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The Prince of Egypt

Year: 1998
Studio: Dreamworks
Director: Brenda Chapman/Steve Hickner/Simon Wells
Writer: Philip LaZebnik/Nicholas Meyer
Cast: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Mel Brooks

I watched this film because I've always had a soft spot for Biblical epics - I was about the only person around who appreciated what Ridley Scott did with Exodus: Gods and Kings.

It's (another retelling of) the story of Moses and the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, albeit through a fairly modern sensibility. What was welcome about it however was that there was no overt 'Americanising' or 'teening up' up of the speech, characterisations or social culture of the time and place like most animated movies did even back in the late 90s when this came out. It feels a little more traditional in the storytelling, almost like the creative leads involved wanted to honour one of history's most revered stories rather than just move units at the DVD outlets later on.

Being a very early Dreamworks SKG project – before the company even had an animation division – I wondered if studio heads Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg or David Geffen wanted a project to pay tribute to their Jewish heritage. It certainly doesn't shy away from being Jewish, the Hebrew masses singing a joyous song in Yiddish as they approach the Red Sea, finally freed by the Pharaoh Rameses and spinning dreidels in happiness.

It takes some liberties with the chronology and characters, the plagues depicted in a pretty disapponting and rushed montage when they could have been the visual centrepoints of the movie, but overall it's well shot for a CG cartoon. There's some very arresting visuals, strong scenery and the point of view (the camerawork, in animated terms) is pretty inventive in what it does with light and shade, angle and colour. There's also a strong sense of design, the characters drawn in a way that makes them seem like throwbacks to a simpler era when animated characters were more linear.

Being essentially an animated kids' film they occasionally break out into song (to which I rolled my eyes), but not enough to ruin it. The score, along with the visuals, actually gives a lot of what goes on a stirring, epic air, and it would have been a good one to see on a big screen with cinema sound.

It's also fun trying to place the voices, one of the most interesting things to realise is that this film was made back when Val Kilmer (Moses) was bankable – a long time ago as I write this.

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