I grew up in a deeply religious household, as I'm sure I've mentioned a few time in these articles. As such, I was often watching films of a religious nature in my house, especially around the holidays. Obviously, films like King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and The Ten Commandments were always on the television throughout November and December. It was almost unavoidable, though at least the films were actually pretty entertaining to watch. But every so often, my sister and I would get a treat and a chance to watch a religiously-inspired movie that was animated and far better than the drier and more "epic" scale films that tended to get seen.
I am, of course, talking about DreamWorks Animations 1998 animated musical The Prince of Egypt. Now I've talked about this film several times in various countdowns or editorials over the last few years but I've never actually sat down and given my few opinion on the film on its own merits. This is an oversight that I feel is greatly in need of correction, especially given the holiday season.
Yes, I do realize that this movie is more of a Passover movie than a Christian holiday movie, but I did not feel like waiting until next April to review this movie and its prequel (tune in next week ;)). So this is what you all are getting. A nice look at one of DreamWorks Animations most highly regarded traditionally animated movies.
Is it worthy of the hype and does it stand up to films like The Ten Commandments in terms of adaptation of its source material?
- Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, & Simon Wells
- Produced by DreamWorks Animation
- MPAA Rating: PG
- Running Time: 99 Minutes
Adapted from the biblical story of Exodus, The Prince of Egypt tells the story of Moses, an Israelite who was saved from executionas a child by his mother and raised as a Prince of Egypt alongside his adoptive brother and future Pharaoh, Rameses. Moses' people are enslaved by the Egyptians and after an incident where Moses kills a man while defending a slave, he goes into exile and becomes a shepard.
Many years later, Moses is called by God to return to Egypt and free the Israelites now under the yoke of Rameses. Now the two adopted brothers find themselves on opposites sides of a theological fight, with the lives of both Egypt and Israel hanging in the balance.
Getting right into things...does this film live up to the hype and stand against other adaptations like The Ten Commandments as an equal?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: Yyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssss!
No joke. This is far and away one of my favorite DreamWorks Animated movies and it is, without any competition, the best traditionally animated film the studio ever produced. This film is an exquisitely animated, beautifully performed adaptation of one of the most famous stories in history. DreamWorks took the full opportunity to present us with a musical exploration of the Exodus story and they did so whilst still maintaining all of the pathos and drama of the original story, even adding some more drama where none originally existed.
I discussed this film quite a bit in my editorial on DreamWorks' traditional animation films and there I spoke about just how amazing and revolutionary this film really was. The film has a truly epic scale and actually manages to merge traditional and the very few CGI moments within the film in such a way that it doesn't come off as disconcerting, but otherworldly; which ultimately helps to push this film above many of the other DreamWorks films at that time which weren't quite as good at meshing traditional and CG animation.
Mentioning this film as epic means that I do have to ultimately discuss the relationship between this film and Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments from 1956. The latter film is widely regarded as the quintessential adaptation of this story and for good fucking reason. The film is beautifully filmed, emotionally charged, and has some of the finest moments of acting that have ever been put to screen. The fact that DreamWorks was willing to create a film that would almost certainly be compared to such a classic is simply awe-inspiring. And it absolutely does compare.
Animation allows a creator to create shots and imagery that would be almost certainly impossible for a live action film to portray and The Prince of Egypt takes full advantage of its medium to properly portray the sheer horror of the 10 plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. The film truly feels on a whole other level with its DreamWorks counterpart films and is easily on the same level as the other biblical epics. What was a monumentally difficult shot with thousands of extras in The Ten Commandments can be done with computers and a few animators to the same effect, as seen in the films many musical segments.
Actually let's talk on those and the soundtrack in general, because holy shit! (Pardon the pun).
DreamWorks was not playing around when it came to their music, hiring on composer Stephen Schwartz (the mind behind the music for Wicked) and Hans Zimmer (from damn near every blockbuster film you've ever heard of) to write the soundtrack and both of them knocked it out of the fucking park. Every single track in this film is absolutely incredible and even the "worst" song in the movie, "Playing with the Big Boys" is still a banger and better than the best songs in many other movies.
Of all the songs, I think the "Plague" song and "Deliver Us" are clearly the best and most traditionally epic in terms of movie musicals, though I do personally have a soft spot for "Look Through Heaven's Eyes". The Prince of Egypt utilizes its music to help separate it from its live action counterparts and give it a truly distinct identity.
Moving from music to the characters, I am struck by the sheer star power at play in this movie. Val Kilmer as Moses and God, Ralph Fiennes as Rameses, and Jeff Golblum as Aaron to just name a few. Besides them, we have Michelle Pfeiffer as Zipporah, Moses wife, and Patrick Stewart as Seti, Rameses' overbearing father. This cast is absolutely wonderful and really helps to ground the film in a distinct identity, even if some of the voices are distracting due to the popularity of the actor in question (I'm looking at you Steven Martin and Martin Short!).
The voice cast might not be as great as The Ten Commandments but they bring their own unique flair and thematic elements to the film.
The Prince of Egypt is a far more intimate and character driven story than its live action counterpart, focusing much more heavily on the brotherly bond between Moses and Rameses and it is through this bond that the underlying tragedy is given context. In this, I really must commend Fiennes and Kilmer for really making me feel the love and sorrow that Moses and Rameses have for each other in this film. Especially Fiennes as Rameses. It would've been so easy for the filmmakers to portray Rameses with the same level of villainous panache that Yul Brynner did in The Ten Commandments(who was really spectacular by the by), but they chose another route. Rameses is inherently likeable and you empathize deeply with his desire to surpass his father and live up to the legacy and expectations thrust upon him.
But at the same time, the film makes you blindingly aware that those expectations are being built off the suffering and enslavement of Moses' people and that places the two brothers who really have a great connection on opposites sides in this conflict. But it never removes the inherent closeness and affection that either have for the other, which only makes their conflict all the more tragic. This focus on the brother's relationship transform a triumphant film of liberation and the power of God (an inherently religious movie) into a tragic story of brothers in conflict over moral principles (a far more secular approach which makes the film more palatable to non-religious audiences).
I actually have to commend this film on its attempts to maintain a degree of secularism when approaching this story. Obviously a story adapted from Book of Exodus can't entirely remove the religious overtones, but The Prince of Egypt does place far less focus on religious symbolism and moments from the story, such as the Passover feast (instead choosing to focus on the tragedy of Rameses' choice rather than the salvation of the Israelites). It really gives the film a wholly unique viewpoint and makes it far more accessible for younger audiences and those individuals who perhaps can't usually get into religious stories for one reason or another.
All in all, The Prince of Egyptis a spectacular film. I do have some issues with some of the somewhat out of place comedic moments that feel tacked on at some points, but thankfully these moments are either few and far between or spaced far enough away from the serious dramatic moments to not completely mess with the film's tone. Given animation's unfair reputation for childishness, this was a serious concern when reviewing this movie, but once again The Prince of Egypt comes out on top and delivers what might be the best adaptation of the Book of Exodus in my humble opinion.
That's right. I said it. I think that The Prince of Egypt
is a superior adaptation of the story than The Ten Commandments
. Yes, it perhaps doesn't have the scale or religious subtext that DeMille's classic does, but DreamWorks put their all into this musical and it paid off with interest. I adore this film and will often find myself revisiting it again and again.
FINAL SCORE - 9.5/10
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