The Prince of Egypt: Moses’ Time to Shine
Jessica Dunlap English 354 Professor D. Cutchins 9 April 2008
Dunlap 1 Jessica Dunlap Professor Cutchins ENGL 345 9 April 2008
The Prince of Egypt: Moses’ Time to Shine
The Biblical account of the Exodus primarily focuses on God’s dealings with His children. In the Bible, God is the hero and the source of all power; for centuries, His mighty miracles have inspired Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike. Moses acts as an instrument in God’s hand, needing constant support and guidance from his Maker. DreamWorks’ epic film The Prince of Egypt turns the biblical account of the Exodus into Moses’ personal narrative. While the Bible portrays God as the hero, Moses is the central hero in The Prince of Egypt. Though the animated film certainly doesn’t deny God’s hand in the story, the film’s primary focus is Moses’ personal life, his struggles, and his triumphs. DreamWorks adds scenes to the biblical text, giving in-depth detail about characters the Bible skips over. Audiences see the human side of Moses and the obstacles he overcame to be obedient to God’s commandments. DreamWorks turns Moses into the central hero of the Exodus story by (1) giving Moses contemporary heroic qualities; (2) developing Moses’ family background; (3) downplaying Aaron’s role in the Hebrew deliverance; and (4) decreasing the Lord’s presence in the miraculous events.
Dunlap 2 Heroic Makeover: Good Looks and a Good Looking Babe DreamWorks made several changes to the biblical plot in order to make Moses a more attractive hero to contemporary audiences. In particular, DreamWorks changed Moses’ age and gave him a mysterious, sexy love interest. In the Bible, “Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh” (King James Version, Exod. 7.7). DreamWorks turns the 80-year-old prophet into a handsome and vibrant young Fig. 1, Moses is young.
man. A hero with dark, curly locks and olive, wrinkle-free skin is more appealing than an aging biblical prophet. Making Moses younger also allowed DreamWorks to leave out Moses’ children, which accompany him to Egypt in the original text: “And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt” (Exod. 9.20). It is easier to have a child-free protagonist who doesn't have to worry about caring and providing for a family while trying to save his people. Although DreamWorks’ Moses doesn’t bring his children to Egypt, he does bring Zipporah—his gorgeous wife. Exodus 9: 21 briefly mentions Moses and Zipporah’s wedding, but DreamWorks fabricates the details of their exciting courtship. The Bible leaves out all of the romance: Zipporah is simply given to Moses as a gift. In the Fig. 2, Moses and Zipporah first meet.
film, Moses first meets Zipporah in Egypt, where she
has been taken captive to dance at a royal banquet. Zipporah is dressed in a revealing costume that highlights her slender waist and long legs. Moses is immediately attracted to the exotic,
Dunlap 3 feisty woman and later follows her as she escapes from his bedchamber. He is obviously smitten. When Moses travels to Midian, the two meet again. Their courtship begins as Zipporah realizes Moses is a decent man. Zipporah falls in love with Moses as she sees him work with her family and play with her sisters. He also shows her his affection by giving her flowers and sweet, loving looks. The addition of a love story is one small element that sets Moses up as the central hero—because no heroic tale is complete without a steamy love Fig. 3, Moses and his wife.
Raising the Stakes: Moses Gives Up His Family In addition to tweaking the hero’s age and love story, DreamWorks changes many details about Moses’ childhood in order to make his later confrontation with the Egyptian pharaoh more risky and dramatic. These changes include (1) cutting Moses off from his blood-relations; (2) strengthening Moses’ ties to Egypt; (3) creating a fictional brother, Rameses; and (4) making Aaron’s relationship with Moses more negative. In the Bible, Moses remains connected to his birth mother and sister throughout his childhood. Exodus 2: 3-10 describes how Moses’ mother guided her 3-month-old child down a river towards the pharaoh’s daughter in a homemade ark. Moses’ sister follows the ark until the pharaoh’s daughter brings the crying babe out of the water. Moses’ sister asks the princess: “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? (Exod. 2.7). The pharaoh’s daughter agrees, and Moses’ sister fetches her mother to nurse the child. In the Bible, Moses nurses and grows under the care of his birth mom. The text hints that Moses knew of his Hebrew roots despite being raised in the Egyptian court. For instance, Moses is angered when he spies “an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew,
Dunlap 4 one of his brethren” (Exod. 2.11). In contrast, Dreamworks’ Moses has no idea he is a Hebrew. The film spends a great deal of time developing Moses’ life in the Egyptian court. He is completely cut off from his blood relations, and the pharaoh’s wife, instead of the pharaoh’s daughter, raises Moses along side her own son, Rameses. The strong bonds Moses creates with his adopted mother, brother, and father makes his later obedience to God’s command to come against the pharaoh much more courageous and selfsacrificing. DreamWorks raises the stakes for Moses by depicting the happy life he left behind. Moses’ reluctance to give up his Egyptian heritage is highlighted in the “All I Ever Wanted” song sequence. After Moses discovers his Hebrew roots, he runs through the palace looking at his home and belongings singing: This is my home With my father, mother, brother Oh so noble, oh so strong. ......................... I am a sovereign prince of Egypt
Fig. 4, Moses loves his home.
