Adapting the stories of the bible can be very challenging, visually interpreting acts of faith and God is a delicate line to walk for a filmmaker. A filmmaker should feel free in interpreting and telling the story that they want so how could you adapt such a famous and important tale yet make it new and exciting for the audience. The Prince of Egypt is a fantastic film which makes a story of faith accessible for all audiences, it isn’t preaching the story of Moses, never does it beat you over the head with religion. I’m an atheist and who has some hostile feelings about religion and I loved this movie.
With the Biblical story of Exodus, Dreamworks Animation creates a fantastic visual style for this film. The might of Egypt comes across through its opening, depicting thousands of Hebrew slaves forced to build monuments to the man who murdered their first borns. Moses, before he could be slaughtered by the Pharoah’s commands is placed in a basket by his mother in the Nile river so he could escape and find a better life. Its a powerful opening, you see terrified families begging for the children’s life as the Egyptians are ruthless, Moses travelling through the perilous nature of the Nile to find himself at the steps of the Pharoah’s palace. Moses is adopted by the queen and his sister who witnesses this celebrates that her brother will survive and grow up safely.
The film’s main story is about is about two brothers and how their different origins tears them apart. When Moses learns of how his origin that he is a Hebrew and learns of what could have been his fate, he becomes disillusioned to the people he thought were family. After disastrously intervening in the punishment of slave, Moses leaves Egypt where he discovers himself and his place in the world. Ramesses is a man trying to live up to the power of his father, show himself as a worthy successor. He is determined to be the mightiest link of his dynasty not the weakness, he wants Moses and himself to go back to the way it was. When its clear that will not happen Ramesses sees Moses’s actions as another way to humiliate him. They differ completely on how they view the Hebrew slaves, the film does an amazing job of establishing Moses and Ramesses that when their conflict arises both sides are understandable. You will side with Moses because slavery is abhorrent and horrible act but you see why Ramesses will not see his brother’s reasons, he will not become the Pharoah that weakened Egypt, he will not disappoint his father.
The way The Prince of Egypt tells its story visually is breathtaking, the animation is a 2D but uses 3D computer animation to depict the acts of God. Character and location designs are striking and the cinematography utilises these designs for powerful storytelling. When Moses discovers the grand mosaic of the Pharaoh ordering the slaughter of Hebrew children, it is giant. Moses so small in comparison, he stands between the image of crocodiles that will devour the children in the river, its amazing visually storytelling of what Moses fate could have been and his turning point. Later in the film the powerful image is used again not to reflect on past but for dire foreshadowing. Ramesses and Moses continue to argue, finding themselves at the same mosaic and through visual storytelling alone you can see that Ramesses is now the Pharoah commanding the deaths of the Hebrew. Moses on the other side the Hebrew pleading for mercy and understanding, resembling the parents on the other side but in the middle stands Ramesses son, standing where Moses was in that very scene, between crocodiles, the child at the bottom of the river.
It’s very powerful and The Prince of Egypt is able to do that for the most famous moments of the Exodus story. The powers of God that Moses is able to use against Egypt are created through 3D animation with amazing results. The plague, the river of blood, the burning bush and the parting of the red sea all stand out in this film because of its use of computer animation. The established world of the film was created with traditional animation so when moments of biblical wonder occur they appear so separate from everything else. The magic of Egyptian high priests is always done in the 2D, they are seen as tricks, manipulations where as Moses creates things that cannot be explained. It brings importance to those moments and works in that it isn’t showing that God may be real but that a man’s faith can be more powerful than an army. The image of the Red Sea parting is something you know is coming, yet with animation it makes it so striking, you know it’s not real but you’re so moved by it, by the power of faith.
Music and song also serve in creating this world within The Prince of Egypt, many animated films during this time used songs as form of storytelling. This addition to the film works very well, the film lacks a really memorable song like a Disney film but all the songs there serve a purpose and elevate the themes of the film. The music serves as a dialogue in a sense, spoken words can only do so much so the score of this film heightens the power of the imagery in this film.
The film is intended for a family audience and for audiences who may not be religious or believe in the story of Exodus. Creative decisions made with the film have it resemble certain cliché’s with animated films: there are comic relief characters, songs, but it never takes away from the power of the story. The Prince of Egypt has very strong dramatic material so for this film never to shy away from depicting makes it such a moving and captivating film.