movie film review | chris tookey

Prince Of Egypt

Dreamworks SKG - all rights reserved
  Prince Of Egypt  Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
6.33 /10
Voices of:, Moses: Val Kilmer, Miriam: Sandra Bullock
Full Cast >

Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells
Written by: Philip LaZebnik

Released: 1998
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 99

Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

Spectacular, but only sporadically inspired, account of Moses' life. Like the Baby Moses, it probably looked promising in the rushes.

The Prince of Egypt marked a welcome return by film-makers to the Old Testament epic. As the Hollywood moguls of old were aware, the Good Book contains some of the best stories in human history.

This new cartoon recounts - thoroughly and responsibly, and as much for adults as for children - the story told in Exodus. Its success lies in big effects: the plagues, the cityscapes of ancient Egypt, the climactic parting of the Red Sea. And there's a terrific sequence early on, when Moses has a nightmare in which wall paintings come to life.

But so determined have the film-makers been to get away from Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments and paint Moses as an ordinary guy, that they make it impossible to understand why on earth God chose him; he looks like a weedy film director, and Val Kilmer's uninteresting voice-over doesn't help.

Nor does an early chariot race between Moses and Rameses which smacks less of Ben Hur than raucous, testosterone-crazed Californian teenagers racing each other in American Graffiti.

The film's main invention, a sibling love-hatred between Moses and Rameses, overbalances and trivialises the story, turning it into Blood Brothers by the Nile.

The dialogue is a particular annoyance, having none of the poetry or visionary quality of the King James Bible. It's flat and functional. Not even Michelle Pfeiffer (as Tzipporah. the love interest) can make much of lines as crass as "This is my father, Jethro, High Priest of Midian".

For the most part, the film-makers have confused seriousness of intent with humourlessness of execution. The few attempts at comic relief are crude, and Steve Martin and Martin Short as the Pharaoh's court magicians (going through the motions as traditional Disneyesque sidekicks) suffer from dismal material.

Those other cartoons of ancient myth and magic, Hercules and Aladdin, were a lot more fun - and in a curious way, wittier and more sophisticated.

Stephen Schwartz's score is inferior to the one he wrote for Pocahontas, and not in the same league as Beauty and the Beast or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lyrics that strive for simplicity achieve only banality.

Equally disappointing is the flatness with which the leading characters are delineated. The faces are nowhere near as detailed as the backgrounds. Actors may feel relieved at this reminder of how far animation has to go before it can rival the subtleties of the human face.

The film stops before the Hebrews can reveal themselves as more than hapless victims of persecution - no coveting of neighbours' asses or worshipping of golden calves here - and the political message seems curiously aggressive at this stage of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Basically, it seems to be: the Hebrews are God's chosen people, so don't mess with them, or you'll regret it.

This poses the interesting question, though not one which the picture seems anxious to explore: is God a racist?

Hollywood continues to be so, however unconsciously. As usual, the leading bad guys - Rameses Junior and Senior - are voiced by English actors: Ralph Fiennes and Patrick Stewart.

The Prince of Egypt moves at a good pace and tells a complicated tale in about ninety minutes. And it's refreshing to see a Hollywood movie that does not present religious belief as a cloak for hypocrisy and oppression. But it's not the cartoon classic that we were promised.

Key to Symbols