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IN SHORT: Recommended [Rated PG]
The Prince of Egypt is a perfect example of what animation fiend Cranky has been writing about the last four years or so. I've been bemoaning the conception (in this country) that animated features are strictly child's play and waiting for the project that moves the form up to the next level, where adult themes can be addressed and more adult stories can be told, without an audience thinking "gee, nice cartoon." The Prince of Egypt is a perfect document of where the genre has been, and where it is going. Based on the Biblical story of Moses (and if you don't know that one, welcome to the Planet), The Prince of Egypt can be seen as three stages of animation.
Before I get too analytical; Seen at a sneak preview, The Prince of Egypt held the attention of the complete spectrum of the audience. Little kidlets (and I do mean little) had enough action and comedy on screen to keep 'em giggling. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) was transfixed as the Wrath of God was transferred to screen visuals. More about that later. On a very basic level, Prince of Egypt is recommended.
From the word go, The Prince of Egypt sets a more adult tone. As the opening song "Deliver Us" (all songs by Stephen Schwartz) unwinds, the visuals do not hold back on depicting the violence inherent in the slave system that kept the Hebrews in bondage and built such nice pyramids and such. The act of setting the baby Moses adrift in a basket is tinged with dangers never even hinted at in Bible stories. The whole sequence builds in direct correlation to the template laid down in The Lion King (also overseen by exec producer Jeffrey Katzenberg) all those years ago. It isn't that the template (big production number / slam to black) isn't good. I've just seen it too damn many times. As well, there is the goofy comic relief from two Egyptian priests (voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short) and we are pounded by song after song after song (which we all know bugs the hell out of Cranky. But that's probably just me). Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes, as the voices of Moses and Rameses are fine. I'd never thought of the "brothers" as full of life kidlets, which they are in this telling. 40 years of serious storytelling at the annual Seder will do that to you.
What liberties are taken with the Bible story are not enough to tick off this Member of the Tribe, but the entire "early life of Moses" sequence so echoes The Lion King, right down to composer Hans Zimmer's underscore, that Cranky didn't care. Here and there, some conceptual bits of animation (hieroglyphics come to life as Moses discovers his history; The slaying of the Overseer) hint at what is to come. The playing down to the kids was great for the kidlets, but not for Cranky.
Part Two is Moses' exile from Egypt. Tremendous CG sandstorm animation. Major "ooo" reactions from the audience. Fewer songs and the first kicker icon -- the Burning Bush. Cranky's interest enflamed, too. By the Final Act, in which Moses returns to Egypt and the plagues descend, The Prince of Egypt moves into serious territory. Cranky has rarely seen an audience become as deathly still as they did during the Tenth Plague (killing of the firstborn). You could have heard a pin hit the plush carpet. The form of God echoed the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that was tres cool. But it was nothing compared to the parting of the Red Sea.
The Prince of Egypt mixes traditional animation with computer work, which allows the characters to move at angles that take a bit getting used to seeing. The Red Sea sequence runs, I'd guess, close to eight minutes with but a minimal dialog ("Kill Them! Kill them all!") visuals that kick royal patootie. I'm aiming for a "G" rating on the review, folks. Cranky had seen bits and pieces of the film at the beginning of the year, but nothing prepared me for this. Breathtaking. Overwhelming. Spectacular. Add your own synonyms to the list. By the time the Ten Commandments came down, Cranky was definitely hooked.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Prince of Egypt, he would have paid . . .
The number is lower 'cuz the first act almost killed the entire experience for me. Between The Prince of Egypt, which eventually allows itself to deal with adult topics on an adult level and the forthcoming Princess Mononoke (which introduces graphic violence that teenboys dream of) perhaps we're finally moving on to the next level of animation. Cranky hopes so.
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