LET MY PEOPLE GO TO THE VIDEO STORE?
The Cartoon Saga of Unholy Moses

September 1999By Mark T. Lickona

Mark T. Lickona holds a master’s degree in theology, is trained as a cinematographer, and is currently teaching religion at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Pontiac, Michigan. He has recently been seeking a producer for a radio show on film and culture, and is looking forward to making his first film.

On September 14, 1999, The Prince of Egypt, the animated re-telling of the story of Exodus, will be released on video. And because of the rave reviews this movie received from the Christian press after its theatrical release, Christian parents and educators will likely be lining up outside their local video store early that morning to secure a copy for their families or their classrooms. But should they?

At first glance, it would seem that the answer is clearly “Yes!” First, it’s an animated film — and we all know how animated films engage kids. Second, it’s an animated film based on the Bible, and could therefore be a way to introduce children or students to the drama of the Book of Exodus. Third, this film put out by DreamWorks was lauded in Christian publications for its respectful treatment of Moses (“Hollywood Gets One Right” said the headline in Focus on the Family Newsletter; “DreamWorks Does Moses Right” was the headline in the National Catholic Register; “Hollywood Does Right by the Bible; Thumbs Up for The Prince of Egypt” said the headline in Our Sunday Visitor). Furthermore, Christian reviewers agreed that DreamWorks’s state-of-the-art animation portrayed the power of God superbly, and far more effectively than any live-action adaptation of the Book of Exodus ever has (or perhaps ever could); the most applauded “advance” of DreamWorks’s animation over Cecil B. DeMille’s blue-screen and reverse-motion special effects was, of course, the computer-generated parting of the Red Sea (which took DreamWorks’s computer graphics team over three months to render). But the Red Sea was not the only visual powerhouse of this film; from the Burning Bush to the Plagues to the Pillar of Fire, The Prince of Egypt delivers one eye-popping and breathtaking portrayal of divine power after another.

From the very beginning of the film, we see God “working wonders” for Moses’ sake, as Moses’ basket “miraculously” avoids being overturned again and again on its way down the river. As Moses’ sister Miriam later tells him, “God saved you from the river, He saved you in all of your wanderings, and even now, He saves you from the wrath of Pharaoh” —so that the Hebrews can be delivered from bondage. The plagues are sent to overcome Pharaoh’s resistance to Moses, so that he will capitulate to Moses’ demand to release the Hebrews. And the Red Sea is parted and then closed upon the Egyptians, leaving the Hebrews free to enter the Promised Land.

It short, it is remarkable that “Hollywood” has produced a film that takes note of the will of God — a film that not only shows God as a powerful presence (which is extraordinary enough), but that also shows the unfolding of history as proceeding according to the divine Will. So with all these things going for The Prince of Egypt, why would anyone hesitate to show it to children?


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