My reconnection with “The Prince of Egypt” this week, after what I’m going to estimate as approximately 15 years, was not under ideal circumstances.
I was curled up alone in my childhood bed at my parents’ house in suburban New Jersey, where I have decamped to escape the giant death magnet that is New York City during the coronavirus pandemic.
I was (virtually) with my non-Jewish girlfriend, who had never seen the classic animated DreamWorks version of the Exodus story, and who wants to join my family’s upcoming Passover seder via video conference from her home in Brooklyn. It seemed like a nice pre-Passover “date” idea to watch it “together” through our computer screens.
So we downloaded an app called Kast, which promised to allow us to watch the same screen at the same time (you may have heard of the more popular version of this idea, a Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party, but that only works for Netflix. “The Prince of Egypt” is on Hulu).
Despite looking sleek and fancy, Kast didn’t work — we spent almost an hour trying different ways to make it work, scouring our app and computer settings, rummaging for different headphones, googling fixes.
In the end, still determined to watch it together, we decided to do so on our separate computers — we’d just press play at the same exact second. We could keep a video call window open in the background, so we could hear each other and (almost) feel like we were in the same room. Easy.
Suffice it to say, we couldn’t sync our play button fingers together, no matter how precise my “3-2-1” countdown was.
Such is life under the coronavirus quarantine — and I’m just thankful that the movie is streaming on a platform that I subscribe to. (While cleaning out our basement recently, my parents and I found our VHS version of the 1998 original, but not our old VHS player.)
While it may not be the perfect animated movie (what is?), “The Prince of Egypt” is about as good as an hour and 40 minute encapsulation of the Passover story can conceivably get.
It tells the story in full, from Moses being sent down the Nile River to Pharaoh’s palace, to his realization that he is not a prince of Egypt but a Hebrew, to his eventual parting of the Red Sea, to his leading his people from charging Egyptian soldiers to freedom in the desert. While it’s a kids movie, it doesn’t brush over the many plagues that befall Egypt, from frogs falling from the sky to the killing of firstborn sons.
It’s funny and entertaining, full of heartwarming music, and captures the incomparably epic nature of the story. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a very effective educational tool.
For many of us who were the target audience at the time of its release, the movie seared the story into our heads. Yes, we had learned about it in Hebrew school and read through it at Passover dinners. But for young viewers, there’s nothing more effective than an animated feature to make big concepts stick.
“The Prince of Egypt” doesn’t preach or heavy-handedly shove its moral messages at the viewer — it simply treats the tale as what it is: fodder for epic cinema. And that’s why it got the message, the symbolism and the darkness of the story across to so many people.
Oh, and then there’s the incredible cast of voices — a fact that I clearly did not absorb at the age of 6. Did you remember that Jeff Goldblum was the voice of Moses’ brother Aaron? Or that Steve Martin and Martin Short play the comical Egyptian priests Hotep and Huy?
So forget about rewiring your old VHS player and stream “The Prince of Egypt” before Passover. You’ve probably forgotten how good it is.
I certainly had, and now I’m newly excited for our seder next week — even if my girlfriend is miles away, and my family will inevitably mess up our Zoom call.