Thoughts on “Prince of Egypt”

I confess I have a love for animated movies. Unlike many of my peers, I wasn’t raised on Disney and Pixar, and for much of my childhood I thought that Snow White and Beauty and the Beast were stupid (though that was likely a jealous reaction to not having seen them). A year ago, a friend of mine reintroduced animated movies into my life, and I decided that they might not be so stupid after all… Since then, I’ve been catching up on all the ones I haven’t seen. Last night was Prince of Egypt.

Prince of Egypt tells the story of Moses as it is written in the Book of Exodus, though the movie takes a few artistic liberties. Moses is raised as a brother to Ramses, future Pharaoh, until he discovers that he is a Hebrew and that God has chosen him to free his people. Thus ensues a lot of

“Let my people go.”

“No.”

“Let my people go.”

“No.”

“Let my people go.”

“No.”

“Let my people go.”

“Oh, all right.”

Overall, it made for a very entertaining movie. I found the art to be a lot more touching and personal than in other animated movies. As for the music, it was just fantastic. “Deliver Us” and “When You Believe” (as sung by Miriam and Zipporah) really stood out to me. The biblical material was very well portrayed, and I liked how it was treated in a way that would speak to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. After all, Moses is a founding figure in all of those religions, so he deserves to be shown as such.

On the topic of biblical and historical accuracy, the movie didn’t do too badly. Fun fact: I actually went and read the Book of Exodus, so that I could write this review with good knowledge of the material. (A Hellenic polytheist reading the Bible? Unthinkable!) As it turns out, many lines from Prince of Egypt come directly from the King James Bible – an effort which I really appreciate. There are a few changes in the plot, of course, but that was to be expected, and they are fewer than in most movie adaptations. This, in my opinion, counts towards historical accuracy as well: since, in my opinion, the Old Testament is history with some embellishments, being true to the Bible is the closest we can get to the historical Exodus.

There were a few historical inaccuracies that I found quite funny, though. For example, in the chariot race scene, Moses wore an Egyptian wig over his curly hair while Ramses’s head was shaved with only a small patch of hair. What’s so funny about that? First, they were brothers, so you would expect them to have the same hairstyle – either both shaved or both unshaved. Second, if I’m not mistaken, Egyptian adults shaved their heads to avoid getting lice, especially if they wore wigs over the top. So why does Moses sport luscious curls under his wig? Finally, Ramses’s hairstyle was only worn by young boys… And since he not only an adult in this scene, but also portrayed as older than Moses, his fashion choices caused me to giggle quite a bit.

But who cares, I’m nitpicking.

prince-of-egypt-1998-movie-moses-ramses-chariot-race-animated-dreamworks

Moses and Ramses in the chariot race scene

I saved the topic of religion for the end, since it’s the most interesting and the one about which I have the most to say. Of course, I expected Prince of Egypt to be religious and possibly a bit preachy. I didn’t mind the scene with the burning bush, where God speaks directly to Moses, nor the other Jewish/Christian/Muslim scenes. What bothered me most was the portrayal of Ancient Egyptian religion. I’m not Kemetic, but I do sympathise with the Kemetic community as our faiths have had many ties over the centuries. I understand that there is nothing to lose by portraying Kemeticism in a negative light, but from that to showing Egyptian priests as slimy tricksters who can’t counter the Hebrew God’s miracles? Hmm.

I was also disappointed by the movie’s depiction of Ramses. Ramses II, along with Tuthmosis III, is my favourite Pharaoh, and I expected him to be a slightly more sympathetic antagonist. Instead, the movie shows him as evil and domineering and as “getting what he deserves” in the end.

In fact, Ramses and the Egyptians’ punishment is what bothered me most in Prince of Egypt. Specifically, God ordaining the death of the firstborn. That’s the only moment in the movie when I bawled my eyes out – what with the Egyptian children dying, and Ramses standing over the body of his dead son. That was not fair. Ramses did not deserve that. What God would murder innocent children like that? Moreover, why would he do that when the Egyptians did the exact same thing to his people’s children?

That spoiled the end of the movie for me. I couldn’t root for the Hebrews after that. Though the song “When You Believe” was one of my favourites, I couldn’t sympathise with Miriam and Zipporah singing about miracles when thousands of children had just died because of their God. The hope that was supposed to fill the scene was completely absent.

Really though, that’s not a problem specific to the movie. What I really have trouble with, in this case, is the Old Testament. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am a Hellenic polytheist!

But to get back to Prince of Egypt, despite all that I did enjoy it. It’s not something I would show my future children – at least not until they’re old enough to use discernment – but cinematically, it was very good. Now if someone could make a sequel from the point of view of the Egyptians…

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About Artemisia

A Hellenic polytheist lighting stars in the sky and skipping stones across the Styx.
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2 Responses to Thoughts on “Prince of Egypt”

  1. Kyaru says:

    This is why I read blogs, for these ‘doh!’ moments. I was raised Christian and I watched that movie and in ALL this time, I never even thought about those poor firstborn! Why did I never question this particular plague? Was it because the Egyptians were just all painted as bad guys and deserving of what happened to them? I wonder what my catechism teacher would have said if I had brought it up.

    Hi 🙂 Came across your blog on PBP. Actually the first article I read was on the reconstructionism, but then I saw Prince of Egypt and I just had go read it too. I have basic knowledge of Greek mythology and Greece (and Greek food for the win!) but I’m really interested in learning what Hellenic paganism is like. The reconstructionism is sort of lighting a brain fire because that’s what I’m trying to do. In any case, I’m glad I came across your blog!

    • Artemisia says:

      Hi, thanks for stopping by 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed my posts on reconstructionism and on Prince of Egypt! Interesting to hear that you never thought about the death of the firstborn in that way. I’d agree that it has to do with how the Egyptians are portrayed. The Old Testament is the only source we currently have that describes the exodus, so the Hebrews are bound to be shown as the “good guys”. But if we ever discover an Egyptian record of the story, I’d love to read it!

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