Dreamworks SKG’s first animated feature is a respectful retelling of the story of Moses, from the time he was found in the bullrushes and adopted by the Pharoh to the time he led the Hebrews out of Egypt to freedom. Presided over by former Disney-ite Jeffrey Katzenberg (“The Lion King”) the movie has some astonishing visual effects, particularly a chariot race that rivals “Ben Hur” and the parting of the Red Sea. The movie takes some liberties with the story, with Moses (voice of Val Kilmer) and Ramses (voice of Ralph Feinnes) raised as brothers who love each other deeply. But Moses learns that he was born a slave. More important, he learns that the man he loves and respects as his father, the Pharoh Seti (voice of Patrick Stewart), once ordered the murder of the slave babies. Struggling with his new understanding, he impulsively pushes aside a guard who is beating a slave, and the guard falls to his death. Ramses promises to pardon him, but Moses runs away.
He lives peacefully with nomads, marrying the spirited Tzipporah (voice of Michelle Pfeiffer), until he receives a message from God, telling him that he must return to Egypt and free the slaves. Ramses, by now Pharoh, is at first happy to see him, but refuses to grant his plea to “let my people go.” Felled by plagues that include locusts, boils, frogs, and, finally, the death of the first-born children, he finally agrees. But just as Moses is leading the Hebrews through the parted Red Sea, Ramses arrives with his army. The Red Sea closes over them, and Moses and his people are free.
This story, central to three great world religions, should be familiar to most children. The film-makers have done a good job of making it exciting and vivid while still being careful not to offend anyone. The musical numbers are largely forgettable, but the characters and the story remain compelling. Ramses, loving Moses, but terrified of being responsible for the end of a dynasty, is, if not a sympathetic character, a flawed but understandable one. Miriam and Tzipporah are strong, intelligent female characters. The themes of taking responsibility and the importance of freedom are well worth discussing. Families may wish to take a look at the web site to download one of the study guides developed by representatives of different religions.