The Prince of Egypt is a 1998 American animated musical biblical epic semi-historical drama film and the first traditionally animated film produced and released by DreamWorks Animation. The film is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus and follows Moses' life 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 features songs written by Stephen Schwartz and a score composed by Hans Zimmer. The voice cast features a number of major Hollywood actors in the speaking roles with professional singers replaced them for songs, except for Michelle Pfeiffer, Ralph Fiennes, Ofra Haza, Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Ofra Haza (who sang her song in over seventeen languages for the film's dubbing), who sang their own parts.
The film was nominated for best Original Musical or Comedy Score and won for Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards for "When You Believe". The song's pop version was performed at the ceremony by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. The song, co-written by Stephen Schwartz, Hans Zimmer and with additional production by Babyface, was nominated for Best Original Song (in a Motion Picture) at the 1999 Golden Globes, and was also nominated for Outstanding Performance of a Song for a Feature Film at the ALMA Awards.
The film was released in theaters on December 18, 1998, and on home video on September 14, 1999. The film went on to gross $218,613,188 worldwide in theaters, making it the second animated feature not released by Disney to gross over $100 million in the U.S. after Paramount/Nickelodeon's The Rugrats Movie. The Prince of Egypt became the top grossing non-Disney animated film until 2000 when it was out-grossed by the stop motion film Chicken Run (another DreamWorks film). The film also remained the highest grossing traditionally-animated non-Disney film until 2007, when it was out-grossed by 20th Century Fox's The Simpsons Movie. This is DreamWorks Animation's only traditionally-animated film to win an Oscar and one of the four DreamWorks Animated films to be nominated for more than one Oscar.
In Ancient Egypt, Yocheved, a Hebrew slave, and her children, Miriam and Aaron, watch as Hebrew babies are taken and ruthlessly killed by Egyptian soldiers, as ordered by Pharaoh Seti I, who fears an increase in the Hebrew population could lead to an uprising. To save her own newborn son, Yocheved places him in a basket and sets it afloat on the Nile, praying that God will deliver him to a safe fate. Miriam follows the basket and witness her baby brother being taken by the Egyptian Queen Tuya, who names him Moses.
Twenty years later, Moses and his foster brother, Rameses, are lectured by their father after they destroy a temple during one of their youthful misadventures. Rameses is berated for their misdeeds though Moses tries to take the blame; Moses later remarks that Rameses wants the approval of his father more than anything, but lacks the opportunity. Seeking to give him this opportunity, Seti names Rameses Prince Regent and gives him authority over all of Egypt's temples. In thanks, Rameses appoints Moses as Royal Chief Architect. As a tribute to Rameses, the high priests, Hotep and Huy offer him Tzipporah, a young Midian woman they kidnapped, as a concubine. After she nearly bites him, Rameses gives her to Moses, who ultimately helps her escape captivity. While following her out of the city, Moses is reunited with Miriam and Aaron. Miriam tells Moses the truth about his past, despite Aaron's protests, and Moses denies it until Miriam starts to sing a lullaby that Yocheved sang to him the day she saved his life. That same evening, Moses has a nightmare that causes him to realize the truth. Moses asks Seti about the murder of the Hebrew babies; though his reply, Moses realizes that Seti considers the Hebrews inferior to him. The next day, Moses accidentally pushes an Egyptian guard off the scaffolding of the temple while trying to stop him from whipping a Hebrew slave, and the guard falls to his death. Ashamed and confused, Moses decides to go into hiding, despite Rameses' pleas that he stay.
Moses crosses many miles of desert, and eventually reaches the land of the Midianites, Tzipporah's people, who worship the Hebrew God. After Moses saves Tzipporah's sisters from bandits, he is welcomed warmly into the tribe by their father Jethro, the High Priest of Midian. After assimilating in this new culture, Moses becomes a shepherd and gradually earns Tzipporah's respect and love, culminating in their marriage. One day, while chasing a stray lamb, Moses discovers a burning bush through which God speaks to him. God instructs Moses to free the Hebrew slaves and take them to the promised land, and bestows Moses' shepherding staff with his power.
