The Prince of Egypt - C
Viewed December 19, 1998 at Sony State

There's a lot to admire about Prince of Egypt -- the somber tone is more approriate than the sex-and-sin titillation of The Ten Commandments. (Sideways rant: The fact that an honest, if unorthodox, work of faith like The Last Temptation of Christ gets lambasted while a surfacely reverential debasement like DeMille's version of the life of Moses doesn't is a symptom of everything that's wrong with American religion.) The PG rating gives the animators more freedom from the artificial constraints of having to be a kid-friendly film, and they've created some of the most recognizably human characters in the history of American studio animation. It's not hard to imagine these characters as engaging in the full spectrum of human behavior, up to and including sex. (As Matt Zoller Seitz points out in his review, there's even a subtle post-coital moment.) The increased humanity only increases the heft of the moral quandary of the various plagues that strike Egypt. The animation dazzles at times, such as the sequence where Moses is covered by a sandstorm. (However, like in Anastasia, the obvious CG origin of some elements clashes badly with the more traditional animation style. It's not quite as bad here, though -- only getting to the point of distraction in a few scenes.)

Unfortunately, Katzenberg and Co. have decided to make a big Broadway musical out of it and sabotage everyhing worthy about the film. There's isn't anything inherently wrong with the idea of a musical Exodus, but only a low-key approach could really work, serving as a counterpoint to the blood-and-thunder nature of the story. That isn't the approach taken. Instead, we get big brassy numbers from Stephen Schwartz that push the serious and reverent tone of the movie into pure bombast. They stink, and the one attempt at something not completely reverent ("You're Playing with the Big Boys Now") fails miserably, as the film doesn't have anywhere near enough a sense of humor about itself for the number to work. It's no coincidence that the film's three best scenes (the smiting of the first-born, the burning bush, and that weird dream sequence) have zero songs in them.