The Prince Of Egypt
Rating -

Animated (US); 1998; Rated PG; 97 Minutes

Val Kilmer: Moses / God
Ralph Fiennes: Rameses
Michele Pfeiffer: Tzipporah
Sandra Bullock: Miriam
Jeff Goldblum: Aaron
Danny Glover: Jethro
Patrick Stewart: Pharaoh Seti
Helen Mirren: The Queen
Steve Martin: Hotep
Martin Short: Huy

Produced by Penney Finkelman Cox, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sandra Rabins and Ron Rocha; Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells; Screenwritten by Phillip Lezebnik and Nicholas Meyer

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Across the biblical landscapes of Egypt, beyond the Pyramids, in the heart of disaster and in the shadow of God is Dreamworks' first full-length animated feature "The Prince Of Egypt," the story of Moses told through an animated perspective. Once you touch subject matter like the Bible as the central plot of a movie, you are either likely to offend religions or tick off others if you change one part of the material. The Bible is a sacred piece of literature. Anytime a screen production adapts any part of it, there's immediate response.

But "The Prince Of Egypt" is no normal biblical epic. You can take two minutes from any part of it, and you know that the film's executive writers had met with big religious figures to ensure that they could keep the detail of the Bible's Exodus book intact, without having to offend other religions or social groups who believe nothing about the material. The result of how the story transcends to the screen both visually and spiritually is a triumph; this has got to be the most elegant, stunning, and virtually remarkable achievement in animation. And heck, the story's good, too.

The film opens on a very progressive note. We see the Hebrews piling rocks, pushing their weight at the command of Egyptian whips, building those mysterious pyramids. To this day, I still don't know how they did it.

Anyway, the Egyptian empire, under the shadow of their Pharaoh, is killing young Hebrew infants and capturing others for slavery. In one scene displaying the love of a mother for her child, a woman puts her infant in a basket and sends it floating down the Nile to save its life. Later the basket is found by Egyptian royalty, and the child is adopted into the family, which includes another child named Rameses.

Now step forward a few years. Rameses and his brother (Moses) are enjoying their royal lives. They have an adolescent bondage. There's even a point in the movie that displays their wild relationship, when both compete in a chariot race through the streets of the Hebrew-enslaved city. The great shots of both these people moving through the city at top speed are both breathtaking and overwhelming: sort of like an Indianapolis 500 race.

Oh, but it isn't long when both of them have been split from their bondage. Under the rule of the evil Pharaoh Seti, Rameses becomes a regent and Moses soon finds himself married to a woman named Tzipporah. In those days, wives were the slaves for man. Thankfully, with Moses' personality, his wife can escape her 'slavery' without his care.

While in the streets of the city, Moses encounters his two natural-born siblings, Miriam and Aaron, voiced perfectly by Sandra Bullock and Jeff Goldblum. Once Moses is aware that he is merely adoptive royalty and actually Hebrew, he turns against the empire to fight for his people.

The battle between Egyptians and Hebrews wages on, and the artists behind the film get to show us what they're capable of. Chronicling the escape of Moses' people from the rule of the new pharaoh Rameses, we get to see all those famous events that the Bible told us about, including that one incredible point when Moses steps out into the Red Sea and parts it so that the Hebrews can go through it. The sequence that shows the Sea's separation is probably the most brilliant and stunning thing I have ever seen in the movies. Once it's over, you know that Disney, for what it's worth, will finally have some stiff competition in the animation circuit.

The brilliant list of characters is cast with a host of Hollywood's finest actors, including Val Kilmer as Moses, Danny Glover as Jethro, Michele Pfeiffer as Tzipporah, Ralph Fiennes as Rameses, and, appropriately, Patrick Stewart as the dark and cruel Pharaoh Seti. Each seem to be cast according to the characters that best suit their screen personalities, and in some ways, if this was live action, the same actors could probably play those characters.

There's a lot to love about such a diabolically gorgeous movie, but one complaint prevents it from being completely "great." Why doesn't the music have that appeal of the Broadway scores of "Beauty And The Beast" and "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame?" There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the style of the music and score (some of the lyrics are actually spoken through the Hebrew dialect), so why did I find myself disliking it so? Usually, after a great score in a movie, I find myself emerging from the theater with a tune in my head. That didn't happen here. I think it's just a case of 'unmemorable-music' that creates the problem.

But don't take that as any type of insult. This is a movie that takes us to places we've never seen before. Literally, it's the ultimate proof that animation can do anything it wants--the past, the future, the realms beyond human possibility, and the places that seem more real than life. As gravity-free as animation seems and how it is represented in "The Prince Of Egypt," this genre will continue to move further on into the future long after some others have been discontinued.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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