The Prince of Egypt
|The Prince of Egypt|
Theatrical release poster
|Based on||The Book of Exodus|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer (Score)
Stephen Schwartz (Songs)
|Edited by||Nick Fletcher|
|Distributed by||DreamWorks Pictures1
|Box office||$218.6 million|
The Prince of Egypt is a 1998 American animated epic musical biblical film and the first traditionally animated film produced and released by DreamWorks Pictures. The film is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus and follows the life of Moses from being a prince of Egypt to his ultimate destiny to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. The film was directed by Brenda Chapman, Simon Wells and Steve Hickner. The film featured songs written by Stephen Schwartz and a score composed by Hans Zimmer. The voice cast featured a number of major Hollywood actors in the speaking roles, while professional singers replaced them for the songs, except for Michelle Pfeiffer, Ralph Fiennes, Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Ofra Haza (who also sang her character's number, "Deliver Us", in seventeen other languages for the film's dubbing), who sang their own parts.
Jeffrey Katzenberg had frequently suggested an animated adaption of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments while working for The Walt Disney Company, and he decided to put the idea into production after founding DreamWorks in 1995. To make this inaugural project, DreamWorks Animation employed artists who had worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation and the recently disbanded Amblimation, totalling a crew of 350 people from 34 different nations. The film has a blend of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery, created using software from Toon Boom Animation and Silicon Graphics.
The Prince of Egypt was released in theaters on December 18, 1998, and on home video on September 14, 1999. Reviews were positive, with critics praising the animation, music and voice work. The film went on to gross $218,613,188 worldwide in theaters, which made it the most successful non-Disney animated feature at the time. The film's success led to the direct-to-video prequel Joseph: King of Dreams (2000) and the development of a stage adaptation. The song "When You Believe" became a commercially successful single in a pop version performed by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, and went on to win Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards.
In Ancient Egypt, the descendants of Jacob are being oppressed by the new Pharaoh, Pharaoh Seti I (Patrick Stewart) as they pray for the promised land. Later, Seti notices that the Hebrew population is growing faster than the Egyptians. Fearing that an alarming increase could lead to rebellion, he commands his entire people to kill all of the newborn Hebrew boys, but to spare the girls.
Meanwhile, in the city of Goshen, where the slaves live, one of the women, Yocheved (Ofra Haza), a Hebrew mother, and her two children, Miriam and Aaron, watch in horror as the newborn Hebrew boys are taken and ruthlessly killed as ordered by Seti. She, too, had born a son, who was hidden for three months. Fearing for her own newborn son's safety, Yocheved places him in a basket afloat on the Nile River, not before bidding him farewell with a final but powerful lullaby. Miriam follows the basket to the Pharaoh's palace and witnesses her baby brother safely adopted by Queen Tuya (Helen Mirren), who names him Moses.
Years later, Moses (Val Kilmer) and his brother Rameses II (Ralph Fiennes) are scolded by their father for accidentally destroying a temple during one of their youthful misadventures, though Moses tries to take the blame. That evening at a palace banquet, Seti, who wants to give Rameses the opportunity to prove that he is responsible, names him Prince Regent and gives him authority over Egypt's temples. As a tribute, the high priests Hotep (Steve Martin) and Huy (Martin Short) offer him the captive Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Rameses gives her to Moses. Rameses then appoints him Royal Chief Architect.
Later that night, Moses follows Tzipporah as she escapes from the palace and runs into his siblings Miriam (Sandra Bullock) and Aaron (Jeff Goldblum). Miriam is overjoyed to see her younger brother again, but Aaron is fearful to watch the confrontation. Despite Aaron's attempts to protect his sister, Miriam tries to tell Moses about his past, but he refuses to listen. He then runs to the palace. The truth about his past is later confirmed by a nightmare, and finally by Seti himself. The next day, Moses accidentally pushes an Egyptian guard off the scaffolding of the temple when trying to stop him from whipping a Hebrew slave, and the guard falls to his death.