A son of the proud history that's shown Etched on ev'ry wall. (Chapman, Hickner, and Wells 1998) Moses’ song illustrates the love and respect he feels for his noble Egyptian heritage. In his mind, he has always been a prince of Egypt, nothing less. In the film Moses’ sister, Miriam, tells him that he is not a prince. This discovery disturbs Moses, who goes to his mother for comfort and support. In the same song sequence, Moses’ mother reassures her son that he was sent to their family on purpose:
Dunlap 5 This is your home, my son Here the river brought you And it's here the river meant To be your home ............................ When the gods send you a blessing
Fig. 5, The queen comforts her son.
You don't ask why it was sent. (Chapman et al. 1998) The queen’s tender words give a glimpse into Moses’ wonderful life at the Egyptian court. The Bible doesn’t describe Moses’ relationships within the royal family, but DreamWorks highlights the love and affection found there. In addition to emphasizing Moses’ relationship with his mother, DreamWorks invents Rameses, a fictional brother whom Moses is strongly attached to. Rameses is a character completely crafted by DreamWorks. The first 30 minutes of the film focus on the relationship between Moses and Rameses. The third scene features a chariot race between the brothers. Moses jokes with his brother as they ride through the city: “Rameses, how
Fig. 6, Moses and Rameses joke around.
would you like your face carved on a wall?” Moses pushes his brother’s chariot into a brick fence shouting: “How about now?” (Chapman et al. 1998). The brothers race through the city laughing, teasing, and causing trouble. The boys are reprimanded when they destroy a construction
Fig. 7, Moses and Rameses share a similar burden.
Dunlap 6 site, and the audience learns that that brothers share the burden of being young princes together. Rameses, being the elder brother and future king, has a lot expected of him. Moses, realizing the pressure on Rameses, takes the blame when their father chastises their behavior. Shortly after this scene, Moses approaches his upset brother and invites him to play a prank on the court magicians. DreamWorks creates a realistic brotherly bond fed by deep care and concern and funloving trouble. In the film, Rameses is the biblical pharaoh whom Moses confronts in order to free the Hebrews. Turning the unidentified biblical pharaoh into Moses’ beloved brother makes Moses’ obedience to God more emotional and captivating: not only must Moses stand up to the pharaoh, but to his own brother and best friend. When Moses first arrives in the Egyptian court, he is greeted with a warm bear hug from Rameses. Rameses welcomes Moses back into the royal family and offers to forgive Moses of killing an Egyptian. Tensions rise when Moses places himself in opposition to his brother, asking Rameses to let his Fig. 8, Moses is greeted with a bear hug.
people go. Rameses is hurt that Moses hasn’t come to reunite with his long estranged family. Moses apologizes that he is not returning and gives Rameses a family ring back, symbolically cutting his ties with the royal family. In the Bible, Moses has no prior
Fig. 9, Moses gives his ring back.
relationship with the pharaoh, so the tension is less
pronounced. The film depicts Moses’ moral dilemma and grief as he sets in motion each plague. When Moses warns Rameses about the final plague, the death of all the firstborn Egyptians,
Dunlap 7 Moses realizes his own nephew will be killed. The nameless, faceless deaths that occur in the biblical Egyptian court become Moses’ family and friends in DreamWorks’ adaptation. Seeing Moses put God first, even before his own family, makes his actions even more heroic than they appear in the Bible.
Hogging the Spotlight While the film highlights the loving bond between Rameses and Moses, it puts a negative spin on Moses’ relationship with his natural brother, Aaron. In the Bible, Aaron understands and accepts Moses’ calling as a prophet of God. The Lord tells Aaron to meet Moses in the wilderness in order to help him fulfill his call as prophet and deliverer. Aaron is faithful: “He went, and met him [Moses] in the mount of God, and kissed him” (Exod. 4.27). In the film, Moses first encounters Aaron amid the Hebrew slaves. One slave knocks Moses down with a mud ball and Aaron exclaims: “So, Moses, how does it feel when you get struck to the ground?” Instead of greeting Moses with an affectionate kiss, Aaron Fig. 10, Aaron scolds Moses.
scolds him cruelly: “When did God start caring about
any of us? In fact, Moses, when did you start caring about slaves? Was it when you found out you were one of us?” (Chapman et al. 1998). Aaron, in sharp contrast to Rameses, does not love or respect Moses. Making Aaron a negative character instead of a source of strength and support makes Moses’ obedience to God much more heroic and noble. He abandons the family who loves and honors him for people who think he is lower than dirt.
