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(1998) (voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes) (PG)

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Animated/Drama: Upon learning his true identity and receiving a message from God, the Prince of Egypt sets out to free his Hebrew brethren from the reign of his brother, the Pharaoh.
Having been set adrift as an infant and then found and adopted by the Queen of Egypt (voice of HELEN MIRREN), Hebrew born Moses (voice of VAL KILMER) has grown up in the royal palace along with his brother Rameses (voice of RALPH FIENNES), heir to the throne. When their father, Pharoh Seti (voice of PATRICK STEWART), names Rameses the new Prince Regent, Moses calls for Hotep (voice of STEVE MARTIN) and Huy (voice of MARTIN SHORT) -- the palace's high priests -- to deliver a gift to his brother.

That "gift" turns out to be Tzipporah (voice of MICHELLE PFEIFFER), a fiery woman who shows no respect to the royal brothers. As a result, Rameses gives her back to Moses. When she escapes from his chamber, however, he follows her into a Hebrew settlement where he happens to run into his biological siblings, Miriam (voice of SANDRA BULLOCK) and Aaron (voice of JEFF GOLDBLUM).

Dismayed at discovering his true identity, and after dreaming of his father's past involvement regarding the killing of many Hebrew newborns, Moses' eyes are finally opened toward the slaves who've been laboring around him for years. When he accidentally kills a guard while trying to protect an older slave, Moses runs from the palace and into the desert, vowing never to return.

There, after surviving a blinding sandstorm, he arrives in a small settlement where he once again meets Tzipporah and her father, Jethro (voice of DANNY GLOVER), who take him in once they realize that he's forgone his palatial trappings and identity.

After many intervening years, Moses gets a sign from God that he's been chosen to return to Egypt to free his people. As he and Tzipporah set off for the palace, Moses prepares for his encounter with Rameses who's now become Pharaoh and has no interest in freeing the Hebrew slaves.

It's hard to say. The animation aspect may draw some, but a serious retelling of a biblical story -- without any standard issue comedy or comic characters (for an animated film) -- may not draw them in like traditional Disney fare.
For intense depiction of thematic elements.
  • MOSES is initially a carefree, hellion of a young man who eventually changes his behavior once he learns his real identity. From that point on, and after a message from God, he makes it his mission to free the Hebrew slaves.
  • RAMESES is initially the same as Moses. Upon becoming Pharaoh, however, he refuses to free those slaves and does what he can to stop Moses.
  • TZIPPORAH is a fiery villager who understandably has no respect for the royalty. Later, however, she eventually marries Moses (after he's forgone his royal identity) and supports him in his cause to free his people.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    Having already established footholds in the various genres of filmdom -- serious dramatic pictures ("Saving Private Ryan," "Amistad"), action flicks ("The Peacemaker"), kids films ("Mouse Hunt"), and wholly computer generated movies ("Antz") -- new kid/studio on the block Dreamworks SKG is now going for the Holy Grail of family oriented fare, the classic animated film.

    Long the stronghold of the folks at Disney, decent animated films are finally arriving from other studios (such as Fox's "Anastasia") and Dreamworks can now be included in that list. Partially run by former Disney honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg -- who was responsible for films such as "The Lion King" while working for the Big Mouse -- Dreamworks has alleviated half the hurdle of making a good animated flick -- having a decent plot -- by adapting the well-known biblical story of Exodus into this new release.

    To their credit, the filmmakers -- directors Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells, along with screenwriter Philip LaZebnik -- wisely chose to nip any controversy in the bud by offering a beginning credit claiming that this is an adaption of that biblical story and that "while artistic and historical license have been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of the story..."

    We won't go into the degree of that license, but things have been changed here and there, such as having Moses accidentally killing a guard instead of purposefully doing so, and appearing still as a young man when delivering the commandments, which by the way, is where this tale ends. Already at the plus side of ninety minutes, the animated version of the story simply couldn't survive the three hour plus treatment that a certain previous live-action adaption gave it.

    Historical and religious accuracy aside, unless you've been living in a cave (or a town without a movie theater or video store) for the past several decades, the burning bush, parting of the Red Sea and the rest of the well-know Exodus story just so happened to make for a pretty good movie a few years ago -- you know, Cecil B. De Mille's "The Ten Commandments" with Charlton Heston in the lead role.