Ashamed and confused, Moses flees into the desert in exile, despite Rameses' pleas to stay. While in the desert Moses defends a group of young girls from bandits, only to find out their older sister is Tzipporah, whom he helped escape from Egypt. Moses is welcomed into the tribe by Tzipporah's father Jethro (Danny Glover). After assimilating this new culture, Moses becomes a shepherd and marries Tzipporah. While chasing a stray lamb, Moses discovers a burning bush through which God (Abraham) instructs him to go back to Egypt and guide the Hebrew slaves to their promised land. God bestows Moses' shepherding staff with his power and promises that he will tell Moses what to say. Moses and Tzipporah return to Egypt, where Moses is happily greeted by Rameses, who is now Pharaoh.
When Moses requests the Hebrews' release and changes his staff into an Egyptian cobra, to demonstrate his alliance with God, Hotep and Huy boastfully recreate this transformation, only to have their snakes eaten by Moses' snake. Rather than persuaded, Rameses doubles the Hebrews' workload. Moses and Tzipporah thereafter live with Miriam, who convinces Aaron and the other Hebrews to trust them. Later, Moses inflicts nine of the Plagues of Egypt, but Rameses refuses to relent despite each plague being worse than the one before. Against Moses' warning (foreshadowing the final plague), Rameses makes it clear that he will never release the Hebrew slaves. Disheartened by Rameses' words, Moses prepares the Hebrews for the tenth and final plague, instructing them to sacrifice a lamb and mark the doorposts with the lamb's blood. That night, the final plague kills all the firstborn children of Egypt, including Rameses' young son, while sparing those of the Hebrews. The next day, a grief-stricken Rameses finally gives Moses permission to free the Hebrews, as he mourns the loss of his son. Moses breaks down crying from the guilt of hurting Rameses, and from hearing the cries of numerous mothers across the city.
The following morning, the Hebrews leave Egypt, led by Moses, Miriam, Aaron, and Tzipporah. At the Red Sea, they discover that Rameses is closely pursuing them with his army. Upon the arrival, Moses uses his staff to part the sea, while a fire blocks the army's way. The Hebrews cross the open sea bottom; and when the fire vanishes and the army gives chase, the water closes over the Egyptian soldiers, sparing Rameses alone, who is washed ashore on the other side of the sea. Thereafter, Moses sadly bids farewell to his brother, and leads the Hebrews to Mount Sinai, where he receives the Ten Commandments.
- Val Kilmer as Moses, a Hebrew who was adopted by Pharaoh Seti.
- Val Kilmer also provides (uncredited) the voice of God
- Amick Byram provides Moses' singing voice.
- Ralph Fiennes as Rameses, Moses' adoptive brother and eventual successor to his father, Seti.
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Tzipporah, Jethro's oldest daughter and Moses' wife.
- Sandra Bullock as Miriam, Moses and Aaron's biological sister.
- Jeff Goldblum as Aaron, Moses and Miriam's biological brother.
- Patrick Stewart as Pharaoh Seti, Rameses' father, Moses' adoptive father and the first Pharaoh in the film.
- Danny Glover as Jethro, Tzipporah's father and Midian's high priest.
- Brian Stokes Mitchell provides Jethro's singing voice.
- Helen Mirren as Queen Tuya, Seti's consort, Rameses' mother, and Moses' adoptive mother.
- Linda Dee Shayne provides Queen Tuya's singing voice.
- Steve Martin as Hotep, one of the high priests who serves as advisor to Seti, and later Rameses.
- Martin Short as Huy, Hotep's fellow high priest.
- Ofra Haza as Yocheved, the biological mother of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses.
Director Brenda Chapman briefly voiced Miriam when she sings the lullaby to Moses. The vocal had been recorded for a scratch audio track, which was intended to be replaced later by Sally Dworsky. The track turned out so well that it remained in the film.