Moses then returns to Egypt with Tzipporah, entering the palace in the midst of a large celebration. He is happily greeted by Rameses, now Pharoah and the father of a young prince. Moses tells Rameses to let the Hebrews go, demonstrating the power of God by changing his shepherding staff into an Egyptian cobra. Hotep and Huy beautifully "repeat" this transformation by using illusions to turn two staffs into two snakes, only to have their snakes eaten by Moses' snake. Having not believed his brother, Rameses takes Moses to the throne room where Moses discloses that he has honestly returned to free the Hebrews, and rather than being persuaded, Rameses is hardened and orders the Hebrew's workload to be doubled. Moses and Tzipporah go to live with Miriam, who forgives Moses for his former disbelief, and convinces Aaron and the other Hebrews to trust him. Later, Moses (with God's help) unleashes nine of the Plagues of Egypt (with the first one being copied by Hotep and Huy) to attack Egypt. As the days pass, the plagues ravage Egypt, it's monuments, and people. Moses feels tortured to inflict such horrors on the innocent, and is heartbroken to see his former home in ruins. Despite all the pain and destruction caused by the plagues, Rameses refuses to relent, and in anger, when Moses confronts him again, vows to finish the work his father started against the Hebrews, unwittingly providing the stipulations of the final plague. Moses, when nothing left to say to Rameses, resigns himself to preparing the Hebrews for the tenth and final plague. He instructs them to paint lamb's blood above their doors for the coming night of Passover. That night, the angel of death goes through the country, killing all the firstborn children of Egypt, including Rameses' own son, while sparing those of the Hebrews. The next day, Moses visits Rameses one last time, who finally gives him the permission to free the Hebrews and take them out of Egypt. Moses weeps at the sight of his dead nephew and for all of his brother's pain.
The following morning, the Hebrews leave Egypt, led by Moses, Miriam, Aaron, and Tzipporah. They are weary at first, but soon begin to heal and find hope and happiness. They eventually find their way to the Red Sea, but as they resting, they discover that Rameses has changed his mind and is closely pursuing them with his army. With only a few minutes separating the Hebrews from the Egyptians, Moses uses his staff to part the sea, while a pillar of fire blocks the army's way. The Hebrews cross on the open sea bottom; when the pillar of fire disappears and the army gives chase, the water closes over the Egyptian soldiers, and the Hebrews are safe. However, Rameses is spared, and he is hurled back to the shore by the collapsing waves, screaming Moses' name in anguish. Saddened by what he and Rameses have lost forever, Moses bids his brother goodbye one last time and leads the Hebrew people to Mount Sinai, where he receives the Ten Commandments from God.
- Val Kilmer as Moses
- Ralph Fiennes as Rameses II
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Tzipporah
- Sandra Bullock as Miriam
- Jeff Goldblum as Aaron
- Patrick Stewart as Pharaoh Seti I
- Danny Glover as Jethro
- Brian Stokes Mitchell provides Jethro's singing voice.
- Helen Mirren as Queen Tuya
- Linda Dee Shayne provides Queen Tuya's singing voice.
- Steve Martin as Hotep
- Martin Short as Huy
- Ofra Haza as Yocheved
Director Brenda Chapman briefly voices 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 adaptation 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, 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 a 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 recorded individually in a studio under guidance by the 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 the theological accuracy, Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to call in Biblical scholars, Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologies, 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.
Art directors Kathy Altieri and Richard Chavez and Production Designer Derek 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 in taking part in trips such as a two-week travel across Egypt by the filmmakers before the film's production began.
There are 1,192 scenes in the film, and 1,180 of them have special effects in them. These special effects were elements such as wind blowing or environmental features such as dust or rainwater. These were also effects design in terms of lightning, as it casts its shadows and images into a given scene. In the end, these effects helped the animators graphically illustrate scenes such as the ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea.
Character Designers Carter Goodrich, Carlos Grangel and Nicolas Marlet worked on setting the design and overall work on 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/backgrounds from the layouts. Within the film, approximately 934 hand-painted backgrounds were created.
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 Val Kilmer to suggest the kind of voice we hear inside our heads in our everyday lives, as opposed to the larger than life tones with God has been endowed in prior cinematic incarnations." As a result, in the final film, Kilmer gave the voice to Moses and God, as well, yet the suggestion is that someone is that someone else would have heard God speak to him again in his 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 eventually wrote the film's score. The film's score was recorded entirely in London, England.
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 (among which Moses is counted) 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 the ruling, the censor board banned the film in January 1999. In the same month, the Film Censorship Board in Malaysia banned the film, but did not provide a specific explanation. The board's secretary said that the censor body ruled the film was "intensive for religious and moral reasons".
The film was also banned in Egypt on the grounds of the depiction in the media of Islamic prophets, but also arguably because it defamed Egyptians, depicted in the film as the oppressors of the Hebrews, and that Moses played more of a role as a liberator than a messenger.
- Main article: Joseph: King of Dreams
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 movie is an animated remake of The Ten Commandments which has the same plot and characters.
- Ofra Haza, voice actress for Yocheved, played the role in 17 of the 20 dubs, pronouncing phonetically the languages she didn't speak.