The Prince of Egypt

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RyderFlynn

RyderFlynn

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I promised @JGaulard that I would post some movie reviews, so here it is. :) This was a review from 2016 that I posted at the Filmspotting forum. It's one of my top three favorite movies of all time:

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

The Prince of Egypt is a beautiful movie. Even better, it's a Greek tragedy. The familiar biblical tale of epic proportions was brought down to a more personal level in the movie, and it brought a very relatable and compelling spin to the story. Two brothers brought together by fate are forced to confront each other about their different ideals, and eventually separated by their destiny.

There comes very few miraculous (pun intended) times when a stellar all-star team brings together the best of everything - directing, writing, voice-acting, music, and in this case, animation. You've got the songwriter of the Wicked, Pippin, and Godspell musical productions (Stephen Schwartz), the animation team from one of the greatest animation companies ever who had then moved onto Dreamworks Animations under the auspices of former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes playing Moses and Ramses respectively (with Michelle Pfeiffer as Moses' wife and Patrick Stewart as Rameses' dad), and let's not forget Hans Zimmer himself orchestrating the haunting score. Okay, so maybe the three directors don't have the best track record (Simon Wells of The Time Machine (2002), Brenda Chapman of Brave, and Steve Hickner of Bee Movie), but they have worked on other amazing animation productions as well (particularly Chapman, the head of story for The Lion King). And as far as I can tell, the direction of this movie was near-perfect. Too many cooks didn't spoil the soup this time.

Like many great pieces from Disney's Renaissance Era, the animation of the movie is as spectacular as it is profound. Much of the story is told through symbolic imagery and transitions. After Moses' encounter with God, the suffering of the slaves are superimposed on the screen as Moses makes his arrival back in Egypt. When Seti talks about the weight of the empire resting on Rameses' shoulder, he's cast against the background where the pharaoh statue is; when Rameses takes the throne later, the same background casting is used. And finally, the most powerful symbolism is probably Rameses son standing before the hieroglyphics of Hebrew babies being sacrificed into the Nile - the day before he dies. Due to their artificial nature, animation could sometimes tell a more nuanced story than the more limited live action ever could (at least till recent technology gave live action the upper hand), and this movie exemplifies one of the heights of potentials in the medium. The hand-drawn aspect also brought God's wonders to life in a mesmerizing way that CGI animation couldn't; the parted sea in particular, with the freed Hebrews lighting the way beneath the dark chasm, would have been a breathtaking spectacle on the big screen.

Aside from the animation, the score also takes on a very crucial role in the storytelling. Many times, the subtle messages in between the nuances are conveyed through reprises of earlier musical numbers in instrumental variations. The cries of the slaves are heard again through whispers of "Deliver Us", Moses' nostalgia of returning home is hearkened with the echoes of "All I Ever Wanted", "River Lullaby" murmuring the memories of a mother's familiar song. Such is the example of how background score could be utilized in providing context and insight into the characters and story, and it's a brilliant execution.

And there's the sound design... oh that terrible, mournful sound. Can you hear that almost inaudible screaming and crying in the tranquil background? That's the sound of thousands of Egyptians weeping and wailing over the deaths of their firstborn... as Rameses had foolishly prophesied when he uttered, "And there shall be a great cry in all of Egypt, such as never has been or ever will be again!"

This is as much Moses' story as it is Rameses'. In fact, Rameses proves to be a more compelling character than the eponymous hero (or is Ramses the titled "Prince of Egypt"?). The curse of the hefty crown bears on him, and there's no happy ending awaiting. From the very scene when Moses stepped into the royal palace, Rameses began his struggle for affection from his step-brother and would continue to base his later decisions on his fruitless quest for approval. It's hard to imagine being passed down the responsibilities of a monstrous dictator whose actions are reminiscent of the Holocaust. The scene with the hieroglyphics of Hebrew babies being fed to the crocs is highly disturbing, yet shows the kind of blood-filled legacy Rameses has chosen to uphold.

I must admit that Moses' more traditional story of a good man choosing his own destiny against his cursed fate had disinterested me a little more than Rameses' tale, but it is a crucial contrast to show Rameses' folly. It's interesting that I should relate to the foil more often than the hero in many other films, including the aforementioned Civil War (Stark) and also the Madoka Magica anime (Sayaka). Foils just seem so tragic in hindsight, so human. Their fallacy reflects our own vulnerability.

There are of course many songs in the soundtrack worth mentioning in this spectacle of sights and sounds. Hans Zimmer's captivating score aside, almost every song brought a profound context to the story, save perhaps the more superficial pop music in the end credits. Opening with a bang in "Deliver Us", the song has the lament of the anguished slaves crying out to their watchful God, the prayers of a mother silently uttered amidst the despair of the slaves and away from the prying eyes of the soldiers. The movie begins its journey with this heavily nuanced song that uses as much its lyrics as its melody to convey its story.

But "The Plagues" is still my favorite song in the film. I love how the lyrics convey the wrathful vengeance of God perfectly. "Thus saith the Lord, thus saith the Lord. Since you refuse to free my people, all through the land of Egypt, I send a pestilence, a plague into your house, into your bed, into your streams, into your streets - until your break! Until you yield!" It chants like an omen of spite, like a harbinger of vengeance, and you could feel the impact of God's wrath being unleashed with such fury and intensity.

And as God sends His scourge and His sword across every leaf and every stalk, Moses has a reprise of "All I've Ever Wanted", but now his sentiment about home is less about comfort or self-assurance and more about regret and remorse. I particularly loved this line, "All the innocent who suffer from your stubbornness and pride!" which shows that as devastating as the plagues are upon Egypt, Rameses' stubbornness spurned from his bitterness is even stronger. And the more devastating the plagues are, the more embittered he becomes. "Then let my heart be hardened! And never mind how high the cost may grow. This will still be so - I will never let your people go."

That contrast in colors at the end with two halves of the brothers' faces is especially a nice touch, as it really drives home the epic notion of two siblings pit against each other based on mirrored values. Both princes of Egypt want to live up to their name as fellow leaders, but for very different causes.

Overall, The Prince of Egypt is a masterful classic that's a must-watch for every animation fan. It's an amazing work that shows the breadth of how far animated films could go around the same time other studios are starting to grasp this fact (namely Pixar and Warner Bros. with Toy Story and The Iron Giant). This is one epic masterpiece that should be remembered throughout history.

Final Rating: 10/10
 
JGaulard

JGaulard

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A ha!!! Thank you. Your review was great. Very well written and very thorough. This movie sounds interesting. I just watched a trailer for it and I may just have to sit down for a viewing. I'll let you know what I think!
 
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