Former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg had always wanted to do an animated adaption of The Ten Commandments. While working for The Walt Disney Company, Katzenberg suggested this idea to Michael Eisner, but he refused. The idea for the film was brought back at the formation of DreamWorks SKG in 1994, when Katzenberg's partners, Amblin Entertainment founder Steven Spielberg, and music producer David Geffen, were meeting in Spielberg's living room. Katzenberg recalls that Spielberg looked at him during the meeting and said, "You ought to do The Ten Commandments."
The Prince of Egypt was "written" throughout the story process. Beginning with a starting outline, Story Supervisors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook led a team of fourteen storyboard artists and writers as they sketched out the entire film — sequence by sequence. Once the storyboards were approved, they were put into the Avid Media Composer digital editing system by editor Nick Fletcher to create a "story reel" or animatic. The story reel allowed the filmmakers to view and edit the entire film in continuity before production began, and also helped the layout and animation departments understand what is happening in each sequence of the film. After casting of the voice talent concluded, dialogue recording sessions began. For the film, the actors record individually in a studio under guidance by one of the three directors. The voice tracks were to become the primary aspect as to which the animators built their performances. Because DreamWorks was concerned about theological accuracy, Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to call in Biblical scholars, Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologians, and Arab American leaders to help his film be more accurate and faithful to the original story. After previewing the developing film, all these leaders noted that the studio executives listened and responded to their ideas, and praised the studio for reaching out for comment from outside sources.
Design and animation
Art directors Kathy Altieri and Richard Chavez and Production Designer Darek Gogol led a team of nine visual development artists in setting a visual style for the film that was representative of the time, the scale and the architectural style of Ancient Egypt. Part of the process also included the research and collection of artwork from various artists, as well as taking part in trips such as a two-week travel across Egypt by the filmmakers before the film's production began.
Character Designers Carter Goodrich, Carlos Grangel and Nicolas Marlet worked on setting the design and overall look of the characters. Drawing on various inspirations for the widely known characters, the team of character designers worked on designs that had a more realistic feel than the usual animated characters up to that time. Both character design and art direction worked to set a definite distinction between the symmetrical, more angular look of the Egyptians versus the more organic, natural look of the Hebrews and their related environments. The Backgrounds department, headed by supervisors Paul Lasaine and Ron Lukas, oversaw a team of artists who were responsible for painting the sets/backdrops from the layouts. Within the film, approximately 934 hand-painted backgrounds were created.
The animation team for The Prince of Egypt, including 350 artists from 34 different nations, was primarily recruited both from Walt Disney Feature Animation, which had fallen under Katzenberg's auspices while at The Walt Disney Company, and from Amblimation, a defunct division of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. As at Disney's, character animators were grouped into teams by character: for example, Kristof Serrand, as the supervising animator of Older Moses, set the acting style of the character and assigned scenes to his team. Consideration was given to properly depicting the ethnicities of the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, and Nubians seen in the film.
There are 1192 scenes in the film, and 1180 contain work done by the special effects department, which animates everything in an animated scene which is not a character: blowing wind, dust, rainwater, shadows, etc. A blend of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery was used in the depictions of the ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. The animated characters were digitally inked and painted using Cambridge Systems' Animo software system, and the compositing of the 2D and 3D elements was done using the "Exposure Tool", a digital solution developed for DreamWorks by Silicon Graphics.
Creating the voice of God
The task of creating God's voice was given to Lon Bender and the team working with the film's music composer, Hans Zimmer. "The challenge with that voice was to try to evolve it into something that had not been heard before," says Bender. "We did a lot of research into the voices that had been used for past Hollywood movies as well as for radio shows, and we were trying to create something that had never been previously heard not only from a casting standpoint but from a voice manipulation standpoint as well. The solution was to use the voice of actor Val Kilmer to suggest the kind of voice we hear inside our own heads in our everyday lives, as opposed to the larger than life tones with which God has been endowed in prior cinematic incarnations." As a result, in the final film, Kilmer gave voice to Moses and God, as well, yet the suggestion is that someone else would have heard God speak to them in their own voice.
Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz began working on writing songs for the film from the beginning of the film's production. As the story evolved, he continued to write songs that would serve to both entertain and help move the story along. Composer Hans Zimmer arranged and produced the songs and then eventually wrote the film's score. The film's score was recorded entirely in London, England.
Three soundtrack albums were released simultaneously for The Prince of Egypt, each of them aimed towards a different target audience. While the other two accompanying records, the country-themed "Nashville" soundtrack and the gospel-based "Inspirational" soundtrack, functioned as film tributes, the official The Prince of Egypt soundtrack contained the actual songs from the film. This album combines elements from the score composed by Hans Zimmer and film songs by Stephen Schwartz. The songs were either voiced over by professional singers (such as Salisbury Cathedral Choir), or sung by the film's voice actors, such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Ofra Haza. Various tracks by contemporary artists such as K-Ci & JoJo and Boyz II Men were added, including the Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston duet "When You Believe", a Babyface rewrite of the original Schwartz composition, sung by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky in the film.
- "Deliver Us" – Yocheved, Miriam, and Chorus
- "All I Ever Wanted" – Moses
- "River Lullaby" - Miriam
- "All I Ever Wanted (Queen's Reprise)" – Queen Tuya
- "Through Heaven's Eyes" – Jethro
- "Playing with the Big Boys" – Hotep and Huy
- "The Plagues" – Moses, Rameses, and Chorus
- "When You Believe" – Miriam, Tzipporah, and Chorus
Release and reception
The Prince of Egypt had its premiere at the UCLA's Royce Hall on December 16, 1998, with its wide release occurring two days later. Despite being the inaugural production by DreamWorks Animation, it wound up the second to get a theatrical release, as Antz was rushed to reach theatres in September. The international release occurred simultaneously to the United States, as according to DreamWorks' distribution chief Jim Tharp, opening one week prior to the "global holiday" of Christmas, audiences all over the world would be available at the same time.
The accompanying marketing campaign aimed to bring more adults, usually averse to animated films. Merchandising was limited to a line of collectible figures and books. Wal-Mart served as a promotional partner, and offered in stores a package featuring two tickets to The Prince of Egypt, a storybook and the film's soundtrack.
Box office performance
On its opening weekend, the film grossed $14.5 million for a $4,658 average from 3,118 theaters, earning second place at the box office, behind You've Got Mail. Due to the holiday season, the film gained 4% in its second weekend, earning $15.1 million and finishing in fourth place. It had a $4,698 average from 3,218 theaters. It would hold well in its third weekend, with only a 25% drop to $11,244,612 for a $3,511 average from 3,202 theaters and once again finishing in fourth place. The film closed on May 27, 1999 after earning $101.4 million in the United States and Canada with an additional $117.2 million overseas for a worldwide total of $218.6 million. The Prince of Egypt was the second non-Disney animated feature to gross over $100 million in the U.S. after Paramount/Nickelodeon's The Rugrats Movie. It remained the top grossing non-Disney animated film until being surpassed by the 2000 stop motion film Chicken Run, also distributed by DreamWorks, and remained the highest grossing traditionally animated non-Disney film until 2007, when it was out-grossed by 20th Century Fox's The Simpsons Movie.