    While some may criticize Dreamworks for taking the easy way out (it's somewhat the equivalent of making an animated version of say, "Gone With The Wind" or "The Godfather" in that the story is already present and artistically and critically proven on film), the studio has made what would appear to be an odd story choice for the basis of their first animated picture.

    Since such films are almost always aimed at the little ones, the morally uplifting, but often dark and somber biblical tale -- filled with plague and pestilence and death and despair -- isn't exactly the type of story that will have the kids begging to see it.

    In addition, without the standard issue comedic elements and sidekick characters (to the filmmakers' credit they didn't "dumb down" the story's seriousness) or the usual heroine character found in such movies, many children may find the somber proceedings boring, if not occasionally frightening. As such, and since most adults don't typically see animated films without children in tow, the film's financial success seems iffy at best.

    Business projections aside, the film is quite good and the longstanding story easily holds one's interest and delivers the requisite dramatic elements and conflicts. What most people will notice, however, is the film's animation.

    Often stunning, its blend of traditional, hand drawn elements and computer generated backgrounds and other enhancements easily equals that delivered by the industry standard Disney animators. Characters are extremely lifelike in appearance and movement, and some of the scenes are magnificently staged in composition and depth, including the well-known and beautifully executed parting of the Red Sea.

    Occasionally, however, some of the characters appear quite sketchy in appearance -- as if they didn't receive the full "treatment" -- and this discrepancy in quality is a bit too obvious. Even so, the overall effects are quite amazing, including an early and exhilarating sequence involving a chariot race through the narrow and winding city streets and then in and out of some unstable construction scaffolding.

    The vocal characterizations are all quite strong, with Val Kilmer ("The Saint") doing a fine job voicing the young and adult Moses (as well as a brief, thundering stint as God). Ralph Fiennes ("The English Patient") has the correct regal tones for Rameses, although as the rambunctious teen his distinctive voice occasionally didn't completely fit with his character.

    Other vocal deliveries, such as by Patrick Stewart ("Star Trek"), as the all-powerful Pharaoh, are on the nose, but the use of Jeff Goldblum ("Jurassic Park") and his high strung, near stuttering delivery seems out of place. Likewise, having Steve Martin ("Roxanne") and Martin Short (TV's "Saturday Night Live") as the voices of the palace's high priests falls short of expected potential since they aren't allowed to play the comic sidekicks.

    Likewise, while it seems odd to include the traditional animated musical numbers if the comedic element was jettisoned for the sake of seriousness, the studio obviously realized that soundtracks are a big financial boon. Thus, several serious, Broadway-like numbers have been inserted throughout the production.

    With the songs by Stephen Schwartz ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame") and the composition by Hans Zimmer ("The Lion King"), the numbers are decent, but not outstanding and clearly not up to snuff with the efforts put forth by Disney in the late 80's and early 90's.

    Although it's amazing to behold in all of its visual splendor, and it fully utilizes a time-honored and tested story as its plot, the film never quite manages to achieve the greatness it so obviously wishes to attain.

    That's not to say that it's a mediocre film by any means, but it simply lacks the power -- notwithstanding the subject matter -- to fully engross and thus carry away the audience. In the end, it comes off as more of a picture that one will greatly admire instead of one that many will find highly entertaining. As such, we give "The Prince of Egypt" a 7.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this PG-rated animated film. This is a serious retelling of the story of Exodus, and as such, many scenes may be unsettling or even frightening to younger kids, all dependent, of course, on their level of maturity and tolerance for such material. Some of that includes a ghostly plague that enters homes and kills people, along with several references to infanticide and other similar elements.

    In keeping with the biblical story, there are many deaths (mostly implied), and we also see the Egyptians' poor treatment of their Hebrew slaves that includes several whipping scenes. Moses turns the water in a river into blood, but due to the film being animated, it doesn't carry the same visceral impact as if the same occurred in a live-action film.

