Posted in Film

The Sandra Bullock Files #26: The Prince of Egypt (1998)

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The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

Big A-list casts for animated movies is the norm now, but in the early 1990s and earlier, such was not the case. Take one of the greatest animated films of all time, Beauty and the Beast. The most famous person in that voice cast is still probably Angela Lansbury. Aladdin has Robin Williams but no other major stars. Even The Lion King is packed more with characters actors than A-listers.

The Prince of Egypt, the first animated feature from Dreamworks, was designed to be a big, blockbuster awards contender at the end of 1998, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had been trying to get the movie made when he was working at Disney, certainly pulled out all the stops when it came to the voice cast. Look at this list of actors — Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Helen Mirren, Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny Glover, and Mel Brooks. If those actors weren’t enough, Dreamworks threw in one more big star for one of the voice roles — Sandra.

Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and the aforementioned Katzenberg founded Dreamworks in 1994, and one of the ambitions of the studio was to create the kind of animated features that could stand proudly alongside and even outdo the ones coming out of Disney. While Disney had another golden age of animation from 1989 to 1994, starting with The Little Mermaid and ending with The Lion King, the studio by the end of the decade was churning out more forgettable fare, like Hercules and Mulan. The Prince of Egypt couldn’t have arrived at a more proper time. Dreamworks was betting a lot on the movie’s success, releasing it just a week before Christmas.

But did it live up to the enormously high standards? Definitely not. With a production budget of $70 million (before marketing and advertising costs), the movie made about $100 million in the United States, and received only two Academy Award nominations, for Score and Song. The reviews were mixed, and the audience reaction, tepid. It’s clear in looking at the film again after all these years that the filmmakers’ ambitions could only take them so far. The movie has a well-constructed opening sequence and a fabulous closing one, with two memorable songs interspersed throughout; however, the majority of the movie is a ferocious bore.

Sandra shows up about thirty minutes in. She plays Moses’s sister Miriam, who bumps into her brother and tries to convince him he is not a born Prince of Egypt but just another common man. She’s not in the film much — she has one other extended scene toward the end the movie — but it’s a treat to hear her voice in animated form. Why did she commit to Prince of Egypt in the first place? Two words: Steven Spielberg. He called her back in 1994 and asked her if she would play Miriam. I imagine she didn’t have to think too hard before she gave him her answer.

Best Scene: The parting of the red seas.

Best Line: “I know to whom I speak, Aaron! I know who you are. And you are not a prince of Egypt!”

Fun Facts

The Prince of Egypt remains the only voice work Sandra has done for a major motion picture, but she will finally return to the animated world in 2015, when she offers her voice to The Minions, a Despicable Me sequel, playing the film’s villain, Scarlett Overkill.

Katzenberg constantly pitched the idea of The Prince of Egypt to the Walt Disney Company while he was there, but Michael Eisner didn’t like the idea.

The film was followed by a direct-to-video prequel, Joseph: King of Dreams, in 2000.

Only five actors did both the singing and speaking parts of their characters: Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Ofra Haza. Sandra’s singing voice was provided by Sally Dworsky, as well as briefly by the film’s director, Brenda Chapman.

Until 2001, The Prince of Egypt was the most expensive animated feature ever.

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