Slavery, genocide, plagues.
All the makings of a great family film, right?
That’s The Prince of Egypt for ya. But look deeper!
Here’s what it is also: A story of triumph and adventure. Quest for Identity. Victory over oppression. The power of belief and being part of something bigger than yourself. HOPE.
Prince is a retelling of a story central to three of the world’s major religions – The Hebrew Exodus from Egypt (No pressure, right?).
It takes some liberties with some minor details and the fleshing out of a loving and playful relationship between brothers Moses (Val Kilmer) and Ramses (Ralph Fiennes), but a disclaimer at the beginning explains that all efforts have been made to remain “true to the essence” of the tale. In this it succeeded.
The thrust of the conflict begins when Moses learns that he was born a slave, but adopted and raised into the Egyptian royal family. It shatters his entire worldview, especially upon being confronted with the knowledge that a man he loves and respects – the Pharaoh Seti (Patrick Stewart) – ordered the murder of slave babies. Moses understandably freaks and … uh, sorta murders one of the slave drivers… then RUNS.
Isn’t the Old Testament fun, kids?
After Moses meets a group of his people in the desert, he receives a message from God through the medium of burning bush to deliver a message to Pharoah, now Ramses … those of you familiar with the story, say it with me: “LET MY PEOPLE GO!” If not, well… Conflict. Plagues. Brother pitted against brother.
Living the Dream(works)
This movie, released in 1998, was Dreamworks’ first big budget animated film and its attempt to establish something to rival the House of Mouse, Disney. So it is surprising, then, that it chose material that has such deep, adult oriented themes. Not to say that kids won’t enjoy it. There are bright musical numbers courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz, a number of laugh-out-loud moments, and two Egyptian priests that play for comic relief (voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short). But even still, it’s heavy stuff.
The voice cast is full of recognizable names, even in the minor parts. In addition to the previous mentioned, we hear the talents of Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, and Helen Mirren. In these days where we more often prize diversity, it is glaring that the cast is mostly white, but to the film’s credit, everyone is presented as people of color as they should be.
The animation, which combined traditional with CGI, is impressive and holds up really well. You can almost feel the texture of every block in every piece of architecture, the kicking up of the dust with each step through the Egyptian sands. The chariot race that memorably kicks off our adventure, the law of physics defying parting of the Red Sea, the plagues. ALL GORGEOUS to look at. The visual depiction of God speaking through the burning bush, along with the accompanying score, is hauntingly beautiful.
The Prince of Egypt doesn’t come off as preachy and you can have faith that the filmmakers only have one agenda, which they pull off admirably: Telling a good story!
Note: Working under the assumption that most are familiar with the story of Exodus, we will be focusing on some potentially spoilery plot points from here on out.
If You Love Someone, Let Them Go
If you love someone, let them go. It’s probably a phrase that you’ve heard before. It is mostly attached to romantic attachments, but can be applied to anything, really, even objects. When to do it, or to walk away? A rule of thumb is when someone is consistently hurting you or that someone is not looking out for your best mutual interests. It means listening.
To say Moses and Ramses were having relationship problems would be an understatement. Moses’ return from self imposed exile was a joyous occasion, but was quickly soured when his Godly agenda was revealed. “Let my people go,” he tells Ramses, or face divine consequences and lose everything, perhaps even HIS first born son. After all, “no kingdom should be built on the back of slaves.”
Rather than letting Moses (and the Hebrew people) go as an act of love, Ramses refuses and doubles down. He was blinded by ambition and holding onto power even at the cost of others. The film effectively allows us to feel sympathy for him, though. Growing up, his father had impressed upon him time and time again the idea that weak link would result in the crumbling of empire. Oh, the crushing weight of familial expectation and the pressures of legacy!
Loving someone enough to let them go means respecting their autonomy and the decision to walk away. And taking the time to understand where they stand and why. Then giving up the feeling of control and giving them the space they need. The allowed space gives room for reconciliation and to come back.
Moses came to the realization that dialogue and understanding was impossible and cutting ties with his brother was inevitable, so he had to go. In this age of increased polarization, we may find ourselves in similar relationships. Remember this: You can still love someone and walk away. Don’t feel obligated to stay in toxic circumstances, family or otherwise.
BetterHelp recommends the following alternative actions after ending a close relationship:
- Seeking new people. Finding his people was instrumental in Moses realigning himself and setting him on a positive path.