    Beyond all of that and the overall, somber thematic elements, however, the rest of the film's categories are mostly void of any major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness, we suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • None, but various characters, including Rameses, drink liquid from goblets that could be alcoholic, but we never know either way.
  • Obviously, all of the following are animated and thus don't have the same impact as if this were a live-action film.
  • Moses turns a river into blood. We initially see blood mixing with the clear water, but it eventually becomes all blood and several characters have blood on their hands or clothes.
  • We see "sores" (big white blotches) on the skin of many Egyptians.
  • Moses and others use a lamb's blood to mark Hebrew homes so that a Heaven-sent plague will not enter those homes.
  • Obviously the Egyptians have both for using the Hebrew people as slaves, and Rameses and his father epitomize this (the former refuses to free them, the latter had their newborns killed).
  • They also treat Tzipporah as an object to be had and/or given to others.
  • While adults and older kids will probably find little of the following as frightening, younger kids - depending on their age, maturity level and tolerance for such material -- may or may not find what's listed next (as well as scenes listed under "Violence") as unsettling or scary.
  • Kids may wonder why Moses' mother sets him adrift in the river, and may find a brief scene where a large crocodile and several hippos nearly get him in his basket as scary.
  • During a chariot race through some construction scaffolding, Moses (and his chariot) nearly fall from the scaffolding, and then he and Rameses race to avoid being hit by a large falling nose (from a sphinx).
  • Moses has a dream that shows him and other characters as hieroglyphics come to life on wall paintings. In it, we see him being chased by soldiers, as well as those soldiers stealing crying infants from their mothers. We later see the final (nonmoving) hieroglyphic that depicts infants being dropped into a river where they sink down toward the waiting, open jaws of two crocodiles (that image may be unsettling to kids).
  • Moses' encounter with God (as a mysterious, foreboding voice) may be a bit unsettling for some kids who don't know what's happening.
  • A foreboding musical number where Hotep and Huy react to Moses' staff turning into a menacing cobra with their own dark magic may be unsettling to some kids.
  • Scenes where swarms of bugs hop, scamper and fly around the Egyptians may be scary to some kids.
  • A prolonged scene where the plague (in the form of a ghostly, whitish vapor) comes from the sky, wisps in and around the Egyptian and Hebrew homes, and apparently kills many people (we hear the last gasp from several victims and see a young arm fall lifelessly to the ground) may be very scary or unsettling to younger kids.
  • Kids may also not like a scene where Rameses carries the limp and lifeless body of his young son (who died from the plague).
  • The climatic finale, where Egyptian soldiers come after Moses and his people, but are stopped by a tornado of fire before chasing them through the parted Red Sea may be suspenseful for some kids.
  • Spears/Swords/Knives/Whips: Carried by guards/soldiers and occasionally used in a threatening fashion.
  • As a rambunctious young troublemaker, Moses drops a water filled sack (a precursor to the water balloon) on Hotep and Huy, and Rameses then pours water onto them as well.
  • None.
  • A moderate amount of dramatically suspenseful (and occasionally ominous) music plays during the film.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Rameses orders that Tzipporah be given to Moses and sent to his room (for what is not explained, but one could presume for his "pleasure").
  • Being bathed by several villagers, Moses comments on them having washed every inch of his body, but then surprisingly reacts to them finding one more place. We then briefly see him embarrassedly standing there with a small cloth/towel covering his groin area until a robe is put around him.
  • None.
  • Moses' mother puts him (as an infant) into a basket and sets him adrift for his protection (and never to see him again), while others try to protect their children from Egyptian guards/soldiers.
  • We see Rameses' reaction to his son having died from the plague.
  • The film's accuracy (or not) in retelling the story of Exodus, as well as the overall historical elements.
  • The elements listed under "Frightening/Tense Scenes" and "Violence" (the implied killing of newborns, the plague and pestilence, the treatment of slaves, etc...) as well as elements such as why Moses' mother sends him adrift down a river in a basket.
  • The statement that Pharaoh Seti makes that "Sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good" (referring to the infanticide practiced by the Egyptians).
  • This category gets a heavy rating due to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people (mostly implied) from the plague and the "un-parting" of the Red Sea where more are drowned.
  • We see several instances of slaves being whipped (sometimes repeatedly and with great vigor) and see others who have whip scar marks on their backs.
  • During one of those scenes, a guard repeatedly whips an older man. Moses races to his rescue, but accidentally knocks the guard off some scaffolding and he falls to his death (we hear more than see the impact below).
  • A slave throws some mud that hits Moses in the face.
  • Rameses orders his guards to get Moses and they begin to wade through a river toward him with their knives drawn, but stop and retreat when Moses turns the water into blood.
  • Rameses overturns a table in anger, and later throws his goblet in Moses' direction.
  • A Heaven-sent plague kills many Egyptians, and other similarly induced havoc leaves much of the city in ruins.
  • Many soldiers are killed when the previously parted Red Sea comes back together and drowns them.

  • Reviewed December 17, 1998 / Posted on December 18, 1998

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