Epic Movie (Re)Watch #112 - The Prince of Egypt
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Yes.
Did I see it in theaters: No.
1) The head of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of Dreamworks animation at the time and one of the former big wigs at Disney, had been pitching an adaptation of Moses’ story from Exodus to Disney far before he started Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg. During an early meeting of Dreamworks Katzenberg recalls that Spielberg looked at him during the meeting and said, “You ought to do The Ten Commandments.”
2) I think the opening disclaimer is a nice touch.
“The motion picture you are about to see is an adaptation of the Exodus story. While artistic and historical license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Moses can be found in the book of Exodus.”
3) Music plays an incredibly important role in this film, mostly for setting its grand storytelling and dark tone. This is clearly apparent from the opening song “Deliver Us” which depicts the suffering of the Hebrew people in Egypt and also the hope of Moses.
4) This film also does an excellent job of immediately establishing the brotherly relationship between Moses and Ramses. It’s fun and honest, which makes the following events all the more heartbreaking.
5) Val Kilmer is quite effective in the role of Moses, being able to provide a healthy balance of his youthful joviality and privilege early on and the wisdom that would come to define the character later.
6) This film has three noteworthy actors who have very little lines. The first two of these are Patrick Stewart as Pharaoh Seti and Helen Mirren as The Queen.
Neither of them sing, so their lines are few and unfortunately Mirren feels wasted in the part (less of a comment on her acting, which is top notch as usual, and more from the lack of screen time). Stewart, however, gives Seti some depth. We see him as father and ruler, both roles where he cares about his people, but also murderer of Hebrew babies which gives him a sinister feel.
7) Moses could have been painted as a spoiled brat while acting as prince of Egypt, but he takes responsibility for his actions and mistakes while also trying to shield Ramses from some of their father’s heavy expectations.
8) Tzipporah is established as fierce as heck from the get go.
Kept as a foreign slave in her first scene, she still fights back with great vigor despite being in a room who don’t care if she dies by the hands of the pharaoh. Michelle Pfeiffer imparts some of the strength she brought to Catwoman into the part and it’s a wonderful take on the biblical figure.
9) Sandra Bullock may have more lines than Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, and (later) Danny Glover, but for some reason I’m always wanting more of her and her character Miriam by the time the film ends. I like what I see, I just wish there were more of her in the film (I think).
10) For some reason I don’t feel the way about her brother Aaron, who is voiced wonderfully by Jeff Goldblum. That may be because we see Aaron develop from non-believer to believer over the course of the film (wheres Miriam is consistently good and believing in Moses) and Jeff Goldblum plays both the doubter and the supporter well.
11) Continuing with the excellent music in this film, “All I Ever Wanted,” carries with it that sense of grandeur as well as the heartbreak of Moses denying his true heritage.
12) Moses’ nightmare is one of the most memorable non-musical sequences out of the film (not THE most memorable but one of them), and this is done both through the unique hieroglyphic art style and the lack of dialogue. It is true visual storytelling.
13) Remember how I said Tzipporah is fierce as heck? Well, that continues throughout the film when she decides to drop Moses into a well as a bit of payback for being a prince of Egypt (although she does help him out because he helped her escape the palace).
14) Danny Glover is the third actor who doesn’t have enough lines. He plays the role of Jethro, a character with about ten spoken lines (more or less) and then the rest of his role is in song. And Danny Glover doesn’t sing the song.
In the little dialogue Glover does give though, he is able to establish Jethro as a man who’s heart is as big as his stature. I just wish we’d heard more of him.
15) I mentioned in The Road to El Dorado the effectiveness of using a song to cover large gaps of time. This film is no different, initial with Jethro’s song “Through Heavens Eyes.” It’s a rousing and hopeful number which talks of the Hebrew god and how we can only know our worth when trying to look through (one guess what I’m going to say next) heaven’s eyes. In that time we cover Moses learning what a free life is from these people, his growing humility, and his blossoming relationship with Tzipporah (and eventual marriage).
16) The Burning Bush.
