Clergy gives thumbs up to Prince of Egypt
Animated film with message captivates kids

Friday, December 18, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

"Prince of Egypt" fans (clockwise from top): Rev. Steve Sjogren, Florence Bourg of the College of Mount St. Joseph, Rev. Calvin Harper and rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman.
(Tony Jones photo)

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The Prince of Egypt, an animated retelling of the Book of Exodus,opens today as one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Four Tristate spiritual leaders who saw an advance screening Wednesday night give it four thumbs up. They caution that people of faith should not be quick to point out any of the film's biblical inaccuracies.

“Any movie that would get people thinking about God is something to get excited about,” said the Rev. Steve Sjogren, founder and senior pastor of the Vineyard Community Church, Springdale. “I left the movie with a spring in my step. I didn't walk out mad.

“I thought they filled in blanks and made Moses a real person, a postmodern man with the same issues we face: "Do I go with what's predictable and a for-sure thing in life or do I step out on faith and live a life of faith?'”

Prince will open on 10,000 screens in countries representing 85 percent of the world, the largest global release of any film in history.

The story of how Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt is central to three of the world's major religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Prince's executive producer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, consulted with 700 religious and cultural leaders worldwide to avoid offending any group unnecessarily. The Rev. Mr. Sjogren and Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, president of Hebrew Union College, Clifton, were two of the leaders who met with Mr. Katzenberg.

They and other Tristate clerics say the film has great potential as an educational tool. Young people, especially, could benefit from the film because it concentrates on Moses as a young man turning away from the riches of this world to follow God.

“One of the problems I have with the Biblical text is that we do not know the heroic figures as young people,” Rabbi Zimmerman said. “The film shows Moses as a young man developing in faith.”

The film departs in meaningful ways from other Hollywood versions of Exodus, most notably The Ten Commandments (1956) in which Moses is played by a white actor, Charlton Heston.

“I liked the fact that Moses wasn't white,” Rabbi Zimmerman said of the portrayal in Prince. “He was brown.”

Prince sends a positive race relations message, says the Rev. Calvin Harper, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church, Walnut Hills, and president of Temple Bible College, Avondale.

In the film, Moses, born a Hebrew and set adrift in a basket in the Nile River, is found by Pharaoh Seti's wife and raised as their child in the palace. Their other son, Rameses, is heir to the throne.

“The bond of friendship and brotherhood between Moses and Rameses is so very much needed today over cultural and racial lines. The agony that both of them went through when they were separated was very touching,” the Rev. Mr. Harper said.

“Hopefully, it will awaken the need for us to build bridges and get to know each other as real people instead of the we/they kind of thing.”

Said Rabbi Zimmerman: “If this country is going to overcome some of the racism that has been so much a part of us, there has to be an understanding that there has been pain on both sides. That came through in the story.”

There were other positive messages of faith in the film.

As God rains down plagues on Egypt, Moses weeps at the destruction.

“He obviously had mixed feelings about it,” said Florence Bourg, an assistant professor in the religious and pastoral studies department at the College of Mount St. Joseph. “That's a legitimate emotion to portray because the Egyptians were people.”

The Tristate experts were concerned, however, with some of the liberties taken by filmmakers.

“They came up with sensationalist or kind of unnecessarily scary or violent things,” Ms. Bourg said. “When they had the baby Moses in the river being attacked by alligators and hippos, I realized they were doing that to attract the 8-year-old who thinks that's cool.”

Prince is the first major animated release from DreamWorks Pictures, the entertainment company co-founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Disney exile Mr. Katzenberg. The company hopes to hatch an animation unit equal to the Disney dynasty.

The Prince project is also a Who's Who of Hollywood talent.

The film features the voices of Val Kilmer (Moses), Ralph Fiennes (Rameses) and Patrick Stewart (Pharaoh Seti). Its three soundtrack compact discs include a Nashville album and a hit duet from Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

But it's the subject matter, not the star power, that is attracting much of the attention.

The movie is rated PG. The spiritual leaders agreed that children under 8 shouldn't see the movie unless they first have an understanding of the story.

They say it is an opportunity for parents to teach their children about one of the pivotal events in the histories of many religions.

“I'm praying that God uses this movie,” the Rev. Mr. Sjogren said. “I've been praying that he'll use it to touch people's hearts and open their eyes.

“I wonder if it isn't almost God's timing that, with the moral conundrum in America, this movie is released this weekend. This weekend of all weekends, when we're bombing Iraq and voting whether to impeach a president. This is a gift from God.”

Filmmakers asked clergy for guidance
Breathtaking 'Egypt' breaks Disney mold Margaret A. McGurk review

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