I couldn’t resist following in Mic’s footsteps and tackling animated movie music this week. But unlike Mic, I decided to do something a little different, and focus on the music of a non-Disney movie: The Prince of Egypt.
I’ve wanted to write about this movie for a while now, but I couldn’t decide what aspect of it to tackle. It wasn’t until I was listening to some of the music on YouTube that I finally decided what to tackle: the music. Prince of Egypt has some of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever heard in an animated movie. It’s also interesting seeing how the musical trends match up with Disney at times, and subverts their themes quite nicely in other ways. I’ll be going in order, from the opening number to the final song of the movie, which means we’re starting with one of my top three songs of the movie: Deliver Us.
Deliver Us/River Lullaby
These two are sometimes lumped together, and sometimes separate, but for the sake of this post, I decided to put them together, because they play back to back in the introduction.
Deliver Us is probably the most powerful movie opening I’ve ever seen. It’s filled with so much desperation and anguish that it gives me chills every time I hear it. Deliver Us is what we’d call an “I Want” song for the Hebrews: they’re singing about how they want God to deliver them from slavery, and bring them to the promised land:
Elohim, God on high,
Can you hear your people cry?
Help us now, this dark hour
Deliver us, hear our call
Deliver us, Lord of all
Remember us, here in this burning sand
There’s a land you promised us
Deliver us to the promised land
It’s when Deliver Us shifts into the River Lullaby that we understand that there are two meanings to “deliver us”: one is a plea to God from the Hebrews, to free themselves from slavery. The other is a plea from Moses’ mother for her son to be delivered from death. She’s trying to save him from the fate of the other Hebrew infants the Egyptians have drowned, even as it breaks her heart to send him away:
My son, I have nothing I can give
But this chance that you may live
I pray, we’ll meet again
If He will deliver us
Can we just stop right now and talk about how amazingly brave Moses’ mom is? In the montage before the lullaby, she and her children are ducking behind pillars and narrowly avoiding soldiers. The fact that they get to the riverside with nothing going wrong is a miracle in itself. This is a woman who is giving up her child to the river and praying for him to make a safe voyage. She trusts the river (and God) to watch over her son and take him to “somewhere he can be free”. It takes a lot of strength and fate to trust in something like that, and she has loads of it.
Once Moses reaches his destination, we get a glimpse of little Miriam’s prayer for her brother as well:
Grow, baby brother
Come back someday
Come and deliver us, too
Before I move on, there’s one final note I want to add: one of the things I really love about this movie is the way it includes Hebrew within the lyrics of the songs. I think it’s 1) a sign of good research, and 2) a cool touch that makes the movie stand apart. The lullaby that Moses’ mother sings to him as she’s trying to calm him down is in Hebrew, and it’s gorgeous:
Yaldi hatov veh harach (My good and tender son)
Al tira veh al tifchad (Don’t be frightened and don’t be scared)
Small thing, but it’s a cool touch none the less.
All I Ever Wanted
This is actually a really interesting song to me, because All I Ever Wanted is a unique subversion of those “I Want” songs Disney always does. In Moses’ case, it’s an “I Wanted” song. After Miriam confronts him with the truth, he’s forced to reconcile with the fact that the life he’s always known has been a lie, and that he’s been viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, essentially.
All I Ever Wanted is a song that drowns in denial. Moses tries to focus on his luxuries (“sweet perfumes of incense, graceful rooms of alabaster stone”), but it rings hollow as he sees the injustices that others face. He even tries to tell himself that he belongs and “if anybody doubts it, they couldn’t be more wrong”, even if it’s he himself who’s beginning to doubt his place. He is so determined to convince himself that this is where he belongs, and that he is in the right, but it’s so clear that he doesn’t even believe in what he’s saying anymore.
There’ a really interesting choice made with All I Ever Wanted; Moses isn’t walking around singing it. Instead, it’s a song playing in the back of his head wherever he goes. And even as he tries to convince himself that he is “a son of a proud history”, his facial expressions are filled with doubt, confusion, and anxiety. He repeats “all I ever wanted” so often that it begins to ring hollow, and as he slumps against the statue, he’s realized that maybe this was all he’s ever wanted before…but it’s not enough anymore.
