'The Prince of Egypt'
STARRING THE VOICES OF Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Martin Short, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Natalie Portman
DIRECTED BY Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Think Moses: The Musical. For its first traditional animated feature (as opposed to the computer-generated Antz), DreamWorks draws directly from the Book of Exodus — but the epic scope brings to mind Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 live-action The Ten Commandments. To lend his biblical hero a tenor, DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg, cast out of the kingdom of Disney in 1994, borrowed Mickey’s playbook by hiring away Mouse House composer Stephen Schwartz (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to write not just lyrics but melodies, too. Schwartz, who last got religion with the 1971 stage hit Godspell, happily signed with Katzenberg — even if it meant breaking an unspoken Disney commandment: Thou shalt not work for direct competitors. ”I tried to stay out of the politics,” says Schwartz. ”But there were political ramifications.” And if you thought Quasimodo wasn’t kid stuff, look for a more bluntly adult tone in Prince. While Schwartz composed such non-toddler-friendly songs as the eight-minute opener ”Deliver Us,” the art staff brought what animator William Salazar calls ”nearly anatomically correct” designs to such figures as Moses (Kilmer) and Rameses (Fiennes). ”The Egyptians have a hieroglyphic look,” he explains. ”The Hebrews are designed organically, with more curves.” (Dec. 18)
THE LOWDOWN Hakuna Matata! A cartoon musical with no tie-in toys, no Happy Meals, no Red Sea ride? Moses’d better pray for a box office miracle.