A Pastor’s Review of “The Prince of Egypt”

A Pastor’s Review of “The Prince of Egypt”

We often think of the Exodus story like we think of a western. Pharaoh is the bad guy in the black hat. Even many of the Egyptians suffer as a result of his badness (which the film does show). The Israelites are the oppressed good guys. Then Moses comes riding into Egypt wearing a white hat. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s there to clean up this place, winning a shoot out with the bad guy. But that isn’t Exodus. Everyone is bad in Exodus. The only one who is righteous is God. He saves Israel not because Israel is being oppressed or because they are righteous, but because God is faithful to His promises. No matter how bad we are, God is merciful to save His people. Dreamworks scriptwriters, producers, directors, actors, and animators cannot tell a better story than God has told. There’s plenty of drama already in the narrative. Stick with what the Bible says.

In Exodus 9:13-16, the Lord Yahweh said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

This is the purpose of the exodus, as chronicled in the second book of the Bible, that we might know God’s mercy toward His people and His wrath against His enemies so that His name would be exalted. Unfortunately, the makers of the animated musical epic The Prince of Egypt missed the point. Rather than giving praise to Yahweh, Israel’s redeemer and the central figure in the book of Exodus, they minimized God’s presence and made the story about two brothers with conflicting ambition.

This past Saturday, December 16, was the 25th anniversary of the release of The Prince of Egypt in theaters. I decided to go back and revisit the movie, which I haven’t seen in perhaps a decade, and write a review from a biblical perspective. Although I liked the film—the music and animation are spectacular, the acting stellar, and the writing superb—I must critique this as a pastor faithful to the word of God, which the movie is not.

Some are quick to say that The Prince of Egypt is at least more faithful than other Bible movies. It’s certainly a much better film than the last Bible-based musical that I critiqued, Journey to Bethlehem, so much that it’s an insult to put The Prince of Egypt in the same category.

However, we don’t weigh Bible movies against other Bible movies. We are to test all things according to the word of God. That must be our standard. The Prince of Egypt either seeks to uphold God’s word, or it doesn’t. Unfortunately, you will find the latter to be the case.

In fact, this is less an adaptation from the book of Exodus and more a remake of the Cecil B. DeMil classic, The Ten Commandments, the 1956 film starring Charlton Heston as Moses. Pharaoh, played by Yul Brynner, was given the name Rameses in that movie, and that name is carried over in The Prince of Egypt. According producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, it was Steven Spielberg who recommended to him that he do an animated remake of The Ten Commandments. Perhaps I’ll revisit that film sometime.

As I did with Journey to Bethlehem, I wrote this as I watched the movie. This is expanded from the live-post that I did on social media. The movie is 1 hr and 38 minutes long. Time markers are given.

Prologue – Moses is Rescued

0:45 – Like other Bible adaptations such as The Chosen and Journey to Bethlehem, this film opens with the following disclaimer: “The motion picture you are about to see is an adaptation of the Exodus story. While artistic and historical license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Moses can be found in the book of Exodus.”

I remember liking this movie, but that doesn’t sell it for me. Are the creators at Dreamworks God-fearing Bible believers? No. They are going to give us a version of this story they think is “better” than what the Bible says. It may be an entertaining re-imagining of this story, but it is not a biblically faithful one.

According to the film’s trivia on IMDb.com, “The production team and executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg conferred with roughly 600 religious experts to make this movie as accurate and faithful to the original story as possible. After previewing the developing movie, all of the religious scholars, experts, and leaders associated in the making of this movie noted that the studio executives listened and responded to their ideas, and praised the studio for reaching out for comment from outside sources.”

We shouldn’t be impressed that 600 “experts” were consulted on this film when Katzenberg and the film’s creators needed only one authoritative source—the Bible. What does the Bible say?

1:30 – The music is already exceptionally better than Journey to Bethlehem. And of course it is. The score is by Hans Zimmer, one of the greatest film composers of all time (after John Williams).

3:00 – The film opens with the song Deliver Us, set to scenes of Israelites being beaten as slaves, forced to labor in the hot Egyptian sand, building the structures, monuments, and idols of what was then one of the most formidable empires on earth.

In Deliver Us, enslaved Israel calls on Elohim to “deliver us to the Promised Land.” While the people certainly cried out in anguish (Exodus 3:7), they did not call on God to bring them to the Promised Land. God had mercy because He was faithful to His promise He made to Abraham.

4:00 – Jochebed and two of her older children are seen smuggling Moses down to the Nile River as Deliver Us comes to a close. Great song.

5:30 – Jochebed sings The River Lullaby. Gracious, these songs are amazing.

6:30 – It is a common myth to depict Moses in a basket floating up the Nile. It makes for good cinema as the basket is tossed to and fro, in between boats and even dodging hippos. In fact, Exodus 2:3 says that Moses was simply placed in a basket (or ark) and set in the reeds on the river bank, while his sister stood nearby to see what would happen to it.

(By the way, everything floats up the Nile, not down, since the river flows north. I still remember that from grade school geography.)

8:10 – The basket floats into an area where the palace steps descend into the waters of the Nile for bathing. Pharaoh’s wife opens the basket and finds the baby Moses, with her toddler son Rameses nearby. She takes Moses into the palace as a young Miriam, Moses’ sister, sings that he will grow up to “deliver us someday.” The music swells for a final reprise of Deliver Us, and we’re given an areal view of Egypt. Great scene.

Of course, the reason Moses was hidden was not so he would be delivered from slavery or grow up to deliver his people. It’s because Pharaoh was murdering all of the Hebrew baby boys. That will be mentioned later in the story. Also, it was not Pharaoh’s wife who found Moses but his daughter (Exodus 2:5). I’ll expound on this more in a moment.

