Last week, we discussed DreamWorks Animation's 1998 classic The Prince of Egypt, which is one of my favorite films of all time. The film was an incredible risk for the newly formed DreamWorks to create and represents the highlight of their traditional animated era, with stellar animation and music, tied to a deeply emotional story that was accessible to both religious and irreligious audiences.
With such a reputation, any companion or sequel film would have a powerful shadow to overcome. And the film that the filmmakers decided needed to follow up the story of Moses and the Exodus was a direct-to-video adaptation of the story of Joseph, which they released in 2000.
In some ways, this actually makes sense since the story of Joseph is probably the most well known bible story next to the Story of Exodus and the story of Jesus (if you include the New Testament). Still I've always found this sequel particularly fascinating given the subject matter and how it was DreamWorks Animations only direct-to-video production until Trollhunters: Rise of the Titan in 2021, giving this film quite a degree of notoriety.
Due to the story taking place chronologically before The Prince of Egypt and possessing something of a much more different tone, this film is considered by many of its creators as more of a companion to The Prince of Egypt rather than an out and out sequel. So how does Joseph:King of Dreams, the direct-to-video sequel, compare to its theatrical predecessor?
Let's take a look.
- Directed by Robert Ramirez and Rob LaDuca
- Produced by DreamWorks Animation
- MPAA Rating: PG
- Running Time: 74 Minutes
Acting as something of a spiritual prequel to The Prince of Egypt, Joseph: King of Dreams retells the famous story from the Book of Genesis of Joseph, son of Jacob; from his enslavement to his rise to political prominence in Egypt.
Born to Jacob's favorite wife, who was thought to be infertile, Joseph is gifted with amazing talents and abilities, including the ability to interpret dreams and their prophetic meanings. These gifts and the special privileges afforded to Joseph by his father makes the young man envied by his older brothers. One day, Jacob's brothers sell Joseph into slavery and convince their father of his death. Now forced into bondage, Joseph will have to rely on his faith in God and the gifts granted to him to survive and thrive.
All of which will culminate with a final confrontation with his brother's and the temptation of revenge for the cruelties visited upon him.
I think it is very important to state right out of the gate that this story is not nearly as epic of a film as The Prince of Egypt was. In nearly every aspect, the film is smaller in scope, scale, and intention. This is in no way a negative criticism, merely a recognition of the differing tone and focus that this film is trying to convey. Joseph: King of Dreams really does feel like an altogether different kind of film, so I think the description of it as a "companion piece" or "spiritual successor" to The Prince of Egypt is much more apt.
Visually, there isn't too much of a difference actually. DreamWorks Animation put a lot of work into this film's visual aesthetic and while I do think that it is brighter and lacks much of the scale in terms of visual marvels or crowds, a story of this nature didn't really call for such and the film makes do without it. But the colors are sharp and help to immediately place you into the world and the dream sequences are utterly fantastic and perfectly capture a sense of surreal otherworldliness that helps distinguish them from the very real events occurring on screen.
The visuals work as well as they do due to the character designs and the general performances that help to immerse the audience into Joseph's tribulation. Much like The Prince of Egypt, the cast of this movie is star-studded, with Ben Affleck as the voice of Joseph, Mark Hamill as Judah, Joseph's older brother and their psuedo-leader, and Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel) as Asenath, Joseph's love interest.
The cast does an exemplary job throughout, though the film really does rely heavily on Affleck's performance to carry the film, as Joseph actually spends a lot of this film alone or on his own. Thankfully, Affleck manages to properly capture the pride, arrogance, and vulnerability at the heart of his character and really makes you care for his struggles and sorrows. This is a film that really has a single major focus and everyone else plays a secondary role. The brother's are the "antagonists" as much as one can be, but even they are really only second fiddle to Joseph's own pride and arrogance and his need for humility, which God seems quite willing to dish out.
Several times in fact.
These moments do however, lead up to the best part of this movie. That being the fantastic soundtrack. Danny Pelfrey took over from The Prince of Egypt composer Hans Zimmer with full confidence and he does not disappoint. The music may not have the same level of scale as Zimmer's work but Pelfrey manages to capture the religious spirit and heart of the story in a very intimate way, especially when compared with the lyrical tracks written by John Bucchino. The musical segments are wonderful, easily among my favorite for any direct-to-video project. Miracle Child and Bloom are beautiful pieces to present the core themes and underlying conflict of the story, with the latter's musical theme acting as a narrative cue and base for many of the most emotional moments of the story.
Then we have You Know Better Than I, which is a song that I can definitely appreciate and find immensely enjoyable but also presents a very difficult element to this film that The Prince of Egypt didn't really have. If you'll remember from my review, I noted that the underlying thematic story of The Prince of Egypt, that is the relationship between Moses and Rameses, is fundamentally separate from the underlying religious message which is inherent for any adaptation of mythology. This enabled The Prince of Egypt to be accessible to any audience, regardless of their fluency in Judeo-Christian mythology. You Know Better Than I is very much rooted in not only religious subtext and highlights how integral it is to the underlying theming of the film, but is also heavily rooted in many beliefs that are based in modern American evangelical Christianity, rather than the Judaism of the original myth.
While I am not very comfortable with many of these ideological standpoints for very personal reasons, I cannot deny the charm and well-intentioned tone that the song exudes. And the performance by David Campbell is wonderfully done as well. Just a great song, even if it does highlight an element of the film that I am somewhat uncomfortable with.
The final song of note would have to be More Than You Take which is just a sweet ballad that works to montage over the seven years of plenty that lead up to the third act of the film. It's a sweet song dueted by Jodi Benson and David Campbell and is a lot of fun to listen. It really exemplifies how well done this film is.
The underlying sense of this film in comparison to The Prince of Egypt is smaller but more intimate. It is a very emotional story of one individual's struggle with their own sense of faith. Highlighting a story of pride and humility and setting the stage for The Prince of Egypt, the final act of this movie is very well done and the struggle between Joseph and his estranged family plays very well tonally, though it could come out of left feel due to the generally brighter feel to this film.
Actually, now that I mention that. This film's brightness is a little strange given the subject matter. Joseph is sold into slavery and bears witness to some of the worst of humanity and the film largely glosses over it. The accusations of assault on Potiphar's wife is a very serious subject matter and the film handles it about as well as a child-oriented bible story could, to be completely fair. I feel like the overall story is well done, but limited by its target audience and lean towards more childish focus, despite the subject matter.
All in all, Joseph: King of Dreams is a much smaller affair that The Prince of Egypt, but I think the filmmakers were well aware of that by releasing it as a direct-to-video project. The film has heart and is far more character driven and emotionally charged than the epic scope and dark scale of its predecessor, but still manages to capture the same passion. The film's music is stellar and easily equal in quality to its preceding film, though it does possess a marked difference in styling. The film is lesser by design, but a wonderful creation regardless of that design.
If that makes sense. I hope it does, since I really do like this film and recommend people check it out, even if it is more openly religious and therefore more difficult to potentially get into than The Prince of Egypt. It's really just something that any potential viewer will have to judge for themselves.
FINAL SCORE - 7.75/10
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