Film Scouts Reviews

"The Prince of Egypt"

by Karen Jaehne

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This film makes it so easy to resort to patronizing, wiseass criticism that the true temptation is to step back and explain just why the film itself is patronizing, dishonestly peppy, and guilty of debasing far more than Hebrew tradition. Excuse me, if I make the film sound more interesting than it actually is: the risk is the only thing that makes a review of it interesting.

To most of us, the name Moses awakens a dormant memory of Charlton Heston harumphing, like some outraged dorm procter stumbling into the party with an armful of rules and regulations that we all claim we never knew. Naming the ten commandments is one of those tough parlor games that peters out after coveting thy neighbor's ass.

Religious caveats and transgressions are easily agreed to in the abstract, because mutual respect of property and body space is the best lubricant of the social machine, but they were clearly too hot to handle by Dreamworks producers. Why did they make a movie about the Prince of Egypt - rather than the King of the Hebrews? They arrived at their decision to make this movie after a conversation (reported in the press book) that does none of them much credit for natural piety. Back in 1994 (so much for the ancient inspiration), Steven asked Jeffrey what were the criteria for a great aniimated film.

"I," quoth Jeffrey the Wise, "launched into a 20-minute dissertation - Katzenberg's time is worth about $18.6 million per minute, so story conferences are pithy - about what you look for: a powerful allegory that we can relate to in our time, extraordinary situations to evoke strong emotional journeys; something wonderful about the human spirit; good triumphing over evil..." Since Steven had already made a big fish movie, a starman movie, a holocaust movie and a noble soldier movie, what came next is sorta logical. "...Steven leaned forward and said, 'Like the Ten Commandments?'" That's all Jeffrey needed in the way of guidance.

And that's why "Prince of Egypt" bears an uncanny resemblance to "Night at the Roxbury." In order for the target audience to be able to relate to the movie, Jeffrey had to focus on Moses, the Early Years. Thus, in three minutes flat, Moses is born and dumped in the river, to wash up in the arms of a palace princess and be raised as the brother of Rameses II. Five minutes are then given over to chariot drag-racing, in the spirit of boys will be goys. Thus, the most appealing element of the story seems to be a denial of one's Hebraic roots.

Why not focus on The Ten Commandments? From the point of view of either the Chosen or even the Unselect peoples who number Moses among their heroes, nothing typifies him more than those laws - engraved in stone, immutable, irrevocable and necessary for an orderly society. What has more alarming force than "Thou shalt not....!"? Think of Moses and what he must have felt like after he came to his people - his cousins and second-cousins and shirttail relations - bearing these "shalts." What did they say to him? How did they react? Even on a very contemporary, sit-com level, what did he say to his Aunt Sadie who said, "whaddya mean, thou shalt not covet they neighbor's ass? Moses, get a grip!"

Clearly, Moses is most interesting when he is burdened with the tablets upon which the Moving Finger wrote and having writ...left it to Moses to get the folks to take the laws seriously. What happened next?

Steven, Jeffrey, try again. Try the hard way. What happened after the Tenth Commandment? Think longer than a 20 minute dissertation that can be summed up with four cliches. Nobody should know better than Dreamworks what it feels like to know the Power and the Glory of immutable laws. Oh, ye lords of entertainment, back to the blank slate...or, rather, stone tablet, and engrave The Law. Show us how it feels. Bring us back to respect it again. And you with it.

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