Today in my 3rd Dreamworks film we are going to look at what in my eyes is their one and only masterpiece- The Prince of Egypt. Not only was it their first animated film but it hits on every level. The animation is stunning. The music both score and songs is nearly perfect. The story is classic but told in a fresh, awe-inspiring way. It just all works and it is one of my favorite movies.
So, we all know the story of the 10 Commandments and Moses from the Bible. Charlton Heston played Moses in one of the most famous movies ever made (that I love) and there have been other versions over the years. It’s the most cinematic Bible story because it has so many layers. There’s obviously religion, but culture, miracles, family, love and more. However, what I love about Prince of Egypt is it tackles the story with a spirit of reverence. While certainly full of drama, the writers chose to forgo most of the vibrato of earlier versions and in return gave us an intimate portrayal of 2 brothers and their goings-on with God.
Prince of Egypt starts out by establishing the 2 sides of Rameses and Moses. We get Deliver Us from the Hebrew slaves with Moses being left in the basket by his mother and then Rameses and Moses as teens racing in chariots.
This establishes the rivalry between brothers but also the humility that will become Moses and the pride of Rameses. It is here that Pharaoh first tells Rameses to “not become the weak link”, which leads to much of his pride (such a great script!).
I’m not a huge fan of the celebrity voice casting in the Dreamworks films and some of it is distracting here but I love Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes as Moses and Rameses. I also love they got Amick Byram to sing for Val in a seamless transition (and the amazing Brian Stokes Mitchell to sing for Danny Glover). Well done! These voice actors feel like brothers but also like they are somehow from different worlds. It is perfect!
Of course, Moses finds out about his Hebrew heritage and the way that is handled is so good. You get the mania he must be feeling especially when he sees the hieroglyphic art depicting what his father Pharaoh did to the Hebrew slaves. Sandra Bullock is a little modern as Miriam here but I still think it works for the role.
Stephen Schwartz is certainly no stranger to religious musicals with Godspell and Children of Eden but I love his songs for Prince of Egypt even more. Aside from Playing with the Big Boys Now I love every song here. I love the vocal performances, harmonies, choral hooks, everything. Hans Zimmer’s score is one of his best full of quiet moments of wonder even in scenes like the plagues.
One of the highlights of the film is the iconic burning bush sequence. It is the best I’ve seen of this moment on film. Again, it has such a spirit of reverence and peace about it. You understand why Moses would be overwhelmed and yet it is small and ephemeral. It’s exactly how I imagine it really happened.
After he is called, Moses goes to confront Rameses, his brother, and we get the plagues which is presented perfectly. You can feel the tension between them personally grow with each new plague.
And then we get the parting of the Red Sea. I mean what is there to say but perfection. It is some of the most jaw dropping animation I’ve ever seen. Some don’t like there is a shark in the Red Sea but I kind of feel sorry for them. That they can’t just get caught up in the moment of sound, color, and story. It’s breathtaking
The only real flaw in Prince of Egypt is Playing with the Big Boys now which feels like an attempt to pander to kids and doesn’t fit with the tone and feel of the rest of the movie. I was looking on rottentomatoes and the rotten reviews said it wasn’t ‘fun’ enough. It’s those kind of morons that get us Guy Like You in Hunchback or Big Boys in this. Shame on you!
Anyway, I love this movie. I watched it today trying to analyze it and be objective (and I think I was) but I really don’t see many problems. It has great characters, story, music, animation and everything else. My only regret is that Shrek came along and sent Dreamworks away from making films like Prince of Egypt and down the path of lame comedies. Sigh…
At least they started out with a bang!
Overall Grade A+