The Prince of Egypt

Directors: Brenda Chapman,
Steve Hickner & Simon Wells

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Despite occasionally awful musical numbers mixed in with one or two reasonable song & dance routines, & despite that most of that music brings all action to a crushing halt rather than moving the tale along, The Prince of Egypt (1998) is visually an attractive version of the legend of Moses, done as an animated feature film.

The Prince of EgyptThe story is retold stridently as about two brothers, Ramses & Moses, divided by opposing missions. Voiced by Val Kilmer as Moses & Ralph Fiennes as Ramses, no other characters much mattered to the screenwriters.

Moses's actual brother Aaron (Jeff Goldblum) is all but inconsequential. A key sequence for how bad slavery is really boils down to another jolly song about being whipped.

In general we see rather less of the condition of the Jews enslaved than we do of Moses & Ramses all tra-la-la together at first, later having an extravagant falling out as prelude to the seven plagues.

Nor is it by any means the equal of Cecil Be DeMiille's The Ten Commandments (1956) which it frankly copies, producer Spielberg having formerly described the animated feature as a remake of DeMille's version.

Some scenes emulate rather too closely the live-action original, rather than drawing fresh from Torah & sundry midrashim. And of course since it really is much more about Moses having been a prince of Egypt, it only tells half the story DeMille covered in The Ten Commandments, the animated remake climaxing at the parting of the sea.

The Prince of EgyptThe design of the film is often very appealing for the vistas of Egypt, the art deco interiors, with a sense of magnificance to any scene showing ancient architecture.

Moses is a softer figure than usually imagined, pretty as a boy-band rock star, the Val Kilmer who played Jim Morrison of The Doors (1991) but not even as tough a guy as Morrison. Moses is reduced to tears in his compassion for Pharaoh.

This softening of Moses may be to make him less scary to the smallest children who in the language of modern cinema would mistake a stern Moses for a villain.

But it often seems like he's not in the least a holy man, & would've loved to have stayed a prince of Egypt & good buddies with Ramses if God didn't scare the crap out of him, nothing at all like the Moses I have always understood to possess a unique friendship with god, & obedient from love rather than terror.

The plagues are run through rapidly, again, probably so as not to frighten the kiddies. The high priests or sorcerers against whom Moses pits the powers of God are portrayed as vaudeville clowns, which completely undermines the significance of their defeat. They provide the requisit comic relief in a cartoon not produced by Disney Studios but slavishly imitative of Disney. The one exceptlion is how there's no shortage of horror for the death of the first-born of Egypt, even if all else is undermined.

The Prince of EgyptIt all concludes with a big musical number as the liberated Jews dance through the parted sea, followed by the very understated drowning of Pharaoh's army.

It closes with the "brothers" on each side of the sea still playing out the affectation of the main thing being the tragedy of brothers torn away from one another, as if on two sides of the American Civil War.

A teency coda shows Moses carrying the carved Commandments, with no hint of the sins & the wandering in the wilderness or any troubles ever again.

I wouldn't give it any awards even though most of the design work is exceedingly well done. It is the disneyfication of even the slaughter of the innocents & the shoving to the background of all Jewish characters except Moses.

But I have no doubt whatsoever that The Prince of Egypt can be fully engrossing for children. It could even so be used as a meaningful starting point for family discussion, even if it can be aggravating that the message in this take on the tale of the Exodus is "how terrible it is when brothers can't get along."

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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