|Source||Gross (USD)||% Total||All Time Rank (Unadjusted)|
|United States & Canada||$101.4 million||46.4%||398|
The Prince of Egypt received generally positive reviews from critics and at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 84 reviews collected, the film has an overall approval rating of 79%, with a weighted average score of 7/10. The site's consensus reads, "The Prince of Egypt's stunning visuals and first-rate voice cast more than compensate for the fact that it's better crafted than it is emotionally involving." Metacritic, which assigns a normalized 0–100 rating to reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 64 from the 26 reviews it collected.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the film in his review saying, "The Prince of Egypt is one of the best-looking animated films ever made. It employs computer-generated animation as an aid to traditional techniques, rather than as a substitute for them, and we sense the touch of human artists in the vision behind the Egyptian monuments, the lonely desert vistas, the thrill of the chariot race, the personalities of the characters. This is a film that shows animation growing up and embracing more complex themes, instead of chaining itself in the category of children's entertainment." Richard Corliss of Time magazine gave a negative review of the film saying, "The film lacks creative exuberance, any side pockets of joy." Stephen Hunter from The Washington Post praised the film saying, "The movie's proudest accomplishment is that it revises our version of Moses toward something more immediate and believable, more humanly knowable."
Lisa Alspector from the Chicago Reader praised the film and wrote, "The blend of animation techniques somehow demonstrates mastery modestly, while the special effects are nothing short of magnificent." Houston Chronicle's Jeff Millar reviewed by saying, "The handsomely animated Prince of Egypt is an amalgam of Hollywood biblical epic, Broadway supermusical and nice Sunday school lesson." James Berardinelli from Reelviews highly praised the film saying, "The animation in The Prince of Egypt is truly top-notch, and is easily a match for anything Disney has turned out in the last decade", and also wrote "this impressive achievement uncovers yet another chink in Disney's once-impregnable animation armor." Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail gave a somewhat negative review and wrote, "Prince of Egypt is spectacular but takes itself too seriously." MovieGuide also reviewed the film favorably, giving it a rare 4 out of 4 stars, saying that, "The Prince of Egypt takes animated movies to a new level of entertainment. Magnificent art, music, story, and realization combine to make The Prince of Egypt one of the most entertaining masterpieces of all time."
The Prince of Egypt was banned in two countries where the population is predominantly Muslim: the Maldives and Malaysia, on the grounds that the depiction in the media of Islamic prophets (which includes Moses) is forbidden in Islam. The Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in the Maldives stated: "All prophets and messengers of God are revered in Islam, and therefore cannot be portrayed". Following this ruling, the censor board banned the film in January 1999. In the same month, the Film Censorship Board in Malaysia banned the film "so as not to offend the country's majority Muslim population." The board's secretary said that the censor body ruled the film was "insensitive for religious and moral reasons". Malaysia's population is 60% Muslim, their country has strict censorship. Along with nudity and sex, sensitive religious scenes are rare due to the Malaysian film censorship laws.
|Academy Awards||Best Original Musical or Comedy Score||Stephen Schwartz, Hans Zimmer||Nominated|
|Best Original Song||"When You Believe" (lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz)||Won|
|Annie Awards||Best Animated Feature||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Directing||Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Storyboarding||Lorna Cook (Story supervisor)||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Effects Animation||Jamie Lloyd (Effects Lead — Burning Bush/Angel of Death)||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Voice Acting||Ralph Fiennes ("Rameses")||Nominated|
|Critics Choice Awards||Best Animated Feature||Won (tie with A Bug's Life)|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Original Score||Stephen Schwartz, Hans Zimmer||Nominated|
|Best Original Song||"When You Believe"||Nominated|
|Grammy Awards||Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television||Nominated|
|Best Soundtrack Album||The Prince of Egypt: Music from the Motion Picture||Nominated|
|Satellite Award||Best Animated or Mixed Media Feature||Nominated|
The Prince of Egypt was released on DVD and VHS on September 14, 1999. The ownership of the film was assumed by DreamWorks Animation when that company split from DreamWorks Pictures in 2004; as with the rest of the DreamWorks Animation catalog, it is available for streaming on Netflix in HD. However, Both the DVD release and the streaming versions used a 35mm print of the film, rather than using the original files to encode the movie directly to digital.
In November 2000, DreamWorks Animation released Joseph: King of Dreams, a direct-to-video prequel based on the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis. The project begun during production of The Prince of Egypt, employing some of the same animation crew and featuring director Steve Hickner as an executive producer.
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