Some movies I can hardly find the words to express my sheer appreciation for but really want to write about anyway. For its artistic merit alone, The Prince of Egypt, which happens to be my first experience with the story of Exodus I can recall, is one of these movies.

In an era where Disney was adapting whatever the heck they wanted—fairy tales, novels, historical figures—into animated musicals, the newly founded DreamWorks, before it quickly became the cash-in Pixar, came along and blew everything Disney was producing out of the water with this end-all of animated musicals. Could it be for more than just financial reasons that Disney then stepped away from musicals for a good few years?

Of course, in adapting Exodus for family audiences, there are silly kid appeal moments, most notably as this under-pharaoh’s-care Moses’s troublemaking tendencies are introduced in an early over-the-top set piece; the characters’ movements are animated with such attention to realism that the cartoonier moments feel out-of-place.

There are a couple of other significant liberties, one being Aaron’s role as somewhat of a foil to give Zephora and Miriam larger roles and the other being Moses’s conflicted relationship with his non-scriptural adopted brother-turned-pharaoh Rameses. That last one is part of what makes the film’s emotional impact, and the filmmakers don’t shy away from the scripture’s more harrowing subject matter.

The story—which ends right before Moses carries down the newly established Ten Commandments since everything that happens afterwards would be hard to depict in a family film—is smoothly abridged through the musical format as lengthier sequences are montaged through some of the soundtrack’s many majestic numbers. And opposite that recent Exodus: Gods and Kings, every ounce of awe is poured into God’s wonders as can be, especially the parting of the Red Sea.

Dramatically stirring and visually breathtaking while reverently treating its sacred source material, The Prince of Egypt blows me away like no other animated movie I’ve seen.

★★★★

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