for those who may be a bit young for direct Bible reading.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous animation. Stellar vocal cast. Nice introduction to Biblical story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kinda rewrites the Bible a bit much for my liking. Definitely more kid-friendly than adult.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some of the scenes might be a bit intense for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Val Kilmer also provides the voice of God so that when God speaks to Moses, he’s literally talking to himself.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a really interesting featurette on how the feature was translated into many different languages and how they had to find voice actors whose voices were close enough to the original. They then play a single sequence, the “When You Believe” song, in many different languages. Very impressive. There’s also a look at the chariot race sequence that opens the film and how that was created.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $218.6M on a $70M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Wizard of Oz

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