I first saw The Prince of Egypt as a child, and I loved it! Images of the animation stayed with me for years, and I would sing the different songs in the film. Years later, when I was in college, I rewatched the movie, and fell in love with it again.
The amazing thing? The film was exactly as I remembered it! It held up over many years, and while I knew what was happening, I was still filled with awe at how much effort had been put into this film.
A quick synopsis: The Prince of Egypt is a retelling of Exodus, which is about how the Hebrew slaves escaped Ancient Egypt and made it to the Promised Land. While this story has some historical roots, it is also important to a few different religions, seeing Moses as a holy hero. Regardless of anyone’s beliefs, the movie is a classic tale that you can learn something from.
While in a retelling it is important to retain some of the important elements from the original story, it also has to bring something new. What separates The Prince of Egypt from other Exodus adaptations is the focus on the brotherhood between Moses and Rameses. Moses was born a Hebrew slave, but when Pharaoh (the ruler of Egypt) commanded all newborn boys to be slaughtered, his mother made sure he would escape such a cruel and bloody fate. He ends up taken in to the Pharaoh’s family, and while we do not see Moses grow from baby to boy to young man, we do see him and his step-brother Rameses spending time as brothers – when we first meet them, they are racing chariots.
Later, they play a prank on the priests. Every interaction they have shows that they love each other, which makes the scene when Moses demands the slaves be free, Rameses is angry, sad, dejected, hurt, and vengeful, all within one shot. (show shot here)
Besides the wonderful facial and character animation, the movie’s animation is breathtaking, combining three different animation styles. The obvious style is hand-drawn, as the characters have a flatter look than if they were done in computer animation. They still have realistic proportions, shadings, and designs, but there is no doubt they were made by hand. The backgrounds were painted, not just sketched out in pencil, and the paints give the background (and the scenes) a heavenly feel (pun intended). For more ethereal parts, like the Burning Bush and the Red Sea scene, computer animation brought them to life, keeping the elements natural-looking but with an awe-inspiring touch.
As much as I love watching the movie, the music is what breathes life into the story. Hans Zimmer composed the score, and each song provides drama, emotion, and mysticism for each scene. Just listen to the song for the Burning Bush scene. The chorus of heavenly voices signifies that Moses (and the audience) is now in the presence of God. The notes carry drama, but the melody remains soft and quiet, allowing the listener to be drawn in, to admire the moment. When Moses voices his doubts, the music swells, overwhelming him and the audience. He and we are aware of the power of God, and we are overtaken by him. The rest of the song covers Moses’ preparation to return to Egypt with his wife, Tzipporah, and the lone woman’s haunting vocals represent the suffering of the Hebrew slaves that Moses witnesses on his return. The finale plays inside the Pharaoh’s palace, with the rising melody building tension: Moses is now unwelcome and he will face danger from the Egyptians. And all this is just in one song, out of many on the soundtrack.
This movie was the first animated feature film by DreamWorks, and was the most expensive non-Disney animated film to make. Yet, it earned back every dollar and made a lot in return: $70 million to make, and $218 million in profits. It was a huge risk for the newly formed company to take, but the movie has paid off and remains a classic. Just sing a few lines from one of the songs, or hum the Burning Bush tune, or show a still-frame of a scene from the film, and everyone can guess what it is. While artistic and historic liberties were taken, The Prince of Egypt remains faithful to the original meaning and core of the story of Exodus.
Bonus fact that didn’t fit with the rest of the blog: at the very end of the credits, a card appears showing three passages relating to Moses from the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an.