Prince of Egypt
I probably should have included this around my Disney section since it’s an animated film; but I had forgotten. Besides, the soundtrack is phenomenal. One of the first full length films produced by DreamWorks (same company who would later create one of my favorites: How to Train Your Dragon, and did you know that Steven Spielberg is one of the founders?). Includes a stellar cast: Val Kilmer voices Moses, Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) voices Rameses, Michelle Pfeiffer is Moses’ wife, Tzipporah, Sandra Bullock is Hebrew Miriam and her brother Aaron is voiced by Jeff Goldblum. Danny Glover is Tzipporah’s father, Jethro and Patrick Stewart is Rameses’ father, Seti, with his queen voiced by Helen Mirren. Steve Martin and Martin Short are the priests, Hotep and Huy. Hans Zimmer composed the score and Stephen Schwartz ( he also wrote for Disney’s Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Ella Enchanted, and Wicked) wrote the lyrics.
It tells the story of Moses and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. The film opens with Deliver Us, illustrating the plight of Hebrews as slaves in Egypt. Seti, the pharaoh, has just issued the order to slaughter newborn Hebrew boys. Moses’ mother and her older children sneak to the river, put baby Moses in a basket and set him adrift, praying her son will have a better life. Her young daughter follows the basket, making sure he arrives safely, to the pharaoh’s wife (biblically, his daughter instead).
The film jumps to two young men, Moses, and his older brother, Rameses, racing carts through their father’s buildings. They cause mayhem and are chastised by Seti afterwards. He expects a lot from Rameses, who will succeed him as Pharaoh. Moses pleads for his father to not blame Rameses and suggests that his older brother only needs an opportunity to prove himself. Rameses is granted that opportunity at a banquet that night; Rameses in turn elevates Moses’ position. Priests Hotep and Huy are told to give the princes a gift; they have captured a foreign young woman. Moses is not the kindest to her upon meeting, but that night, he distracts guards to let her escape. He follows her to the slave quarters where he encounters Miriam and Aaron. Miriam thinks her brother has knowingly come, but he is unaware of his true heritage. Aaron pleads for mercy, but it’s not until Miriam repeats their mother’s lullaby that Moses realizes the woman speaks truth when she declares “I know who you are, and you are not a prince of Egypt.” She suggests he asks the man he calls father.
Moses runs back to the palace, trying to take comfort in All I Ever Wanted. He knows his history, it’s etched on every wall. So he investigates. And finds proof of what Miriam said, playing out as animated drawings on the walls. Seti attempts to comfort his son; Moses begging his father, “tell me you didn’t do this.” Seti considers it a sacrifice for the greater good, his parting words “they were only slaves.” (That just sounds so wrong coming from Patrick Stewart). The Queen does a bit better, but she counsels that Moses should simply ignore the truth; “when the gods send you a blessing, you don’t ask why it was sent.” It does show that his family have never looked down on him for being adopted; Rameses may have been young enough he doesn’t even remembering his mother finding his baby brother.
Yet Moses wanders confused the next day. He accidentally kills an overseer who was beating an elderly Hebrew. He flees; Rameses attempts to stop him, telling his brother he can absolve him of his crime; “you will be what I say you are.” If Rameses wants the truth, Moses instructs him to “ask the man I once called father.” Moses still leaves. Eventually, he removes all pieces of his old life, aside from the ring his brother gifted him. A camel comes across him and he is dragged to a watering hole. He saves three young girls, then promptly passes out into a well. Their older sister, the same woman Moses freed comes to help, though she remembers the prince and lets him drop back into the well. Their tribe takes Moses in; the priest happy to thank a strange young man for saving his daughters. Moses quietly tells the boisterous man he has done nothing worth honoring; which the woman, Tzipporah finds odd, but her father explains a better mindset to Moses. People on earth cannot see their true worth; they should look at their lives Through Heaven’s Eyes (I love this song).
Moses becomes a part of the tribe, becoming a shepherd and eventually marrying Tzipporah. One morning, while tending his flock, one sheep wanders off. He goes after it and comes across the Burning Bush. God speaks to him and tells Moses to go before Pharaoh and free the Hebrews. Moses is unsure, but God promises to be with him and instructs Moses to take his staff, with it, he will do God’s wonders. Tzipporah is initially unsure, but Moses wants the same freedom that her family has for his people. She tells her husband she will go with him back to Egypt.
Rameses is now Pharaoh, so the brothers share a joyful reunion, until Moses tells his brother why he has come. As much as Moses wishes in his heart, things cannot be as they were. Pharaoh must release the Hebrew slaves. To demonstrate God’s power, Moses has his staff turn into a snake. To prove that their gods are just as great, Hotep and Huy mock that Moses is Playing with the Big Boys and they too turn staves into snakes (with smoke, and in the background Moses’ snake devours theirs). After the demonstration, Rameses and Moses speak privately. They’re brothers for a brief moment, recalling that while Moses got Rameses into trouble, he also got him out. (Ralph Fiennes commented behind the scenes “when brothers are enemies, they don’t stop being brothers.”) But life has made them different people and Moses return’s his brother’s ring. Rameses doubles the Hebrew’s workload in retaliation. The Hebrews disparage Moses, but he continues with his mission, with some kind words from Miriam; God saved Moses, he should not give up on the Hebrews. Moses approaches the river and turns it to blood for Pharaoh. The priests imitate the phenomenon, but Moses warns Rameses that matters will only get worse.
The Plagues descend upon Egypt. Frogs, then bugs and flies infest Egypt. The livestock die. Locusts blot out the sun. Egyptians are covered in boils. Fire rains down, then darkness. While a choir chants in the background, Moses cries that it pains him to see what has happened to his home. But he blames Rameses for “all the innocent who suffer for your stubbornness and pride.” Rameses (this is Ralph Fiennes singing; several of the other characters’ singing voices were dubbed) will let his heart be hardened, “I will never let your people go.” The last plague is the death of the first born; Moses instructs the Hebrews to mark their doors with lamb’s blood, and the angel of death will pass over their house. Rameses young son is killed. Moses meets with Rameses; Pharaoh will let the Hebrews leave. But Moses mourns for his brother’s loss and his own.
Miriam cheers the people, “there can be miracles, When You Believe.” The song becomes more joyful by the time the children beginning singing in Hebrew (I sang this song as a child in church choir, probably the first time I ever sang in another language…actually, I think the same director taught it to my junior high choir as well). Then they come to the Red Sea. And Pharaoh has decided he will not let the Hebrews go and chases after them. Moses parts the sea with his staff; God has sent down a pillar of fire to bar the Egyptians. Once they’re almost through, the fire dissipates and the Egyptians charge. But the parted sea returns to its home, destroying the army. Moses has succeeded in his mission. The ending of the film shows him descending from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments.
This film, which has since been adapted into a stage show, came out when I was five or so and I still enjoy it to this day. Once again, the music is phenomenal (ooh, an adult church choir should really do The Plagues; that’d be cool) and the characters were well casted; though it wasn’t until I was older that I began recognizing the voices. The studio managed a good retelling of the Bible story (they consulted with many religious experts and even went to Egypt for research purposes) and made the royal Egyptian family sympathetic at times (it was banned in Egypt, however). I will say that the animation quality of DreamWorks has come a long way since this film (they have done a spectacular job with Dragons; their characters are so lifelike), but it is a different style than the classic Disney look. I highly recommend this film.
Up Next: A proper introduction to more traditional musicals