Tuesday, June 18, 2013

# 75. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

The Prince of Egypt (1998) Poster

Code-name: Deliverer

Directors: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Type: Animated/History

Notable Cast:
Moses/God- Val Kilmer
Ramses- Ralph Fiennes
Tzipporah (Moses's wife)- Michelle Pfieffer
Miriam- Sandra Bullock
Aaron- Jeff Goldblum
The QueenHelen Mirren
Hotep- Steve Martin
Huy- Martin Short

Notable Awards & Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Original Song- Stephen Schwartz ("When You Believe")
Nomination- OSCAR- Best Original Score- Stephen Schwartz & Hans Zimmer
Nomination- Golden Globe- Best Original Song ("When You Believe")
Nomination- Golden Globe- Best Original Score
Nomination- Grammy- Best Song from a Movie or TV series ("When You Believe")

[Program Notes]

Again, this will be one of two reviews I'll be posting this week.
Both are movies geared towards kids, but cater to adults as well.
Both also happen to be based on written source material.

"The Prince of Egypt" being based on one of the greatest stories ever told, but also one of the oldest.

[Personal Notes]

Disclaimer: I am not Jewish
(although the fact I wrote an entry about Christmas memories kinda gave that away ages ago)
so don't sue me if my details aren't exactly right on.

I did not grow up with this movie (first time I saw it was in my teens) like many of my other favorites. It's here because it is probably one of the best executed animated movies you'll ever see. Granted, it's not as memorable or as quotable as the animated features further up the list, but I respect the degree of animation involved and how well the story is told. 

I've seen "The Ten Commandments," but even though it's literally on ABC every Easter, it runs way too long to keep my attention (never mind all the commercials in between).
"The Prince of Egypt" simplifies the story of Moses well enough and takes some nice pieces of poetic license along the way.
Nostalgia Critic did a great webcast where he was comparing the two movies in his "Old vs. New" series... something else he did for the next movie on my list.
http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/28622-old-vs-new-the-10-commandments-vs-the-prince-of-egypt [it's also #8 on his list of top 11 underrated nostalgia classics]

It was actually through "Rugrats" I first learned about Passover, which is part of the story of Moses.
The Pickles' clan (Stu, Didi and Tommy, plus Drew, Charlotte and Angelica) as well as Chuckie and his dad, are visiting Didi's parents, Minka and Boris. Unfortunately, they arrive just after Minka and Boris had a fight. Boris is believed to have run away, leaving Minka heartbroken and sobbing hysterically whenever someone mentions his name. Stu has to step up and, begrudgingly, he performs the Seder. Every now and then, Didi stops him when he's either not putting enough heart into it or he mispronounces a word. Great for comedy, of course, but we know the better story is being told elsewhere.

Boris is actually in the attic, looking for some old glasses Minka wanted at the Seder (the source of their fight), but has been unable to get out because the door won't open from the inside. Again, great for a running gag.
He's telling the story of Passover to Tommy (Moses in the retelling), Chuckie, and Angelica (who insists on playing the Pharaoh) and throughout this telling, people come to the attic to get away from the boring Seder and they unknowingly close the door so they can't get out. Eventually everyone finds their way up to the attic, they get trapped inside, and Boris tells another story... I assume about how he and Minka first met... as it fades to black.


"The Prince of Egypt" comes right down the middle between the "Rugrats" retelling and "The Ten Commandments." They don't condescend or sugar-coat anything and balances the aspects of comedy and drama. 

This was DreamWorks before they changed over to computerized animation in an attempt to keep up with Pixar... for me, it's a give and take as to who did the better version of [insert storyline here]. Excellent animation, again, and amazingly, Disney wanted nothing to do with it (or at least Michael Eisner didn't when Jeffrey Katzenberg first pitched the idea to him).

Everyone knows the basic story, so there's no need to go into it.

As for the poetic license taken, two things come to mind.

Twist #1: Moses is adopted by The Queen (opposed to her daughter, as IMDB points out) and he and Ramses are raised as brothers. There's a great chemistry between the two actors here and it adds another element to the drama propelling the movie forward

Twist #2: [This comes from the Nostalgia Critic review as well] "The Ten Commandments" portrays God in a very fearful way, probably more true to His portrayal in Old Testament. But here, He is a loving God who is there for Moses and gently guides him to fulfill his destiny.
(In both versions, Moses and God are portrayed by the same actor. But I must give props to Val  Kilmer in this other role because I never would have figured that out if nobody told me).

To be fair, though, this movie isn't really about the A-list actors behind the voices.
It's always nice when we do GET recognizable names in an animated feature, but whenever I watch this one, that's not the aspect that sticks with me after it ends. Like I said before, it's about the big picture more than the pieces involved.

Ramses wants to believe the best in Moses because he was like a brother to him, but the straw that breaks the camel's back is when the night of Passover happens.
It isn't as scary as "The Ten Commandments," but it isn't taken lightly either. It's a very dark moment in the film where Ramses is leaning over his dead son and orders Moses to take the Hebrews out of Egypt.

But as they're heading towards the Red Sea, Ramses and his troops appear out of nowhere and begin the chase... why this occurs is never explained in the movie, mainly because it shows things from Moses's perspective.
At least with the "Rugrats" version they brought up this change of heart... after Angelica the Pharaoh finally agrees to let the Hebrews go (supposedly because she could fall victim to the "Passover" plague taking away the first-born child of every house), she realizes that she can't do anything without her Hebrews. The final straw is when she realizes she can't take a bath and groans "you mean I threw out the baby with the bath-water, too?".

The movie also ends on a happier note than "The Ten Commandments." The older film ends with the actual commandments being handed down- another encounter with the angry God. "The Prince of Egypt" ends when the Hebrews and Moses make it to the other end of the Red Sea and celebrate their newfound freedom.

A nod must also be given to the award-winning song (also the only one I have any recollection of), especially the popular release where divas Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston unite... the power of them combined still doesn't compare to how power the song is... always gives me chills.

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