THE PRINCE OF EGYPT
Produced by Dreamworks SKG, whose recent children's release
was Antz, The Prince is not really intended for
pre-schoolers. In every sense it is biblical, from its subject
matter (the story of Exodus) to its unvarnished depictions of
cruelty. Though it has a few hints at humor and several incredible
musical numbers, there is little to laugh at here. This is a straighforward
retelling of Cecil B. DeMille's famous 1956 film The Ten Commandments,
pared down and rendered in cartoon form by writer Philip LaZebnik
(Mulan, Pocahontas) and directors Brenda Chapman
and Steve Hickner (both making their directorial debuts).
It is a dark period for the Hebrews in Egypt. Millions of them
have been enslaved by Pharaoh Seti to build his temples. Though
Moses is born a Hebrew, his mother spares him the life of a slave
by setting him afloat on the Nile in a basket. He is rescued by
an Egyptian princess, adopted, and reared as a brother to Ramses,
the heir to the throne of Egypt. But after Moses reaches adulthood,
he learns that he has no Egyptian blood in him; that, in fact,
he was born of the people who have served him all his life. He
leaves Egypt and wanders across the desert, finally coming upon
a shepherd village.
Moses encounters the spirit of God in a burning bush; it tells
him to return to Egypt and ask the pharaoh to let his people go.
Upon returning, he finds that Ramses is the new pharaoh. He entreats
his former brother to set the Hebrews free, but Ramses refuses,
bringing on a wave of plague and pestilence that finally forces
him to concede. As Moses is leading his people out of Egypt, Ramses
changes his mind and gives chase. Moses calls upon God to help
once again, and the pharaoh's army is swallowed up into the sea.
Having freed his people at last, Moses receives God's ten commandments
inscribed on tablets of stone.
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this monumental film is
the highly symbolic visual imagery. In the many memorable songs,
it is pure art alive with color and form. In contrast,
the passover scene, where the deadly plague comes and destroys
all the firstborn Egyptian children, is rendered in stark black
and white. There are numerous other visual treats, from the Egyptian
artworks to the burning bush to the parting of the Red Sea. But
the spectacular quality of the visuals does not mean that the
producers skimped on acting talent. With names like Val Kilmer
(as the voice of Moses), Ralph Fiennes (Ramses), Michelle Pfeiffer
(Moses' wife Tzipporah), and Patrick Stewart (Seti), and several
others, this film could be a hit if it were drawn in crayon.
Though I don't recommend this film for very small children, it could be a great learning tool for teens, church youth groups, or aspiring animators. But you may be required to answer some tough questions. Better go bone up on your Old Testament. *****
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