Val Kilmer provides the voice of god in this film, although that wasn’t the initial plan. Originally all the actors in the film were going to voice god at the same time, and were told to whisper so they wouldn’t overpower each other. When the time came to record Kilmer’s lines, they realized someone had to speak louder. It was a happy realization, as the filmmakers later noted that god usually speaks to us as the little voice in our own heads. And it parallels the Cecil B. Demille version of The Ten Commandments where it is said (although I don’t think confirmed) that Charlton Heston also provided the voice of god while also playing Moses.
17) Moses telling Tzipporah about his encounter with the burning bush is another fine example of how filmmaking is primarily a VISUAL medium. We don’t hear a word they saw to each other, but we see him talking and we see her reaction and we know EXACTLY what is happening.
18) Ralph Fiennes performance as Ramses is at its best when Ramses becomes villainous and conceited. Hmm, Ralph Fiennes playing a villainous and conceited villain. Sounds familiar…
19) Playing with the Big Boys is the only real villain song in this film.
Performed by the evil lackeys Hotep and Huy (who are voiced wonderfully by Steve Martin and Martin Short respectively), the song shows off just how dark things in the Egypt really are and how tricky these two “magicians” are. Martin and Short breathe wonderful life and evil fun into the song, and even recorded their dialogue together. And the scenes uses wonderful use of darkness and shadows to make us feel like Moses is in over his head. Which in a way, he is. But the film wouldn’t be interesting if things were easy for the protagonist.
20) The growing conflict between Moses and Ramses is heartbreaking and I give credit to all those involved in this film for that. The directors, the writers, the animators, Val Kilmer & Ralph Fiennes, everyone. We see them go from the best of friends to archenemies and neither of them wants to be in that position. But they are, and they each think they’re doing what is best for their people. It hurts a lot to watch.
21) “The Plagues” is also a great example of how this film condenses what could have been a massive chunk of time into a little two-and-a-half minute song.
It also does not make light of the plagues either. The plagues were horrible. True wrath of god type stuff that ruined people’s lives. And this song is an epic but dark representation of just what those were like while also developing the conflict between Moses and Ramses.
22) I’m not as familiar with my biblical readings as maybe I should be, but I like that this film depicts Moses reaching out to Ramses one last time before he releases the final plague. It is one final reminder that they are or, more appropriately, were brothers. And they almost seem to understand each other, to make peace. But they don’t. Meaning the final and most awful plague is released.
23) I don’t want to get into my own theological beliefs or philosophies, but I am always sickened about the death of the first borns of Egypt.
The scene is animated beautifully but the entire thing is heartbreaking. The idea of a god who will take away the lives of children just to get what he wants, even though he later claims that we are all his children, just never sits right with me. I just…it sickens me. That’s all I can say. It sickens me.
24) “When You Believe” is probably THE song from this film. It won the Oscar for best original song that year, beating out “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. It is the perfect representation of the power of hope and belief which is the central theme of this film. Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky (along with the film’s chorus) do an excellent job performing the song written by Stephen Schwartz, but the pop version performed by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey is just as good.
25) I think the most memorable part of this film has to be the parting of the Red Seas. And it could just be for this image alone:
That is such a powerful image which really gets across the wonder of what we’re seeing. A representation of the scene which few if any adaptations of the Exodus story have ever lived up to and which I think only animation can bring to life so wonderfully.
26) After the Red Sea crashes down and Ramses is washed away, we see Moses looking off in the distance and hear Ramses screaming, “MOSES!” The filmmakers have suggested that this may be in Moses’ head and that Ramses might actually be dead. I like that idea. It shows Moses still has hope for his brother.
27) And since this is an adaptation of Exodus, of course it has to involve the Ten Commandments in some way. I’m just glad that it’s the last shot of the film. A nice way of ending the story.
It makes sense to end a family film there, as opposed to Moses finding his people worshipping a false idol (a golden cow, I think) and smashing the tablet before God destroys the idol and forces his people to wander the desert for 40 years to kill off the rebellious generation. Oh, and Moses didn’t get to go into the promised land.
(GIF originally posted by @rocktheholygrail)
What’s not family friendly about that?
The Prince of Egypt is a great animated film who’s popularity has unfortunately lost steam in recent years. It represents its story well without beating you over the head with the religion, the animation and music are gorgeous, and the voice acting is top notch (if a little wasted at times). I highly recommend you see it.