(This review was originally posted on April 1, 2018. It has been slightly updated)
It’s Passover. And we’re (still) dealing with a plague.
Believe me, when I say, we are dealing with it with the utmost amount of ironic humor we can muster. Which is a lot. I have seriously been considering getting some lamb’s blood to paint over my doorposts just in case.
Pity that my landlord won’t let me do that and I don’t know where to get lamb’s blood.
And this means it’s also the perfect time to revisit one of the best films ever made… The Prince of Egypt. At this point, we can all agree that this is an objective fact. Even if it wasn’t based on the story from the Book of Exodus, and was an original tale, it would be an amazing solid movie.
The movie was originally conceived as an animated adaptation of The Ten Commandments, but as adaptations often do, this changed somewhere in the process. This film is heavily focused on the relationship between Moses and his adoptive brother Ramses, which doesn’t exist in the original text. But it works well and adds extra depth to their relationship, which really works in the narrative’s favor.
Though the film takes liberties with the Biblical story, it’s still a very, very good adaptation of the story. It’s probably the truest Biblical movie adaptation ever. And I think that’s really important.
And though I’m not observant, as a little Jewish girl who grew up surrounded by countless Christmas and Easter television specials and movies, it was so wonderful to have something that represented my beliefs and culture.
Back then, I didn’t know that the story of Exodus was a part of other religions. I had never heard of Islam and to me, Christianity was a vague combination of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and some dude named Jesus. But that’s not the important thing – This movie had the characters speak in Hebrew. They sang songs I recognized from Hebrew school.
I felt seen.
The film was crafted with a kind of care and consideration that is so rare in movies nowadays.
Biblical scholars and theologians from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were all consulted to help on the film, as were Arab American leaders. The film’s directors and animators also worked hard to make sure that they depicted Ancient Egypt as well as they could.
In hindsight, I do wish they managed to include matza somewhere in the movie. The whole movie kind of skips over that part, but that’s more of a pet peeve than a major criticism. I like how the movie represents Jews, without showing the beliefs as something foreign or to be explained -as they are in so many holiday specials.
Nor does the movie whitewash over some of the gorier parts of the story as many family films tend to do. The film doesn’t hide the death or destruction of the original tale. Which makes this movie the perfect example of how a piece of children’s media doesn’t let its medium force it into a particular narrative mold.
There’s humor, sadness, and bombastic musical numbers, but the latter isn’t in there to keep kids entertained. It adds to the story. And they are all ear-wormy, in a good way.
For me, the musical numbers are probably the best consistently throughout in almost any other (non-musical) film. My personal favorite is probably the “When You Believe,” as it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
Part of it has to do with the song being intertwined with verses of “Mi Chamocha,” a traditional Hebrew song. It’s often sung during Passover, and while the song works well on its own, it’s the visuals that clench it.
The song has the entire crowd, singing, and walking slowly out of the ruins of Egypt and ends with cheering, dancing, and children singing. It’s absolutely breathtaking. But, “Deliver Us,” the opening song, and “The Plagues,” are also major contenders for the best song of the whole film.
I mean…” The Plagues” is just…chilling. Every single time. It never fails to frighten me just a bit.
It seems that genuinely good musical numbers in children’s films are becoming harder and harder to find. So many movies have one song created to be Oscar-bait schlock, while the rest are kind of mediocre or covers of pop hits. It helps that the characters are voiced by voice actors who can actually sing.
Ofra Haza, who played Yocheved, sang the lullaby in 17 different languages. 17. Most voice actors can only do one or two languages and this woman sang in over a dozen languages, most of which she didn’t know.
But I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the splitting of the Red Sea.
Somehow, an animated movie made a scene that would be just amazing into a moment of epic wonderment that still works decades later.
It is one of the few parts in the film that is not animated traditionally. And the fact that it was used so rarely in the film makes this moment stand out. It is gorgeous, powerful, eerie, and awe-inspiring all at the same time.
But what I really appreciate about this movie, is even though its story is at the core of Christianity, the film avoids taking a Christian perspective on it. It doesn’t try to recontextualize it in the framework of the New Testament.
The film doesn’t hold the idea that the story of Exodus belongs to any one group. And the film never mentions Passover by name, but it’s not meant to be a story about how Passover came to be. It’s meant to be an adaptation of a story that is important to millions of people around the world.
And though some of my love for the film may come from childhood nostalgia, is that such a terrible thing? Shouldn’t a film resonate with you throughout your life? Shouldn’t it be so that you can return to the film at any point in your life and still be stuck with that same feeling as when you first saw it?
The Prince of Egypt is absolutely timeless. The story has literally been passed down for thousands of years, the music is catchy and complex, there are no pop-culture references or humor that date the film. Its animation is beautiful and seamless and most importantly the animation is beautiful and timeless.
And that’s the scoop!
Happy Easter and Happy Passover to everyone. Please stay safe and celebrate appropriately.
Year of release: 1998
Length: 99 minutes
Producers: Penney Finkelman Cox, Sandra Rabins
Writer: Philip LaZebnik