It's one thing reading the Exodus chapter in a church, in a retreat, in a classroom, or even seeing the old black and white version on TV. It's another seeing Moses take his staff, raise his eyes towards the sky, and part the ocean. In the DreamWorks cartoon adaptation of possibly the most famous story of all, image is the emphasis and they do a darn good job of emphasizing it. For believers, this film will be a major spiritual experience; for nonbelievers (like me), it will be two hours of magic and jaw-dropping awe. Suffice to say that for at least two hours, I almost became a believer.
As I said, the film's strong point is its animation. You probably already know that from the previews alone. There are amazing sequences in the film: as the Hebrews are passing through the wall of water on the Red Sea, we briefly catch a glimpse of a whale behind the wall of aquablue. During one spectacular dream sequence, Moses dreams that he's trapped in the walls of the castle, that he became one of the Egyptian figures on the wall. Guards chase him from corner to corner, from pillar to pillar. And one of my favorite scenes from the movie: when God sends a plague to Egypt. It originates as a sort of mini-galaxy in the sky, the ghostly white tendrils dancing eerily across the pitch-black sky, winding their way through town, deftly avoiding houses with the mark of lamb's blood. It's graceful, haunting, and solemn at the same time. It's quiet, but the kind of quiet we see in those shots of Paris we get before the city gets blown up in "Armageddon." I especially admire the way they drew the water in this movie: from the gentle river little Moses is first placed in, to the river that Moses/God turns into blood, to the dividing Red Sea. The light, too. The light Moses is bathed in when he sees the burning bush, the aforementioned eery whiteness of the plague. Of course, overall the artwork is just amazing. I liked how they weren't trying to be too "Disney," adding too many funny creatures. But then again, this is a different kind of story. Not only was the art itself stunning, you've got to give the director (or animator?) credit for arranging the objects to give them symbolic meaning, sometimes obvious and sometimes not so obvious.
Having said that the art is the movie's strong point, I'll have to say that aside from the "Deliver Me" tune and much-better-than-radio-version "When You Believe" (gracefully weaved together at the end of the movie), most of the other song numbers don't fit in too well for me. "You're Playing w/ the Big Guys Now" just doesn't seem appropriate here. This is not another "Hercules." The score was pretty good most of the time: it worked best when it was quiet, some of the dramatic moments were a little distracting. To me, it had a chant-like feel to it that is very similar to the score of "The Lion King." The voices were okay -- they weren't distracting, and that's a good thing. Val Kilmer did a great job as Moses/God; I didn't even know that was him until later. In fact, the only voice I could recognize was Jeff Goldblum's, if only because he has just a distinctive way of speaking and I've seen way too many iMac commercials.
"The Prince of Egypt" is a film for adults and children alike (possibly more for adults). Whether you're a believer or not, you'll be touched by the story of the people of Moses striving for freedom and clinging steadfastedly to one single belief: that their God will come through. I don't know, sometimes I feel that religion causes nothing but trouble in this world; hence if there are more films like this one that reminds us of what's ultimately good and true in the teachings of religion (i.e., the faith it instills in its believers), they are perfectly welcome in an age where most of us are morely likely to scoff at the devoutly religious. What's wrong with believing in miracles?
"It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear." -- Exodus 32:18
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 12/23/98)