A “Forgotten” Animated Masterpiece That Deserves a Revisit
Let’s start with the big picture: Contemporary animated movies mostly feature the visual style known as computer animation, also known as 3D or CG animation. (Think of movies like Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Toy Story from Pixar.) But, before audiences preferred that style, such movies were dominated by “traditional animation”, also known as 2D or hand-drawn animation.
The 90s included such traditionally-animated gems as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, all of which came from Disney. During that decade, the newly launched studio Dreamworks delivered The Prince of Egypt, an adaptation of the Exodus narrative about God appointing Moses to help liberate the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. This animated musical became the most remarkable one ever to come from a studio other than the Mouse House. It received positive reviews, gathered a then-strong $218.6 million worldwide, and was honored at the 71st Academy Awards with a nomination for Best Original Score and a win for Best Original Song (“When You Believe”).
At the same time, The Prince of Egypt was ahead of its time, being a biblically-grounded production long before The Passion of the Christ commenced the ongoing movement among Christians to adamantly support films that uphold their worldview. Plus, it boasted mature themes and a serious tone prior to the public truly understanding that animation can work for adults just as well as for kids. Both of those factors help explain why this movie is “forgotten” nowadays, compared how with the aforementioned Disney efforts continue to be widely celebrated and recognized.
Fortunately, DreamWorks released The Prince of Egypt on Blu-Ray last year (coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the movie’s 1998 release). And this animated feature has stood the test of time so as to prove a genuine classic, not to mention an outstanding option for Christian families interested in having a redemptive and enjoyable movie night at home.
Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells, The Prince of Egypt‘s plot concerns the journey of Moses, a Hebrew who has been raised by Egypt’s royal family as one of their own. Although he has a close bond with his adoptive brother Rameses, Moses goes through an identity crisis after realizing that he descends from the enslaved Hebrews. He establishes a new life for himself by fleeing to the desert wilderness and becoming a shepherd. However, God summons him to return to Egypt and demand that Rameses (who has become the Pharaoh) let the Hebrews go free. Moses becomes committed at leading his people, but it will take mighty acts of God for the Hebrews to secure freedom from Rameses’s oppressive rule.
One of The Prince of Egypt’s foremost strengths is of course its wonderful soundtrack, which features music by Hans Zimmer and songs by Stephen Schwartz. Zimmer is one of the most accomplished composers in film history, having scored projects such as The Dark Knight, Dunkirk, Gladiator, Inception, The Lion King, and Pirates of the Caribbean. That said, I think Zimmer’s score for The Prince of Egypt ranks among his best ever. (There, I said it.) It’s still awesome to hear his majestic compositions worthy of a biblical epic. Plus, he channels his masculine and aggressive tendencies well into the film’s more intense moments.
Aside from maybe the exception of “Playing with the Big Boys Now” (the song belonging to Rameses’ henchmen Hotep and Huy), the work from Zimmer and Schwartz results in one impressive musical number after another. Although the inspiring “When You Believe” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, my favorite numbers here happen to be the sobering but spectacular opener “Deliver Us” and the unabashedly jubilant “Through Heaven’s Eyes”.
Another key strength going for The Prince of Egypt is its talented cast of voice actors, all of whom lend the right presence to their characters. (You know that the filmmakers believed in setting a strong foot forward if they gave even small roles to actors like Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Helen Mirren, and Patrick Stewart.) And I can also highly praise the traditional animation, which attains an unusually high level of realism and detail. Not to mention, the visuals manage to be aesthetically pleasing despite how the desert context often leads to limited color palettes. As much as contemporary animated features can stun us with their CG graphics, hand-drawn efforts like The Prince of Egypt remind us of the beauty and care that’s unique to artists’ hands working with ink and paint.
In short, I consider The Prince of Egypt to be easily the best animated feature with a biblical worldview ever and (with all due respect to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments) the best screen version ever of the Exodus story. Also, I assert that it belongs next to titles such as The Breadwinner, The Iron Giant, Kubo and the Two Strings, Song of the Sea, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as one of the best animated features ever to not come from Disney, Pixar, or Studio Ghibli. And the movie is a reminder now, as it was more than 20 years ago, that animation doesn’t have to be just for kids.
Note: You can view The Prince of Egypt on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as through Amazon Prime. (As far as I can tell, the movie isn’t available on Pure Flix or Netflix, but I might be wrong.) Christian families should note that this flick warrants its PG rating on account of relatively intense and violent moments, although the filmmakers avoid anything gratuitous. Also, The Prince of Egypt can inspire discussion between parents and their kids on the reality of the one, true God (in contrast with pagan deities) and on the importance of patiently waiting for God to display his power and faithfulness. In addition, the movie affords the opportunity to discuss how Jesus qualifies as the Passover lamb for Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7).