Editor’s Note: Deeply sorry about the delays to this post of Film A Week. I had a hectic week due to Spring Break and events I had to host and attend. I will be on my ‘A’ game more in the near future.
Animation is known for being another form of storytelling that knows no bounds and can be use as advantage at achieving ideas few directors can ever dream of either using the delicate use of pen and paper, typing a few codes on a keyboard or simply sculpting puppets to photograph frame by frame to make a few seconds spring to life. Some animated films challenge the way we think of what is known as ‘kiddie cartoons’ to become true art that is hailed yet sometimes these bright spots get overlooked in later years and forgotten. Films that take on a hard to swallow subject and turn it into an experience everyone must witness. This month, we are celebrating animation in its various forms. First off is Dreamworks’ forgotten masterpiece of animation, 1998’s The Prince of Egypt.
The Prince of Egypt is a stunning film that takes on the Old Testament story of Moses previously adapted in the Cecil B. Demille’s classic The Ten Commandments in a Disney-esque musical feature that takes on the heavy subject matter with ease. The sense of corruption, greed, betrayal and even imminent death are still present alongside an A List cast with Val Kilmer as Moses and Ralph Finnes as Rameses. I am going to forgo the plot of the feature since this story is as well known as the fairy tales and mythologies read as children and taught in middle school.
BUT FOR THOSE NOT IN THE KNOW!
Moses was sent rolling on the river and brought into royalty alongside his stepbrother Rameses, who is kind of a douche. One day, Moses meets his sister on the street who says ‘Hey, you are adopted!” causing Moses to go “Rameses, why the flip are my Hebrews suffering?” Rameses does not give a flying turd, so Moses says “Let’s Schindler’s List this” and heads to help the Hebrews on the outskirts and meets up with God in the form of burning bush, which I believe only happens when you are burning some bush. God says “Save my people” with Moses going “Well, I got nothing better to do.” Moses comes back and says “Let my people go” and Rameses, now an insanely powerful pharaoh says “Nah, I need slave labor”. Moses has enough of his crap, brings down plagues of famine, locusts and child death because God is insane as hell and convinces the Pharaoh to let them go. They jet, leave, part the Red Sea (complete with whales in the sea) and make it to the promise land.
The animation in this film is beyond stellar making the old story new again by combining the efforts of both CGI and traditional animation to create these spectacle sequences such as the parting of the Red Sea.
This sequence alone brings out the best of what Dreamworks traditional animation department can do bringing out the wrath of God and Moses against the fearsome power that is Rameses. The style is reminiscent of the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in order to give a more unique look while having some characteristics of the style of rival Disney animation. The designs and care that went into each frame is more astounding then the next. Dreamworks probably took inspiration from a previous animated effort from Disney.
The only way to truly grasp the nature of the story, Dreamworks saw what Disney did with Hunchback and decided to take on the task by hiring Stephen Schwartz as both lyricist and composer opposed to Disney having the mainstay Alan Menken team up with him. The team-up had mixed results with that feature (looking at you, ‘A Guy Like You’), but Schwartz took on Prince of Egypt by himself and wound up with epics like ‘The Plagues’ and the climatic beauty that is ‘When You Believe’.
Schwartz built the foundation of a musical animated epic to build tensions and move the story along rather than just shove random songs in their for the sake of making a mediocre run of the mill animated venture. The script is tight knit and paid with good attention by delivering both the light hearted tone before Moses’ discovery to the horror that is yet to come as Egypt is practically ready to be destroyed and burned to the ground. The performances delivered by Val Kilmer and Ralph Finnes is the finest voice work in any Dreamworks animated feature with Finnes as Rameses being the highlight. He is smart and fierce as a villain, yet remains scared and unsure of himself in the quieter moments next to his brother Moses. Even at the end, Rameses does not give up, but knows that he has failed. Finnes drives the film alongside Kilmer’s calm and collective Moses who becomes the everyman and leader.
For another perspective on this feature, let me toss it over to my sister and runner of a-freakin-dorable-disney.tumblr.com, Jenni Chante.
“The Prince of Egypt is one of my favorite DreamWorks film ever. I’ve seen the original Ten Commandments and I swear it bored me to tears. This one, on the other hand, was spectacular. I love how they get more in depth with Moses and Ramses relationship. It did not have the feeling of “oh, they’re not really brothers, so who cares?,” but with this film it makes you understand where Moses is coming from. He had to grow up with someone who wasn’t really his brother, yet he cares for him. As the plagues brought on by the power of God happen, you can feel the heartbreak Moses is feeling. He loves his brother, but he has to do this to save the Hebrews. He chooses his true identity over his former life of royalty and someone he had called brother all this life. To me, having that focus gave the film more power because it is not someone just saving Hebrews, it is about a man going against someone he grow up with in order to save his people.”
If one has not checked out this masterpiece of cinema, I strongly suggest you look at it and judge for yourself. This week’s Film A Week was short and sweet, but next time, we will be right back on track.
Next time, I will be gone in Sacramento to compete in a journalism competition and I hate to disappoint many avid readers of Film A Week, but fear not because I have a personal pal of mine coming in to take on the task for our month devoted to animation. Contributing writer Jesus Figueroa of iwatchmike.com and thisfunktional.com steps up to take on the Blue Sky Studios feature that knock Pixar’s Newt out of production, the colorful and vibrant Rio.
Film A Week Week 14: Rio (2011) with Guest Writer Jesus Figueroa of iwatchmike.com and thisfunktional.com
Saturday, April 13th