All I Ever Wanted (The Queen’s Reprise)
Prince of Egypt does something very interesting with the All I Ever Wanted reprise: it assigns it to Moses’ adoptive mother, the Queen. Whereas Moses is questioning his place, she is the one who tries to soothe him, and reassure him that he’s right where he’s meant to be:
Here the river brought you
And it’s here the river meant
To be your home
Seems sweet and heart-warming, right? She’s telling him that this is his destiny, and he was meant to be here, and all of that jazz. But then there’s this other stanza:
Now you know the truth, love
Now forget and be content
When the gods send you a blessing
You don’t ask why it was sent…
At first glance, it seems sweet and accepting, but at second glance, isn’t this kind of chilling? She’s basically telling Moses to move on and forget what he knows. “You don’t ask why it was sent” is particularly interesting, because she of all people would know why Moses was sent. She would know if the genocide her husband committed, and the dozens of babies drowned in the sea. But the fact that she tells him no to pursue this means that she is advocating ignorance. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
But Moses isn’t placated. Her words are a temporary Band-Aid, and it doesn’t last long.
Through Heaven’s Eyes
This is another one of my favorite songs, mainly because it’s beautiful and meaningful, and also because it has the coolest time lapse ever.
Through Heaven’s Eyes is all about self-worth and viewing your life through a brighter lens: more specifically, seeing your life through Heaven’s eyes (hence, the title). It’s a big wake-up moment for Moses, who has gone from very prideful and smug to feeling lower than low. He doesn’t see much to be proud of about himself in this moment, and this is the song where he builds his pride back up and becomes a better person. He begins to see the world through a brighter lens, and grows because of it.
One of my favorite parts of this song is the first stanza:
A single thread in a tapestry,
Though its color brightly shines,
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design
In translation: no one man (“a single thread”) can see his purpose when he’s buried in a sea of people (“the pattern of the grand design”). It’s a great point made for Moses, who has had trouble finding his worth. He needs to find himself in order to find out what his purpose is. And much of the montage of Through Heaven’s Eyes involves him both finding himself, and falling in love with Tzipporah. It’s only when Moses finds himself and becomes someone with strong values and purpose that Tzipporah begins to fall for him.
It’s interesting how much the lyrics reflect Moses and his journey in particular. The song questions whether a man has “lost his worth” “should [he] lose everything he owns”, which is something Moses has struggled with. Without his riches, without his heritage, without his title, who is he?
So how do you measure the worth of a man, in wealth or strength or size?
In how much he gained, or how much he gave?
So much of Moses’ character journey is tied into how he reconstructs himself when he has lost everything that made him who he was before. He learns that he cannot measure himself “in wealth or strength or size”. But by looking at his life through a new lens (Heaven’s eyes), he can measure his life by what he has done, and what he has gained.
No life can escape being blown about
By the winds of change and chance
And though you never know all the steps,
You must learn to join the dance
Moses’ big struggle during the song is rejoining the dance of life. At first, he’s invited to dance with the rest of Tzipporah’s people, and neglects to join, instead standing off to the side and watching the others dance wistfully. But just like one can’t avoid life, Moses can’t avoid the dance. So when Tzipporah drags him into it, he’s done resisting the pull. There’s a double-edged symbolism here: Moses joins both the dance shown in the song, and also rejoins the metaphorical dance of life. Even though he doesn’t know what’s ahead, he learns to embrace his life and become a man that he can be proud of. He can finally see his life through Heaven’s eyes.
Playing with the Big Boys
Oh, these two. I guess in a way, Playing with the Big Boys would be the “villain song” of Prince of Egypt. But the main theme of the song is the contrast between smoke and mirrors, and real magic.
These two are so smug. They patronize Moses, calling him boy (“pick up your silly twig, boy”) and telling him that he’ll “know what power is when [they] are done”. They try and subdue him into quitting many times, using tricks and condescending words to force him into submission:
Stop this foolish mission
Watch a true magician
Give an exhibition how
The funny thing is though that we never really see any of this magic in the light. Every trick Hotep and Huy pull off is submerged in darkness, or smoke, or it’s behind a curtain. It’s very similar to the kinds of tricks magicians use in stage shows. We never once see proof that either of these two can conjure magic, despite all of the boasting that they can.
Hotep and Huy are good at pulling off masterful illusions, but in the end, that’s all they are: illusions. Smoke and mirrors.
Moses, on the other hand, conjures a snake right in front of everyone, with no deceptions, and yet it’s disregarded, all because it’s not quite as flashy as these two. Of course, they try and top him by ‘conjuring’ snakes as well. (Yes, I’m sure those sticks really became snakes, especially since the room was submerged in darkness as it happened.) And you know what happens to their snakes?
They’re devoured by Moses’ snake, in the midst of all of their boasting. And they don’t even notice, because they’re too caught up in the show. Talk about an epic fail. In the end, Hotep and Huy may have the flashier show, but they don’t have an ounce of real magic in them, and even as most of Egypt ignores the signs (which they really regret next song), Moses proves that he has the power of God behind him.
