The Prince of Egypt

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Clutching my newly purchased soundtrack, ticket stub still warm in my hands, I basked in the glow of one excellent movie. Animated or no, The Prince of Egypt is a must-see. I know there are a lot of adults out there who refuse to see anything animated no matter what – and as those of us who were kids or have kids or are arrested development kids know, they are missing out. Before P.O.E., they showed a preview for Warner Bro’s The King and I (based on the musical) and Disney’s next summer hit, Tarzan (looking cool!). If King and I was all that was out there, I could understand why these people would skip out, missing treasures like A Bug’s Life and Mulan – but listen to me now. GET OVER YOURSELF. Just because someone drew it doesn’t mean it’s inferior in any way. Besides, Godzilla and Sphere were live action stinkers not fit for anyone – how can these be any worse? I always rant in my animation-advocate lunacy when I see a good one, so reference my previous reviews for my feelings on the genre.

The Prince of Egypt opens with a disclaimer, fending off the purists who might picket, a la The Last Temptation of Christ. I don’t know enough to say what deviated from the Exodus tale, but this is a movie for Christians, Jews, for all those various warring religions now in the Holy Land…it’s just Great. I wouldn’t say it’s for the kids, necessarily – it’s not gory but it is a mature theme. It’s a drama, an animated musical drama. Go figure. I can’t think of an adult who would think it’s just a kid’s movie, besides those anti-animation fuddy-duddies out there. People, open your minds. Some of the very best movies this year have been animated. Think about that.

Val Kilmer, uncharacteristically humble and gentle, is Moses. Ralph Fiennes is his brother Rameses. Patrick “talk to me” Stewart is the Pharaoh. But there’s more than that! Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Helen Mirren. The first time anyone spoke I was surprised by recognizing the voice, but once I settled in (except for Patrick Stewart – oh, how can a Pharaoh who speaks in such dulcet tones have killed all those children?) I was right with them. OK, maybe Sandra threw me a little too. Good actors, good voices, and the animation team responds with beautifully evocative visual acting in return. Having just seen the awkward, Scooby Doo-esque preview for King and I, I could appreciate the nuances of good body language even more keenly.

The beauty of newly-built Egypt, its shining alabaster monuments, the lush architectural and design skill of the Egyptians (even if they are the bad guys in the story, they sure had grace and style!) is jaw-dropping. Oh man, it’s gorgeous! Moses has a dream, and it’s the coolest dream sequence I have seen in forever! Lovely. The people are all a little wan and long, but it’s a design thing, not a Calista Flockhart trend.

Not being all that well versed in the story of Moses, I was interested and emotionally involved and I felt neither preached to nor neglected for my ignorance. It is stirring and oh! I have no words. I was actually getting verklempt! My male roommate admitted to me in the parking lot that he got misty at the beginning and after the Red Sea, and I wasn’t even going to TELL him I had done so as well – oops, now I told all of you. I’m not ashamed! When was the last time I cared about a bunch of people I never met in a movie! Titanic, that’s when!

And the soundtrack! Oy vey my children let me sing unto you of the songs and the score. Stephen “Godspell” Schwartz, a theatrical Biblical scholar and all around nice Jewish boy, writes the songs that misted us up, and Hans “Muppet Treasure Island” Zimmer composed and produced the score. Unappreciated musicians both – MTI is an incredible score, regardless of what you think of the movie. Pfeiffer, Martin, Short, and Fiennes do their own singing in this one (oddly enough, not vocal talent and acclaimed narcissist Kilmer) and the rest are vaguely recognizable substitute voices. Ofra Haza (Moses’ mother and grown-up sister) sets the emotional tone for this lovely, epic music, and Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky eat up the big climactic “When You Believe” – oh man! Schwartz is a fairly lousy playwright but a scorcher for complicated lyrics and Biblical content (despite Pocahontas)…anyway I didn’t write this review until I had grooved on the score LOUD, just to get the feeling back. It worked! I got all misty again! I didn’t even cry in Saving Private Ryan!

Soundtrack album warning: There are two “companion albums” to avoid AND the actual motion picture score rudely interrupts itself with POP tracks. Thankfully, these only ruin the credits of the film, but they are stuck in so you can’t have that Disney convenience of them all being grouped at the end so you can just hit stop. So see the movie, buy the CD immediately (like I did) and skip tracks 1, 16, 18, and 19. Unusually, Amy Grant’s cover of the River Lullaby doesn’t make me want to burn down Dreamworks.

Dreamworks may have lost in the Antz vs Bug’s Life battle (well-fought) but the jury is still out on Mulan (ancient hero, gorgeous movie) vs. Moses (ancient hero, gorgeous movie) – and Disney’s monopoly on the animated/musical Oscars is finally over. Did I mention it’s GORGEOUS?

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/18/98
Time in minutes 99
Director Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner
Studio DreamWorks