NOTE: This review was written under a previous rating system. Some of the older reviews may express opinions and judgment calls that are not in line with our current standards.1998
Brenda Chapman/Steve Hickner/Simon Wells
DreamWorks for intense depiction of thematic elements.
Does the movie line up with the Bible?
The Prince of Egypt is the film that I regret the most, as a Christian. There are many bad films that many Christians have loved, and many of these reviews are my own way of dealing with that problem. But while I may be more open, by the nature of my position as reviewer, to the temptation of judging the Christians who love all those other bad movies, it generally only takes those four italicized words at the beginning of the paragraph to remind me just how little reason I have to look down on the wisdom of other Christians. Because, while all those other Christians may have loved all those other movies, I loved The Prince of Egypt.
Everyone knows what The Prince of Egypt is about. It’s a Bible story on the silver screen. The Biblical account doesn’t read like a novel—there’s too much detail missing—so they have added some subplots and some speculation. They have also left out some of the details that simply do not work well in a video/audio format. I don’t think my great wrong was in believing that retelling Bible stories in this way was a safe thing to do, though I’d personally list that among my more serious errors. My great wrong was knowing that they had not merely added and subtracted, but had deliberately changed points of the Biblical narrative, and I was perfectly okay with that. If ever there was blindness, that was it.
Moses does not meet his future wife in the Midian wilderness, but in his own palace—according to the movie. The historical account is not explicit on this, so no great harm is done there. However, in the movie she was brought in as a “gift” for Moses’ brother, and then “given” to Moses instead. Servants were instructed to have her “sent to Prince Moses’ chambers,” and he later follows. He enters his room and sees her silhouette posed on his bed. It was a trick; she had escaped to Midian, where she later appears in the same costume—one of the less appealing peculiarities of animation art. Her everyday clothes reveal all of her waist and all of her legs. Her wedding dress manages to cover her waist. Frankly, she looks like the sort of woman who would be “given” to an Egyptian prince. She dances like that sort of woman, too.
The half-naked Egyptian men, the but sheerly clad Egyptian women, the almost entirely naked Hebrew men, the entirely naked Egyptian goddesses, and the inappropriate remarks and scenes that focus on all these, are almost irrelevant by comparison. Almost.
There are only two categories for the negative content in this movie. If anyone chose not to watch The Prince of Egypt because they read the review, it wouldn’t be because of the violence.
Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. We are sitting in a church service and the preacher has just begun his sermon by announcing the text. He says, “In my sermon this morning, I am going to preach as if the text said A, B and C. I know it doesn’t, and I know that if you’re reading along in your Bibles, you’re going to be reading something that actually contradicts what I’m saying, but I believe the sermon I have prepared is true to the essence, values and integrity of the text.”
Reactions are going to vary, according to personality, but they will be negative, whatever.
Let’s do another one. We’re reading or watching an interview of a representative from the translation team for a new “version” of the Bible. “Yes,” says he, “I do feel that this a better translation than many others, because of its clarity and readability. This is partly because we tried to use modern language wherever possible, and partly because artistic and historical license have been taken by our translators, whenever we felt it would make the stories more interesting.”
One of the greatest atrocities in the history of film, I think, is the audacity of filmmakers to create a story that runs contrary to some of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, declare to us before the opening credits that they have done so1, and then expect us to keep watching. Filmmakers are not ignorant. The only reason they would do all these things is because they know we’ll watch it. And we did.
Well, they said they were going to deviate from the true story. Here’s how they did it. 1) Moses is adopted by Pharaoh’s wife, instead of his daughter. 2) Miriam walks off and leaves Moses as soon as he is found, rather than approaching Pharaoh’s
Even aside from the deliberate biblical inaccuracies, there were enough worldview issues to bring The Prince of Egypt into at least the second-lowest of our review categories. The feminism played out in the portrayal of Tzipporah and Miriam, and Moses’ journey through the dark land of existentialism, are dwarfed by the glorification of immaturity, recklessness, the irresponsible endangering of human lives, and the elevation of mockery and deliberate blasphemy, through the powerful medium of humor. In the first song, Moses’ mother does not pray to God to keep him safe, but to the river, and in the last song, it is not God who performs miracles, but we humans who achieve them3.
It is sometimes—not always, but often—helpful to understand the motives of the people who are bringing what may be a large piece of their worldview into our homes through the video player. I can speculate about what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish, but much of my speculation would be based on what may have only been unfortunate misuse of words in the tagline, or influences from the broader culture that even the script writers were unaware of. I do know two important things: that the filmmakers crossed the line at least thirty-one too many times, and that they did it intentionally. Perhaps it’s less important that I know they weren’t making the movie for the sake of advancing Christianity. Half of their mission statement was given in a note at the beginning, and the other half given in a note at the end.
“Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord singled out face to face…” (Hebrew Bible-Deuteronomy 34:10)Muslims revere Moses. Jews revere God the Father. Moses worshiped Christ, and is doing so even as you read this review. We know it because the Bible tells us that what he did, he did for Christ4. It is possible, and, of course, to be hoped, that good came of this movie, but just managing to bring a Bible story into the cinemas, however much that may have pleased the Christian community, is not good enough. If even one person grasped the few elements of truth in The Prince of Egypt and responded positively to them, I would say that this film had been a tool that God used to bring light into a dark place, but God has been using sinful tools for his purposes and for his glory since the Fall.
“[Moses] was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself…” (New Testament-Acts 7:35)
“And call to mind, through this divine will, Moses. Behold he was a chosen one, and was an apostle [of God], a prophet.” (Qur’an-Surah 19:51)
The question, however, is not whether God has used this movie for good. A good end does not justify evil means. The question is not whether the movie contradicts Scripture, either. We’ve already established that it does. What we need to determine is whether that is okay by Christians. The question then becomes, How do we know if something should be okay by Christians? We all know the answer. We determine right and wrong from Scripture. But is it possible that, as the filmmakers desired, The Prince of Egypt is true to the essence, values and integrity of Scripture? The essence of the Bible cannot be determined apart from its content, which the film perverted. The values of the Bible include reverence for the authority, inerrancy and validity of its content, which the film ignored. The integrity of the Bible is the content itself. Is there anything that can make “entertainment” any less serious than a sermon? Can we rationally and righteously approve of deliberate artistic fraud in a movie, when we would rise up in arms against the same deception in a Bible “translation”? Can “values” and “integrity” retain any meaning in a context like that?
I don’t want to be perceived as an extremist, nor do I want to give unnecessary offense to those who read this review and come to a different conclusion than I have. You know already that my past conclusion was different from my present. But I must give my own opinion, and while I would do much to avoid the charge of offensiveness, I would rather risk the charge of extremism than take a chance that the seriousness of my opinion may be overlooked or underestimated. I do not suggest viewing The Prince of Egypt. I do not suggest selling it or giving it away. My suggestion, based on the content of the movie itself, is that you throw away your copy.
1 “The motion picture you are about to see is an adaptation of the Exodus story. While artistic and historical license have been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.”
2 Exodus 2:5-10, 12-15; 3:4-5; 4:10, 14-16, 27; 5:6-12; 7:7, 10, 12, 19-20; 12:7-10; 13:21-22; 14:10, 19-21, 25, 27-28,30; Acts 7:21-29, 32; Hebrews 11:24-27
3 The song goes, “We were moving mountains long before we knew we could… There can be miracles when you believe… Who knows what miracles you can achieve When you believe, somehow you will.” The version that plays during the end credits adds “When you believe in your heart.”
4 Hebrews 11:26