The Prince Of Egypt

The Prince Of Egypt


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

God was a team player in the old days. When the Egyptians treated Hebrew slaves like er... slaves, He ordered up pestilence and a plague of frogs. When that didn't work, He turned Himself into smoke and suffocated their first born, including the heir to the pharaohdom. No Mr Nice Guy. The story of Moses is a biggie for DreamWorks to tackle as their premier animated feature (Antz was a Toy Story kind of thing and not considered pure animation).

The excess and splendour of ancient Egypt, in the days when government building programmes were on go-alert and everywhere you looked another tomb or palace was going up, has been reproduced with flair and imagination. The artwork is tell-your-friends, on a par with The Lion King and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. The prob lies with the script, and the songs.

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Why Moses' mum floats her baby down river in a whicker basket to end up at Lady Pharaoh's feet, is not sufficiently explained (Lord P had ordered male Hebrew tots to death for some reason), except later in a cleverly conceived hieroglyphic dream sequence. Moses grows up in the palace as Rameses' younger bro. They have a wicked time, being arrogant, teenage and competetive. The fact Moses speaks American (thanks Val) and Rameses an English public school whine (with Ralph's compliments) sounds funny, but not as dinky-do as opening their mouths and warbling cod Lloyd-Webber, with full orchestral backing.

When Moses discovers he's adopted, he does that thing they write about in Help-Yourself-To-Guilt books - takes off for the hills to find out who he really is. Instead of a spoilt rich kid, who rides a mean chariot, he becomes Cat Stevens, all shy and croony, with pretty curls and a startled rabbit-in-headlights look. He marries a feisty country girl and spends his days with sheep, until coming across a burning bush in a cave where Big Voice tells him to set his people free. You suspect he's been at the magic mushrooms again, but no. This is Jehovah in managerial mode.

DreamWorks have stuck to the Disney formula - songs, comic duo, English actors on essential vocals - while being true-ish to the Old Testament's more bizarre behavior. God, it seems, plays tricks, like turning Moses' staff into a snake and doing extremely weird things with the Red Sea. Compared to the genie in Aladdin, He lacks razzle-dazzle. Humour takes second place to Jewish fable. All the Martins (Steve and Short), who voice the magicians at the court of Lord P, are used sparingly - one punchy number and a little abracadabra - which is a pity.

The spirit of Cecil B and Charlton Heston's imperious presence have not been replicated. Instead of leader of the nation, Moses is an innocent who doesn't seem to know what's going on. God shows no mercy. He's cruel, nationalistic and prepared to dump flames from heaven on any heathen who might be winning. The film looks wonderful, but suffers from its own ambition. The Moses adoption drama, all those dead babies and the story of Exodus is too vital to be condensed into an animated magic show.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Animated retelling of the story of Moses.
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Director: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells

Writer: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook

Starring: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short

Year: 1998

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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