September 14, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

When The Prince of Egypt arrived in theaters last December, hard on the heels of several other high-grossing animated features, a miracle of sorts occurred: After predictions that the field was overplowed, Moses’ staff harvested $101 million at the box office.

Is the picture really that religious an experience? Not exactly, particularly when brought from theaters to the smaller video sphere. Codirectors Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells toiled to give ”The Prince of Egypt” an unusually dim, restrained, ostensibly realistic color scheme.

That means most of their version of Moses’ story — he’s a petulant, gimme-the-keys-to-the-chariot teenager (voiced well by Val Kilmer) who breaks with his stepbrother Rameses (Ralph Fiennes) over Egypt’s abuse of Hebrew slaves — takes place in dim corridors, shadowy tents and nighttime streets. Watch it on a TV in a bright, daylit room and you’ve got to take much of the superbly drafted imagery on faith; you can barely see it.

With the visuals diminished, the rickety planks in Stephen Schwartz’s fine-to-middling score creak a lot louder. Even on repeat listenings, Moses’ requisite I-want song — called, lamely, ”All I Ever Wanted” — simply isn’t memorable, no matter that the star-crossed royal helpfully whistles snatches of it in another scene. And since the Oscar-winning ”When You Believe” grows more irksomely calculated the more you hear it (the ”Hava Nagila”-style campfire rave, ”Through Heaven’s Eyes,” wears much better), you may leave Egypt thirsty for a looser take on the Book of Exodus.

99 minutes
Brenda Chapman,
Steve Hickner,
Simon Wells
Complete Coverage

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