- Exercise. Physical activity has been proven to help alleviate depression. In the case of Moses and his new friends, wandering the desert, perhaps? Maybe that was a bad example. It was 40 years! The movie conveniently left this out. Space and time limitations, ya know. But the point still stands.
- Write your thoughts. It is a healthy way to express anger or sadness without risk of harming yourself or others.
Your Life Through Heaven’s Eyes
With the startling revelations, Moses was understandably facing some identity issues. When he falls in with the group of spiritual nomads and is reunited with his biological brother and sister – yes, the very people he had a hand in oppressing (no wonder he is facing such anxiety!) – he expressed doubt that he could ever be accepted. “Who am I? I am their enemy!”
Moses seems to be experiencing some classic imposter syndrome, a subject explored in more depth in our review of Enola Holmes. Group leader Jethro, voiced by Danny Glover, offers encouragement with a suggestion: “Look at yourself through heaven’s eyes.”
What does this mean? He explains in SONG!
The lyrics, by Brian Stokes Mitchell reads:
A lake of gold in the desert sand Is less than a cool fresh spring And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy Is greater than the richest king If a man loses everything he owns Has he truly lost his worth? Or is it the beginning Of a new and brighter birth? So how do you measure the worth of a man In wealth or strength or size? In how much he gained or how much he gave? The answer will come The answer will come to him who tries To look at his life through heaven's eyes And that's why we share all we have with you Though there's little to be found When all you've got is nothing There's a lot to go around No life can escape being blown about By the winds of change and chance And though you never know all the steps You must learn to join the dance You must learn to join the dance
Moses found his purpose in community, where everyone has value, being part of something bigger than himself. And he went all in. Compare that with Ramses, “the morning and evening star,” who believed in himself above all else. Believing in ourselves is often upheld as a virtue, but it does beg the question: Can believing in yourself also be a detriment?
Hey, the Good News
With my background in vocational ministry, I can’t help but view a movie like this through a theological lens. I don’t normally put on my “pastor hat” so explicitly in my reviews, but here we are. Feel free to scroll on to the next section if you want to skip church! Coming at you from a Christian perspective here.
Roger Ebert wrestled with something in his review: “The story of Exodus has its parallels in many religions, always with the same result: God chooses one of his peoples over the others. We like these stories because in the one we subscribe to, we are the chosen people. I have always rather thought God could have spared man a lot of trouble by casting his net more widely, emphasizing universality rather than tribalism, but there you have it. Moses gives Rameses his chance (free our people and accept our God) and Rameses blows it, with dire results for the Egyptian side.”
I’m with you, Roger (RIP). But as I learned it, the Hebrew people – later, in the promised land, the Israelites – weren’t “chosen” in the sense of being exclusively his people, but rather the chosen ones to have the privilege of showing the world who He is. Granted, throughout the Old Testament they have a pattern of doing it poorly with God trying to call them back again and again through his prophets. Ugh, humanity, amiright?
Equally problematic is the scene in the movie depicting “the passover,” where the Hebrew children were spared death, but not the offspring of the Egyptians. I was nearly brought to tears. Moses, our hero protagonist, is equally affected. We can feel his pain and anguish over what is happening, which only compounds the feeling. What do we even do with that?
To that end, what do we do with most of the Old Testament for that matter, which is littered with all sorts of similar stories to be wrestled with? I’ve found it helps if we read it through the lens of Jesus Christ. It is when he comes onto the scene that we get the “new covenant,” and everything changes. Everything points to that.
The Prince of Egypt and the Exodus story gives us an important truth about the Gospel of Christ. “The last shall be first and the first and the first shall be last.” (Matt 20:16) and God is always on the side of the poor and oppressed and we should be too (well over 100 verses!). That’s why it is called the Upside-Down Kingdom.
And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
End of sermon!
Where to Watch
The Prince of Egypt is currently streaming (for free!!!!) on The Peacock.
What do you think? Were you equally affected when watching this film? Have you had to let someone go? Share in the comments below!
The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Directors: Simon Wells, Steve Hickner, Brenda Chapman
Writer: Philip Lazebnik
Cast: Val Kilmer, Sandra Bullock, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Helen Mirren, Michelle Pfeiffer, Patrick Stewart
Rated: PG (Intense depiction of thematic elements.
Runtime: 99 minutes.
Scott is a movie lover who brings over 20 years experience in mental health, journalism and vocational ministry. He has a Masters of Divinity degree, which is not nearly as amazing sounding as Masters of the Universe, but it is what it is. It is here at Movies That Move Us where his powers combine! It is not uncommon to find him pretending to open automatic doors using The Force.