Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why Haven’t I Seen That?: THE PRINCE OF EGYPT

Welcome to a new installment of WHY HAVEN'T I SEEN THAT?, where we talk about a must-see or iconic movie that we have never seen...until now. This week we’re taking a look at a now-classic animated film that has captured audiences for nearly 20 years….THE PRINCE OF EGYPT! Enjoy!

The Prince of Egypt is an animated feature from 1998 by Dreamworks Pictures that is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus from the Bible. This story follows Moses, a Hebrew adopted by the Pharaoh, who is given a mission by God to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. The film was directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells and features a stacked voice cast including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, and Martin Short.

Overall I enjoyed The Prince of Egypt, but after having not seen it for almost 19 years, I wasn’t as blown away as critical reception led me to believe I would be. This film is, without any question, ambitious. For one thing, it is risky to tell any fundamentally religious story in commercial media, but it also does so many things to create a brilliant visual style that lesser animators would not have achieved. I also found myself generally enjoying the journey of this story. The film failed to get me emotionally involved though and in many ways it felt too sanitized for my personal tastes.

Beginning with the positive elements, this film is ambitious. The main ambition I want to dig in to is the animation. There are so many moments in this film that could make legitimate wall art. It is so stunningly animated from an artistic standpoint that I can’t help but applaud them swinging for the fences. There are many shortcuts they could have taken but they seemingly didn’t and it really contributed to improving the final product. I think this is why this is one of the 2D animated films that people can still get drawn into today.

On top of the fine animation, I thought the voice cast did a uniformly good job. There was no one character that stood out and blew me away, rather, they all contributed some flavor to the film that made it enjoyable to watch. This was especially impressive because, after a while, I lost sight of the huge names behind the characters and just saw these characters. That is a difficult bar to reach and I think this film did that effectively.

Finally, I thought the journey of this film was interesting. I’m not as familiar with biblical lore as I believe I should be. Though I generally know this particular story, there are elements I’m less familiar with. This film distilled the main functional elements of that story effectively, however, and kept me interested in where the story was eventually going.

All those positives said, this film is far from perfect. My biggest issue with it was its failure to get me emotionally connected with the story. There is so much drama and intense horrors involved with this story, yet I never really felt anything. I was always interested in what was going to happen (as I mentioned earlier) but I never felt anything. There are moments that should have ripped my heart out but they just didn’t. It’s so hard to explain why a movie didn’t make you feel, and I certainly can’t put my finger on it here, but it is a serious issue for the quality of the final product.

Additionally, this story felt far too sanitized. Yes, I understand this is a movie aimed at all audiences, young children included. Yes, I get that in that context there are things you don’t want to show. Yes, I follow that sometimes sanitizing things to broaden the audience has merit. I get all these things. That said, just as you couldn’t make PG musical version of 12 Years A Slave, I really don’t think you can adequately tell this story without depicting horror. That lack of scope of the horrors of slavery really damaged my perspective on the film and I thought it felt like the films goal was being superseded because of its omissions.

Overall, however, I think The Prince of Egypt is a bold and solid film. Definitely an animated film worth watching and exploring. The picturesque visuals, solid cast, and interesting overall story certainly make up for some of the shot comings in not eliciting a lot of emotion and telling the story in a horror-less way. Go see it.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10

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