The Bible is full of cracking stories. When Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen were looking for a story to make a big splash as DreamWorks' first 'toon feature, they didn't have far to go to find their source material. They wanted something epic and they wanted something moving. And the story of Moses, with the hero's personal conflicts in realising his roots and heroism in leading a whole race out of slavery, certainly fits the bill.
It has the reassuring One Person Can Make A Difference message that echoes through so many movies, and it has action to rival any blockbuster. You want jaw-to-floor moments? How about the Red Sea splitting in half? How about a burning bush that doesn't really burn? How about desert landscapes engulfed in sweeping sandstorms?
You can't fault Messrs S, K and G on their reasoning. Sure, they knew a few people might be put off by the religious stuff, or that some religious types may be deterred by the trivialisation of a story that's central to their faith. But they dealt with the first problem by coming up with a neat title: The Prince Of Egypt is almost as family friendly as The Lion King. They dealt with the second problem by including an on-screen apology at the start, which points out that if you want to know the real story of Moses it might be worth giving Exodus a once over.
They recruited a team of superb animators, an incredible array of voice talent and ordered lengthy historical research to make the whole thing accurate. But the one thing they forgot to do was give the story a heart.
The Prince Of Egypt has some incredible set pieces: 146,000 animated characters on screen at the end of the exodus is an amazing sight. The walls of the Red Sea rearing up into two great, foaming water-falls is visually spectacular. There are even smaller moments of brilliance. Moses's dream about his true birth is animated as a hieroglyphic scene on the palace walls, and is all the more terrifying for being made into part of the painted history.
There are moments of human brilliance, too. The relationship between Rameses and Moses is particularly well handled, with Fiennes and Kilmer expressing the joy and pain of their kinship with a reality that strays from the black-and-white of normal cartoon hero and villain roles.
But there are moments of crassness too, and every time the story becomes vaguely interesting they whack on another song. Three soundtrack albums are coming off the back of this film and you never get a chance to forget it. Every other minute there's yet another soulless tune which seems determined to kill off any emotion.
This is not a kids movie, either. The intention was to make an animated film that would appeal to adults. It's still a family affair, but many scenes would disturb younger children (the 10 plagues sent by God to punish the Egyptians aren't pretty). Despite some great moments, The Prince Of Egypt will satisfy fewer people than its makers hoped.
Some spectacular set pieces aren't enough to sustain this heavy-handed piece of storytelling, which has far too many songs for its own good. However, the voice talent is incredible and the parting of the Red Sea on the big screen has to be seen to be believed.