Though this is never said, the movie appears to take the liberal view that the Exodus occurred in the 13th century B.C., when according to Scripture, the Exodus took place in the 15th century B.C. I recommend looking up the documentary Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, presenting solid historical evidence that confirms what the Bible says.

Act I – Moses in Egypt

8:40 – Moses and Rameses (adopted brothers in this film) are racing chariots. They pass hieroglyphics on the wall. Moses says, “How would you like to see your face on a wall?” Rameses says, “Someday, yes.” Moses says, “How about now?” And runs him into the wall. O, brothers.

11:45 – Antics ensue. While racing, they wreck a few monuments in Egypt (which is surprisingly not busy nor very populated). The Pharaoh Seti is displeased and gives them a stern rebuke in his best Patrick Stewart voice (it is Patrick Stewart).

13:30 – Seti, scolding his son, says, “One weak link can break the chain of a mighty dynasty.” That’s a line that will come back later. Rameses storms off heartbroken. The animation is quite amazing. Characters, when not doing anything, don’t stand motionless. There are such nuanced movements.

18:00 – There’s a celebration in which Rameses is appointed co-regent, in charge of all temples. He appoints Moses as his chief architect. A Midian woman is given to Moses as a gift, Zipporah, who will eventually become Moses’ wife (Exodus 2:21). Zipporah is being mistreated as a slave woman, and Moses joins in the mockery. Then he notices his Egyptian mother is hurt by his behavior, so Moses tries to treat Zipporah more kindly.

Zipporah tries to pull away from him and says, “Let me go!” He says, “As you wish,” and lets go of the rope she’s tied with. Zipporah falls into the water and the crowd laughs. Rameses orders that Zipporah is to be taken to Moses’ chambers.

19:30 – Moses allows Zipporah to escape and follows her, but he’s never able to catch up. In his pursuit, he encounters his siblings, Aaron and Miriam, but he doesn’t know them. Every character is voiced by a major star. Moses: Val Kilmer. Rameses: Ralph Fiennes. Zipporah: Michelle Pfeifer. Miriam: Sandra Bullock. Aaron: Jeff Goldblum.

21:20 – Miriam tells Moses that he’s their deliverer who will save them from slavery. Actually, not even Moses’ family had that expectation of him. They were just trying to save him from being killed. According to Exodus 2:9-10, Moses’ own mother nursed and raised him until he reached a certain age, and then he was sent to live as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, growing up in the palace.

22:20 – Moses is furious with Miriam for saying he’s not a prince of Egypt. Given that he was raised by his own mother, Moses would have known who he was. That aside, ethnically he’s have recognized he was a Hebrew and not an Egyptian. Miriam sings the river lullaby that his mother sang to him at the start of the movie. He remembers the song and runs away.

24:20 – Finishing the short song All I Ever Wanted. I did not remember this song. Though I know the movie isn’t going to do it, I think it would have been great to have a song that somehow incorporated the words of Hebrews 10:24-26.

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

25:50 – Moses has a dream, brilliantly animated in the style of hieroglyphics. He sees the people of Israel being tormented by the Egyptians. Babies are torn from their mothers and thrown into the Nile. You don’t see them explicitly murdered, but you know that’s what happened. Tastefully done for a cartoon. This won’t be the most harrowing scene in the movie.

27:40 – Moses runs into one of the palaces and sees the hieroglyphics showing babies of slaves thrown into the Nile. Very unlikely that the Egyptians would have told this story in their hieroglyphics, but it is an effective scene.

Seti finds him there and tells him that the Hebrews were becoming too numerous. “Sometimes for the greater good, sacrifices need to be made,” he says. When that doesn’t convince Moses, Seti says, “They were only slaves.” The music drops and Moses is appalled. Wonderfully done.

I cannot help but think about how Seti represents the evils of environmentalism and abortion. Ten years ago, The Guardian ran a headline in which they claimed, “Humans [are] the real threat to life on Earth.” A few years later, they said, “Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet.” Earlier this year, Scientific American said, “Population Decline Will Change the World for the Better.”

This is not too unlike Margaret Sanger, founder of America’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood, who said, “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” Tens of millions of babies have been murdered in America by abortion. The feminists will say, “They were only tissue.” They are as evil as Pharaoh in Egypt.

29:10 – Moses has a moment with his Egyptian mother and asks her, “Why did you choose me?” She says, “We didn’t. The gods did.” This is a thought-provoking exchange. Moses would surely have been raised to worship the Egyptian gods, something Scripture doesn’t delve into.

31:10 – Moses, overseeing construction, sees slaves being beaten. One slave is excessively whipped. Moses goes to stop the task master, but he accidentally knocks him off the scaffolding and he dies. According to Exodus 2:12, Moses deliberately killed him and hid the body.

33:15 – Having just killed a man, Moses flees Egypt. Rameses tries to stop him, even declaring Moses innocent of the matter. However, Exodus 2:15 says that when Pharaoh heard Moses had killed an Egyptian, he sought to have Moses executed. That was why Moses fled to Midian. In this film, it seems like Moses’ motivation for leaving is less about killing a man and more because he cannot stand to see his people tortured.

Moses in Midian

35:00 – We’re given a montage of Moses fleeing across deserted lands.

37:20 – As Moses wanders through the wilderness, he discovers a camel—or rather, he is discovered by a camel—which has a water bag hanging from its gear. In an attempt to get the water, Moses gets tangled in the camel and is dragged to a well. While drinking he sees some children being tormented by brigands and he saves them. Then in his weariness, he falls into a well.

Zipporah comes along and tries to pull him out, but when she recognizes him, she drops him back in the water—a little payback after Moses had done the same to her earlier in the movie. Her sister says, “Papa says that’s why she’ll never get married.”

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