Film Review: The Prince of Egypt (1998)
I remember in college doing an exercise once where we went around and said what our favorite films by women directors were. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember it took a while for me to collect my thoughts on which movies I liked that were even directed by women. This fact has since changed but it recently occurred to me that Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt was directed by a woman, Brenda Chapman. I truly think it is one of my favorite female-directed films.
The story of Moses, as stated by Buzzfeed, is “part of a compilation of short stories that make up the best-selling book on planet Earth”. You can easily find the bible wherever you find other books. Religion aside, The Prince of Egypt, to me, is not even necessarily a testament to the story of Moses so much as it is a testament to what phenomenal animated filmmaking can be. The machine of people that churned out this film literally had everything working for them - from story to cinematography, from animation to score, from star-studded voice actors to research.
This film does a fantastic job in really depicting the grandness of this film, while also infusing a sense of intimacy in its smaller scenes. There are countless awe-inspiring shots, like when Moses turns the sea into blood with his stick, or when the plagues start turning into fire bombs in the night sky. And of course, when Moses is guiding his people through the parted sea, a bolt of lightning strikes to reveal a giant whale in the split ocean.
It would be a disservice to not mention the brilliant score. The movie is an animated musical, after all, and I think that is truly where this film shines. The score, composed by Hans Zimmer and written by Steven Schwartz, is absolutely game-changing and makes what would be a regular animated children’s film into a rich and dark epic. Think more Hunchback of Notre Dame and less Snow White.
Two of my favorite song sequences from the film include the opening sequence with “Deliver Us” - the song is haunting, mixing both English and Hebrew. It transitions from scary and violent to tragic and hopeful in the middle when Moses’ mother begins to sing. My favorite line is when the sister sings “Grow, baby brother, come back someday. Come and deliver us too…” before the main chorus explodes the final note. I think it’s the perfect song to set the tone of the film.
Another is “The Plagues” - the scene is so well constructed, the montage echoing the lyrics in a dramatically crescendoing fashion. As the sequence builds, Ramses is increasingly shown suffering the titular plagues, even as he still stands to dictate over his clearly dying people. Moses and Ramses battle off in this duet and the shot of their composite faces is both powerful and striking; it functions to not only show their antagonist relationship, but also that they were close once before as brothers. It also reminds me weirdly of SpongeBob.
I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for the last week, and The Prince of Egypt just makes me want to cringe so much (in a good way) with emotion. These kinds of epic religious tales do stand to make great films and stories about people, and if done in the way The Prince of Egypt was made, I will gladly forego using my MoviepPass and pay real money to see them.