The Plagues is a very chilling song. The movie does not shy away from showing the damages on both sides as the conflict between Moses and Ramses heats up. Just look at all of this chaos. There are frogs everywhere. Pests in people’s food. Fireballs falling from the sky and decimating homes. The river is red with blood. This is God’s wrath, and he’s not holding back. Even the lyrics are chilling:
I send a pestilence and plague
Into your house, into your bed
Into your streams, into your streets
Into your drink, into your bread
Upon your cattle, on your sheep
Upon your oxen in your field
Into your dreams, into your sleep
Until you break, until you yield
This is a super extensive set of plagues. They raise in extremity too, going from frogs to disease and fireballs plummeting from the skies. Especially chilling is the phrase “until you break, until you yield”. This is all about getting Ramses to break. Ramses’ stubbornness is why the Hebrews are not free, and God wants to break the haughty (aka Ramses) by tearing apart Egypt. Unfortunately, Ramses is a stubborn son of a bitch, and thus, things just keep escalating.
One of the more interesting aspects of the song is showing Moses’ internal conflict. He’s torn between this place that was once his home (and the brother he once had), and the freedom of his people, his family. There’s a particularly sad echo of All I Ever Wanted buried in here, when Moses muses on what he once wanted:
Once I thought the chance
To make you laugh
Was all I ever wanted
Moses is caught between a rock and a hard place, basically. He knows that he’s doing what he has to do, but he still wishes “that God had chose another…serving as your foe on his behalf is the last thing that I wanted”.
He’s also furious with his brother, and how so many innocent people have suffered because of his “stubbornness and pride”. Moses isn’t pleading anymore; he’s demanding that Ramses let his people go. Does Ramses listen?
Not really, no.
Ramses’ portion of the song is really interesting, because it’s very self-motivated. Instead of looking inward and thinking “oh dear, what have I spurred?”, he blames Moses:
You who I called brother
How could you have come to hate me so?
Is this what you wanted?
Is this what Moses wanted? Well, no, not really. If Ramses had been paying attention, he would have realized that all Moses wanted was for his people to be freed. And Ramses could have done that. He could’ve looked inside himself, realized that he was being callous and selfish, and he could’ve let Moses’ people go. He could’ve even ended all those plagues ruining his people’s lives. Ramses has a choice here…and he chooses wrong.
Then let my heart be hardened
And never mind how high the cost may grow
This will still be so:
I will never let your people go…
“Never mind how high the cost may grow”. That’s just callous. Not only does Ramses not care about Moses’ people and their suffering, but he also doesn’t really care about his own. Ramses is so wrapped up in himself that it takes the extreme of losing his son for him to finally give up and let Moses’ people go. Even then, he goes back on his word and goes after them anyway. Pathetic. He never learns, and in the end, that’s why he ends up alone.
When You Believe
I like to call this one “the awards bait song”. It’s pretty, but it’s definitely an awards bait song. That said, it has a great message: anything is possible if you just believe.
The beginning stanza gives a nice callback to the start of the movie:
Many nights we prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood
Reminds you of Deliver Us, right? It sure reminded me of it. And then there’s this gorgeous part, which gets right at the core message of the song:
There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It’s hard to kill
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe
“Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill” is such a beautiful sentiment. These characters have spent so much of this movie hoping and praying for deliverance, and now, they’re finally at the cusp of what they’ve awaited for so long. It’s a very liberating feeling.
In this time of fear
When prayer so often proves in vain
Hope seems like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away
Yet now I’m standing here
My heart’s so full I can’t explain
Seeking faith and speaking words
I never thought I’d say
First of all, the language in this song is gorgeous. “Hope seems like the summer birds, too swiftly flown away.” What a beautiful way to describe that lack of hope you feel when you’re in a hopeless situation. These two stanzas speak to a really interesting sentiment: doubt. So many of them have had reason to doubt. They’ve been enslaved for years, and they’ve been praying for so long that for many, it felt like it might never come. For some, it never did. But after all this, they’re standing here, and their heart is so full of promise and fulfillment and anticipation and who knows what else. They’re on the road to freedom. Despite their doubts, their faith has paid off. Their shepherd came to deliver them to the promised land, and that he does.
All they had to do was believe.
Note: As always, I snagged my lyrics from ST Lyrics: http://www.stlyrics.com/p/princeofegypt.htm
I’m curious: what is your favorite Prince of Egypt song? And what other movies would you like to see us analyze the music of? Let us know in the comments!