Culture Schlock — By Darren Garnick
“Country Music Moses won’t get a free ride at the box office”
Originally Published: The Telegraph, August 18, 1998
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why dost thou cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. But lift up thy rod,and stretch out thy hand over the sea and divide it – and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.'”
— Exodus 14:15-17
“The Prince of Egypt tells the story of two men – one born a prince, the other born a slave … A lie made them brothers, the truth will destroy a kingdom and forever separate them … The country music ‘inspired-by’ album will feature an all-star lineup of the some of the genre’s top selling recording artists, including: Vince Gill, Reba, Randy Travis, Clint Black (and) Wynonna.”
— DreamWorks press release.
DreamWorks SKG – the superstar movie studio formed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen – is tiptoeing through the Promised Land. Wanting to avoid any mass scale protests upon the release of their upcoming Moses cartoon, “The Prince of Egypt,” they have reportedly sought the advice of dozens of Christian, Jewish and Moslem clergy.
Giving religious leaders too much say in shaping an animated feature can be a dreadful mistake. For evidence, check out the old kids’ TV program “Davey and Goliath.” There’s one minute of action (i.e. Davey breaks a window) for every ten minutes of spiritual introspection and guilt. But based on promotional trailers showing in theaters now, gripping visuals such as Pharaoh’s armies, pyramid construction scenes and the Ten Plagues, should avoid the boredom problem.
Big name celebrity voices – including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Short and Patrick Stewart – will ensure a high entertainment value.
However, the creators are doomed to fail miserably in achieving an authentic or a controversy-free film.
The real Moses had a terrible stutter and hired his brother Aaron as the official “Let My People Go” spokesman. Will movie goers pay eight bucks
to listen to star Val Kilmer stutter for two hours? Doubtful.
“Prince of Egypt” also faces the same wrath as any movie or TV program which dares to tackle the history of the Middle East. When Disney’s “Aladdin” hit the screen, it was assailed for portraying the ancient Arabian culture as too violent and barbaric. Unless the building of the pyramids are going to be presented as free job training programs, “Prince of Egypt” will likely generate complaints of anti-pharaoh slander.
As chief courier and guardian of the Ten Commandments, the character of Moses will be under tremendous scrutiny. The potential of Hollywood cheapening his stature is a religious landmine. If McDonald’s, for example, comes out with a Moses Happy Meal, the prophet’s stature may descend to the same level as Princess Jasmine or Buzz Lightyear.
Cognizant of religious sensibilities, DreamWorks executive Walter Parkes recently told the London Telegraph that all merchandising tie-ins will be carefully considered for taste and appropriateness. He promised there will be action figures, but “no burning bush night lights, no Red Sea shower curtains (or) no 40-days-in-the-desert water bottles.”
There are three CDs planned: the regular soundtrack and two inspirational albums (one country music, one R & B/ gospel). The music, scheduled to hit the shelves by mid-fall, should appease most Bible readers. DreamWorks say the songs stick to “themes inherent to the film’s story, including love, faith, freedom, deliverance and family.”
But no matter how many clergy DreamWorks consult, even Moses can not emerge from the cartoon dessert without controversy. Try this one for starters: “Prince of Egypt” is scheduled for release on Dec. 18, 1998.
That’s right, Passover’s big star is about to compete with Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.
THE ANNOTATED SCHLOCK
In retrospect, I wound up liking this movie — despite the time-wasting chariot races and the buddy-buddy international brotherhood subtext.
There’s a rather moving (and tasteful) slavery montage with animated hieroglyphics.
And I wish that Dreamworks execs were a little more creative with the merchandising. Personally, I would have loved the opportunity to buy a Red Sea shower curtain or a Burning Bush nightlight.
MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:
** Why I would have been a horrible Pharaoh !
** Schlock Flashback: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses
** The Joys of Plastic Lice: Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change
** Schlock Flashback: Origins of the Moses Duck
** Let My Tastebuds Go: I dare you to try Passover breakfast cereal!