Dunlap 8 In addition to pitting Aaron against Moses, DreamWorks diminishes Aaron’s role in the Hebrew delivery in order to turn Moses into the central hero. In the Bible, Aaron stands by Moses’ side throughout all of his trials in Egypt. Aaron acts as Moses’ mouthpiece and performs many of the miracles, which are all attributed to Moses in the film. In The Prince of Egypt, the first place Moses goes after receiving his holy call is the pharaoh’s court. Moses raises his staff, and it Fig. 11, Moses turns his staff into a serpent.
turns into a cobra. In the Bible, Aaron performs this miracle: “Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent” (Exod. 7.10). In the Bible, Aaron performs many of the other miracles as well: Aaron turns the river to blood, creates the plague of frogs, and creates the plague of lice (Exod. 7.19-20; 8). DreamWorks lets Moses shine, having him perform all of the miracles. If DreamWorks had been true to the biblical text, Moses and Aaron would have worked as a team, turning one or the other into the sidekick at different points in the storyline. In addition to diminishing Aaron’s role in the deliverance, DreamWorks cuts down the Lord’s significance throughout the entire story. God is the power behind all of the miracles in Exodus; His incredible supremacy over life, death, and Nature is what makes the story powerful. In The Prince of Egypt, God makes a striking entrance in the burning bush scene, but
Fig. 12, God appears at the burning bush.
His presence in the movie diminishes as the film moves along. In an article about religion in film
Dunlap 9 Jennifer Roher-Walsh writes that The Prince of Egypt: “Does not feature God as a principal character; he is prominent in only three scenes: the burning bush, the night vapor, and the parting of the sea. In fact, [. . .] God is less a character than a computer-generated graphic image. Moses, not God, dominates the movie” (Rohrer-Walsh 96). The DreamWorks God does speak a little bit, but his presence is more often associated with string music and watery-looking light. DreamWorks ignores most of the biblical dialogue between God and Moses, making Moses a more proactive, powerful force in the Hebrew delivery. Moses is much more uncertain of himself in Exodus than in The Prince of Egypt. He constantly doubts himself and relies heavily on the Lord’s support. One reason the Lord calls Aaron to help Moses is because of Moses’ fears: And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. (Exod. 9.10-14) In the Bible, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron what to do before they perform each miracle. He is always there guiding and directing His servants, telling them when to speak, what to say, when
Dunlap 10 to offer up sacrifices, and so forth. In The Prince of Egypt, God tells Moses to turn the river into blood, but after this miracle, we no longer hear God’s voice; instead, we simply see Moses working miracles. Perhaps the film directors double cast Val Kilmer to play God’s voice and Moses’ voice to emphasize Moses’ godlike heroism. This duality of God and Moses was also present in the film’s first cut of the title song “There Can Be Miracles.” The original lyrics were “You can make miracles when you believe” (Maudlin 1). After talking about the lyrics with several religious authorities, DreamWorks changed the words to “There can be miracles when you believe” to prevent offending anyone. Although the lyrics were changed, the feeling that men can make miracles—men like Moses—still resonates from the screen.
Fig. 13, Moses becomes the savior of his people.
By focusing on details of Moses’ life that do not exist in the Bible, DreamWorks turns the Exodus story into a heroic narrative. Moses is thrust center stage as his children, Aaron, and even God’s roles from the original text are diminished. Moses becomes a hero as audiences learn that he gave up precious family relationships in order to fulfill God’s commands. In addition, Moses is portrayed in his glorious youth with a gorgeous wife by his side. In an article on the film, Rohrer-Walsh writes: “DreamWorks ends The Prince of Egypt focusing only on Moses.
Dunlap 11 The once-Egyptian prince regent has become the new Israelite savior. At least on screen, it appears Moses, not the Yahweh of Exodus, who delivers” (Rohrer-Walsh 96). The title of the film says it all: The Prince of Egypt is not about the Hebrews, nor the Egyptians, nor God; it is about Moses— he is the hero of the story, the savior of his people, the prince of Egypt.
Dunlap 12 Works Cited Maudlin, Michael G. “Hollywood on Holy Ground.” Christianity Today 42.14 (1998): 1-2. Rohrer-Walsh, Jennifer. “Coming-of-Age in The Prince of Egypt.” Screening Scripture: Intertextual Connections Between Scripture and Film. Ed. George Aichele. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press, 2002. 90-100. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1981. The Prince of Egypt. Dir. Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells. DVD. DreamWorks Animation, 1998.