top of page

12 Bible Movie Adaptations for Easter and Passover: Prince of Egypt & Joseph King of Dreams

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Today's post looks at two more Passover Movies. Although they don't have as much cultural weight as The Ten Commandments, I would argue that The Prince of Egypt and Joseph, The King of Dreams are actually more faithful to the essential messages and themes of Passover.

Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells [Prince of Egypt] Robert Ramirez and Rob LaDuca [Joseph King of Dreams]

Starring: Val Kilmer (Moses & God), Sandra Bullock (Miriam), Michelle Pfeiffer (Tzipporah), Ralph Fiennes (Rameses II) [Prince of Egypt]; Ben Affleck (Joseph), Mark Hamill (Judah), Jodi Benson (Asenath) [Joseph King of Dreams]

Adapting: Exodus 1-19 [Prince of Egypt]; Genesis 30, 37-45 [Joseph, King of Dreams]

Synopsis [Prince of Egypt]

Amidst the massacre of the Hebrew boys, Moses is sent down the Nile and ends up adopted into Pharaoh’s household. He is raised as the privileged brother and friend of the royal heir, Rameses II, who strives to please their father and fears becoming the weak link in the dynastic chain. While allowing spunky Tzipporah to escape from sex trafficking, Moses runs into his biological sister, Miriam. Miriam reveals who he is and how his adopted father, Pharaoh, slaughtered the Hebrew boys. Moses find himself unable to live the lie that he is an Egyptian and decides to leave, even though Rameses offers to cover up how he accidentally killed an Egyptian. Moses ends up in Midian, where he marries Tzipporah. He is living a happy life until God appears and sends him to set the Hebrews free. Rameses, now on the throne, initially tries to repair his relationship with Moses. But afraid failing his father and being a weak link, Rameses ultimately refuses to let the Hebrews go, creating a rift between the two that escalates to a tragic end.

Synopsis [Joseph King of Dreams]

After many years being barren, Rachel gives birth to a “miracle child,” Joseph. Initially, everyone gets excited about the news. Pretty soon though, Jacob’s blatant favoritism and Joseph’s sense of specialness causes Jacob’s other children to resent their younger brother. Ultimately, the other sons of Jacob choose to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. While in Egypt, Joseph is exposed to the hard labor that his father’s preferential treatment protected him from. Trusting that God has a plan that he can’t understand, he commits to working hard. Eventually, through his miraculous ability to interpret dreams, he ascends to power in Egypt and must decide how to respond when he reencounters his traitorous brothers.

Major Influences

Adaptive Tradition

Prince of Egypt is clearly influenced by The Ten Commandments, from the brotherly rivalry between Moses and Rameses to more specific visual echoes, like how Rameses lays his dead firstborn down. But Prince of Egypt is by no means aping its predecessor at every turn. Indeed, Prince of Egypt shines precisely in the areas where The Ten Commandments falls short: in how it portrays Tzipporah as a strong female figure (and not just as a wholesome foil to Nefretiri), in how it captures the emotion of tragic moments like the murder of the Hebrews children and the judgment of the Egyptians, and in how it creates a real sense of danger for Moses and the Israelites.

Genre Limitations and Potential

As animated films, Prince of Egypt and Joseph King of Dreams aren’t free to luxuriate over all the spectacle in the same way that The Ten Commandments could. But they do have a powerful tool in their belt that The Ten Commandments lacks – the musical montage. Montaging through some of plagues actually creates a more unified and intentional narrative flow than what we got in The Ten Commandments. And the songs serve another important function: they help us interpret the story and creating important connections between the various events and themes (e.g. the idea of home/identity in Prince of Egypt and the idea of destiny and what it means to be chosen in Joseph). Most of these songs are quite moving and they help elevate Prince and Joseph above comparable animated films of the time.

Ability of the Audience

Both Prince and Joseph walk a fine line, as they seek to be both accessible to children and interesting to adults. In order to make the stories more accessible, the moral complexity of biblical figures is sometimes downplayed. Moses, for example, doesn’t murder the Egyptian task master; he only kills him by accident. Abraham’s multiple wives are omitted. It never seems like Joseph’s brothers actually intend to kill him. But the films do attempt to depict difficult subjects. When Tzipporah is given to Moses in Egypt, it's strongly implied that she's meant to be his sex slave. The genocide of the Hebrews and the death of the Egyptian firstborn are quite horrifying, even though they aren’t depicted directly. The attempted seduction of Joseph is there, even though kids might not understand what’s going on. In general, both films are able to hold on to the serious subject matter of the original biblical narrative by subtly suggesting rather than directly depicting elements that might horrify children. On the whole, they are quite effective at doing so.

403 views0 comments
bottom of page