Three Other Reasons to See Prince of Egypt: racially truthful, stealthily pro-life, realistic portrayal of sin
I admit, our family went to see The Prince of Egypt because of William Donahoe's recommendation. The Catholic League plugged the newly-released animated picture on the story of Moses in its newsletter as well as in an Internet message. So we joined my family at Christmas in a rare trip to the theater, along with my dad (who was going to see it because Chuck Colson had recommended it).
When we emerged from the theater, all of us agreed that there was more reason to like this film than the facts that a.) it was completely clean b.) and it was not by Disney.
I had been told of the technical perfection of the animation and special effects. This is true - the film is stylistically executed by DreamWorks with the perfection of any Disney movie. The parting of the Red Sea is spectacular. It has its share of chases, escapes, and comic moments, with strong female characters and funny animals. The story is simple to follow - so clear that my toddler son burst into tears when baby Moses had to leave his mommy to be adopted by a strange lady. I had expected all these things.
But I wasn't expecting any more than an exercise in clean filming of a token Biblical story to please the Christian market. Prince was more than that. Here's three reasons to go see the film that have nothing to do with the political battle over children's movies.
First, Prince is racially truthful. This is the first Biblical movie I have seen in which none of the characters - none - were Caucasian. Personally I am tired of depictions of our Biblical fathers and mothers that insist on giving them fair skin and sometimes blue eyes. Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians in Prince have the bone structure and skin color of their races, which I found refreshingly (not politically) correct. Aren't the Jews and Africans sometimes right when they accuse American Christians of making the Gospel into "a white man's story?" Certainly these are the images we usually give our children. Prince was a definite step in the right direction.
The filmmaker's choice to tap the heritage of the black community in using a music style inspired by Gospel spirituals was wise and effective. For its audience of children, it provided a further link between the Biblical characters and the African heritage. The Hebrew songs - particularly the children's hymn which heralds the day of Israel's freedom - were wonderful touches. My personal favorite was "Through Heaven's Eyes," the song of Jethro, Moses' future father-in-law, done in Arabian style.
Second, there was the undercurrent of a pro-life message. The catalyst of Moses' transformation from a selfish prince of Egypt who never looks twice at his servants to the deliverer of Israel is when he discovers that his "father," the Pharaoh, commanded the slaughter of the infant Hebrew boys. His father justifies this as population control: "the Hebrews were too numerous." Moses, who can't imagine being related to slaves, begins to feel compassion first for these countless baby victims, whom he narrowly escaped joining. A sense of the enormity of the crime is overwhelming in different parts of the film. While not explicit, a pro-life message comes through. The last line of the film "Deliver us!" became for me a personal prayer for an end to our nation's holocaust.
Third, the movie shows clearly the effects of the most deadly of sins - pride. This film underscores the fact that the bulk of the plagues upon Egypt were the result of one man's selfishness and unwillingness to change - the Pharaoh Rameses. What makes this moral tale so believable is that the film explores the character of the hard-hearted Pharaoh in his boyhood friendship with Moses. "Don't be the weak link in the chain," Rameses' father tells him, unfairly punishing him for things he didn't do. The fact that Moses truly loves his foster brother and has compassion for his internal struggle even as the two face off as adults raises the caliber of the storyline. Moses begs Pharaoh to yield for the sake of the Egyptians suffering from the plagues, but Rameses, tormented by the sores and pests of the plagues himself, remains bitter and unyielding. He has lost the ability to feel compassion for anyone else. When he announces that the slaughter of Hebrew children will begin again, he brings down the plague of the death of the first-born upon himself. Faced with unwittingly causing the death of his young son, he temporarily agrees to let the Hebrews go. The stark portrayal of the effects of mortal sin has probably never been rendered to this depth in cartoon form before.
Having seen the movie, I would nominate it for an Academy Award. And along with William Donahoe and other Christian leaders, I can now say that I certainly hope that the movie industry makes more movies like Prince of Egypt (how about a sequel?). If you go to see Prince of Egypt, you'll "send a message to Hollywood," but you and your family will enjoy yourself as well.