The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Cast Voices: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Stewart, Martin Short, Steve Martin, Helen Mirren, Ofra Haza.
1998 98 minutes
Rated: (for mature themes and violence; appropriate for children 7 and up).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 19, 1998.
1998 was such a dismal year for animated features (I gave negative reviews to "Antz," "The Rugrats Movie," and "A Bug's Life") that I was beginning to think I had somehow outgrown them, even though I knew that wasn't true since I still loved the majority of animated pictures in the past. So, it's funny how the last film in that genre for the year turned out to be Dreamworks' first foray into basic animation, "The Prince of Egypt," which is an awe-inspiring, amazing achievement that not only is refreshingly more serious and realistic than the usual dull recent Disney movies, but enraptured me in its spell from the first powerful sequence to the last.
Based on the biblical story of Moses, Dreamworks, no doubt, had a difficult film on their hands to make, particularly since it was to be an animated film and the subject matter is uplifting, yet very dark. Thankfully, Dreamworks seems to be far more mature than Disney, for if they had made it, they would have added a bunch of cute animals that would substitute for comic relief. In its visually beautiful opening scene, baby Moses is set in a basket and pushed out to sea by his mother, in order to save him from murderous Egyptian soldiers who have taken over their village. Soon, Moses washes up from the sea and is given a home at the palace of the Pharaoh Seti (Patrick Stewart), where he grows up thinking that the Pharaoh is his real father and Pharaoh's son, Rameses (Ralph Fiennes), is his brother. When Moses (voiced well by Val Kilmer) accidentally runs into two slaves, who happen to be his brother, Aaron (Jeff Goldblum), and sister, Miriam, (Sandra Bullock), they try to convince him of his true family. He, at first, doesn't believe them, and then when the truth is reinforced by Pharaoh, Moses becomes outraged that he has been lied to all his life, and realizes that the slaves working at the palace are being severely mistreated. Seekng solace across the desert in a Midianite village, Moses falls in love with the shepardess, Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer), and when he finally comes into contact with the burning bush, which gives him the power to set the slaves free in Egypt, he returns to his home of royalty and sets forth a series of dangerous plagues, which include a destructive swarm of locusts and turning the sea into blood.
As you have probably guessed, "The Prince of Egypt," is most likely too intense and "adult" for younger children, but it is a magnificent marvel for older children and grown-ups, and it also serves as being educational without becoming relentlessly preachy and religious. Not only that, but the film was so stunning to look at and so sound in its story department that it was actually highly entertaining and exciting, as well.
With "The Prince of Egypt," animation has certainly gone to a new ultimate level. In recent years, the Disney films had grown to feel unspectacular because the animation simply didn't seem to be showing me things I hadn't already seen. "The Prince of Egypt" contains, by far, the best animation I have ever seen, with a resplendent or astonishing image coming ever minute. The sequences that stand out most in my mind include when hieroglyphics come to life; the plague arrives that kills all of the first-born children; the amazing swarm of locusts; the edge-of-your-seat chariot race; the solemn march of the slaves after they have been freed; and, ultimately, the parting of the red sea.
For once, the musical numbers in "The Prince of Egypt" are actually memorable and often quite beautiful, particularly the opening musical number, and "When You Believe," which is a lovely and touching ballad. Although the music is not necessary, the songs were, overall, satisfying enough that I have no objections to the decision of making the film a musical.
"The Prince of Egypt," finally broke the recent string of disappointing animated features, so much so that this is actually one of the very best films of the year. It showed me images that I had never seen before in the world of animation, and I was constantly in a state of shock and wonder over the astounding technological advancements. Gratefully, the film proves that an animated film can be made that deals with a serious subject without condescending to the so-called "cute and cuddly" laws of children's fare. "The Prince of Egypt" is a towering achievement that puts to shame the majority of recent Disney films, and is an ideal film to see during the holiday season.
©1998 by Dustin Putman