Moses must stand against his adopted brother Rameses to the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt.
You have to admire the gall of DreamWorks. For their first foray into the realm of the cartoon feature, they have turned to the not-particularly merchandise-friendly Biblical book of Exodus as their source material and Moses as their hero: no comedy ditties, loveable sidekicks or theatrical villains. Yet the gamble has paid off to some extent. Prince Of Egypt is epic storytelling on the grandest scale. Big imagery, big themes, big emotions - all met head-on and accomplished triumphantly within a film that is in essence a live action movie - more precisely a Steven Spielberg live action movie - writ cartoon.
For those who never went to Sunday school, the tale begins with Moses as a toddler, cast into the Nile in a basket then rescued and taken into the court of Pharaoh Seti (Patrick Stewart) before realising his destiny to lead his people out of the Pharoah's slavery. The movie finds a strong dynamic in the relationship between Moses (voiced as an adult by Kilmer) and older brother Rameses (Fiennes) - we first meet the two adolescents engaged in a stunning chariot race, the camera apparently struggling to keep up with their full throttle exploits - and the divergent paths they take: Rameses rising to become Prince Regent, and ultimately Pharoah; Moses cast into the wilderness to become a humble shepherd. Yet the latter's mission to deliver the Hebrews to the Promised Land means one thing: the two brothers will ultimately have to confront each other.
With care and detail oozing from every frame, what isn't surprising is the sheer "sod-off-Disney" epic quality of it all. The film is awash with stunning vistas, amazing architecture and astonishing set pieces that lower the jaw at regular intervals: a breathtaking sandstorm rushing towards Moses; the burning bush - represented here by a beautiful white glow and a Voice Of God you can actually take seriously; a nightmarish hallucination of the Pharoah's slaughter cleverly played out in hieroglyphics, and most powerful of all, a scene where Moses unleashes the power of God - represented by spectral visions of white light skimming over Egyptian abodes - to kill the first born in every household is rendered in startling black-and-white, the lack of palette and haunting shrills adding shiver-inducing frissons.
Moreover, the film creates and explores dramatic beats that most live action movies strive and strain for: Moses turning the Nile the shade of blood red; Rameses laying out his dead son - beautifully lit by a solitary shaft of light - as Moses watches with silent remorse is testimony to the film's ability to add a skein of complexity to a potentially simplistic good brother/bad brother scenario.
Boasting the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Martin Short, the superstar ensemble of voices pulls off a neat trick - the identities of the thesps' vocal stylings are always apparent yet this doesn't preclude identification with character or pull you out of the drama. The songs by Pocahontas' composer Stephen Schwartz endeavour to add emotional colour rather than provide colourful sideshows but don't have the sheer meoldic talent of disney tunes, while Hans Zimmer's score provides requisite Biblical epic bluster.
Whilst definitely a little too earnest, with a pace that drags at times, this is a sweeping effort. The one issue being that it fails to really nail any particular audience demographic. Not fun enough for the kids and not clever and knowing enough for the adults. A very, very far cry from Shrek but might while away a rainy afternoon.
Worthy but visually stunning version of the biblical tale.