The Prince of Egypt
A Review by Andrew Ewry
For nearly a century, Disney reigned supreme over the world of animations. However, that reign was ended by a movie that openly challenged the studio’s monopoly. Dreamworks Animations came to be because a number of ex-Disney executives had a grudge against the mouse and his lackeys. So, they poured untold amounts of time and effort into creating an animation studio that could rival Disney’s monopoly on cartoon feature films. Dreamworks’ first movie to truly challenge Disney was also the one that essentially broke that monopoly. It was The Prince of Egypt. This animated retelling of the Book of Exodus would be darker, grander, and more serious than anything Disney had released up to that point, but still wouldn’t lose its innocence. As such, it quickly became the highest-grossing non-Disney animated feature up to that point. Now, let’s look back on this monumental but forgotten titan of the history of animation by doing a full review of The Prince of Egypt.
The Prince of Egypt follows the biblical account of the exodus of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. It centers, naturally, on Moses (Val Kilmer) as he learns he was only adopted by the Pharaoh (Patrick Stewart) and is actually of Jewish descent. Then, as God (Val Kilmer) tasks Moses with the freedom of his people, this puts Moses into conflict with those he once considered his family.
What particularly works about this movie is how well it integrates the drama of the personal with the drama of the global. This means there is both a satisfying grand-scale narrative as well as enjoyable character drama that spices that narrative up. For example, the drama of challenging the Pharaoh and calling down the plagues are wondrous and colossal moments with major ramifications for the world of the film. However, the movie goes on to explore the drama of how Moses feels challenging the family who raised him. It explores the hesitation of the Jews to trust Moses with their fates. The final result of blending these two elements creates a story that is truly gripping. My favorite part of the story is the relationship between Moses and his brother Ramses (Ralph Fiennes) and how it develops as the stakes grow.
Speaking of, let’s explore the surprisingly sophisticated web of character motivations in the movie. Moses is the protagonist, so most characters we encounter are described through his perceptions of them. While this doesn’t quite provide multi-faceted and complex characterizations, it still results in characters who are consistent and true to their motivations. In the start of the film, Ramses and Moses are teens having grown up brothers and beginning to struggle under the weight of their noble lineage. When Moses discovers he is Jewish and subsequently flees, it hurts his brother dearly. This pain is what makes Moses’s return all the more dramatic. To Ramses, this is a chance for their brotherhood to flourish as it did in their youth. But, as much as Moses might like that deep down, he is tasked with a goal he does not stray from. He will see the slaves freed even in complete defiance of his brother’s wishes. So, as plagues ravage the land of Egypt, there is still this central desire between the two instigators of the conflict to genuinely rekindle a lost connection while also realizing there is no way that can happen under the present circumstances. It is compelling to say the least. As the skies over Egypt grow dark and God pours his wrath over Egypt, we witness the destruction of a proud nation that once meant so much to Moses.
But even in that darkness, there is hope for a brighter future as the movie proudly posits. There are so many films out there which simply describe the darkness of the world and many that simply relish in the goodness of the world. However, The Prince of Egypt refuses to ignore the good or the bad. It tells us there will definitely be struggles in our lives, but a brighter tomorrow is definite. I think there is something beautiful in that. This theme is highlighted almost perfectly by the movie’s soundtrack. The tracks are an even split between those of dark intensity and those of joyous exuberance. What’s more, each one is so well-written and distinct I can list them all out even though it has been four days since I watched he movie.
As for how appropriate it is, even though I have described the ways in which the movie has darker elements, it is still solidly presentable. There are very few elements other than a few examples of frightening imagery that mark this movie as inappropriate. As such, I feel pretty confident calling this movie safe for general audiences.
The Prince of Egypt lives up to its legacy. Even though it hasn’t quite remained as famous as it once was, I’m happy to report it is still just as solid of a film as it was 20 years ago. There are elements that people of all ages will be able to enjoy in this one. As such, I do offer this a general recommendation to most audiences. If you don’t mind a few of the movie’s more juvenile elements that were added to keep it appropriate for kids, then I think you’ll be able to get something out of it.
Overall Grade- A (An excellent movie all around)