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The story of Moses - you know, that guy from the Bible - is now an animated family adventure, thanks to DreamWorks. But as producer Sandra Rabins and art director Ritchie Chavez explain to ANDREW L. URBAN, the story is not the one in the bible.

We meet at the fabulous Park Hyatt on Sydney Cove, Sydney’s (perhaps Australia’s) most perfectly located five star hotel, snuggling under the Harbour Bridge, all rooms facing the Opera House and beyond that into the greater harbour towards the Heads, doors to the Pacific Ocean. Historic, eye filling and accompanied by low key luxury. The room is set up for the interview, Chavez (left) and Rabins on chairs facing the sofa, where I am invited to sit. The visiting Americans are eyeing the million dollars’ worth of a streamlined modern boat outside, jostling with the replica of the Endeavour…they don’t have time to cruise the waters of Sydney’s famour harbour: they’re flying out later that day, continuing their pormotional tour of sixteen continents and four cities – or is it the other way round. Anyway, they are talking up their baby, the animated baby that DreamWorks is taking to the world: Moses.

"a great film entertainment and a personal story of Moses"

Both Rabins (pic) and Chavez are ready to answer any questions, eager to ensure that the media talk about it – preferably positively.

First question: why and how does the story of Moses qualify as ‘family adventure’?

Rabins answers: "There’ve been many interpretations of the Bible story….what we wanted to do was to show a great film entertainment and a personal story of Moses which the Bible doesn’t cover. That was our challenge – can we tell the relationship story of these two brothers who love each other and their destinies pull them apart." It doesn’t quite answer the question, but it sets out the pitch.

Rabins, a petite woman (Chavez is a smallish man), is in full swing: "So through the movie you understand why God picked Moses and why Ramases can never let the people go. That story hasn’t been told before."

Rameses was born a prince, Moses a slave. It is difficult to imagine Val Kilmer doing Moses, even more so than Ralph Fiennes doing Rameses. But then we don’t see them, their characters coming from their voices, which ventriloquise their animated characters. Indeed, hard to think of Steve Martin in any Biblical scenario (he plays court magician Hotep) or Sandra Bullock (Miriam), even Jeff Goldblum (Aaron) nor Michelle Pfeiffer (Tzipporah). But Helen Mirren as the Queen (who finds Moses in a basket) is manageable, and so is Patrick Stewart as Pharoah Seti.

"We wanted a sense of elegance and poetry"

At the beginning, says Chavez, "there were eight of us in all, and the way we started was we picked out impressionist paintings – our favourite artists. We wanted a sense of elegance and poetry – I wanted a fine art feel. So we made a huge bulletin board with prints of as many paintings as we could."
Chavez says the team was concerned with creating something new, something "not cartoony". The team started sketching their personal visions of the film: "it’s still flexible and very free at this stage, with everybody developing ideas. At the same time, the story process is being developed, so one feeds the other. It’s very collaborative."

The team would chart where Moses’ emotions were going, using the colour pallette."

Rabins pips in: "Art directors have to be excellent artists in their own right. Richie added so much of the vision in the organic elements of the movie," she says, a clear compliment to Chavez.

"why not clouds, ... to represent the presence of God"

Then it’s all about portraying God: When it came to portraying God, says Chavez, "We didn’t want to go Monty Python," (good Lord, Monty Python? How did that name come up?). "We wanted something spiritual. . .so why not clouds, especially with the right lighting, to represent the presence of God."

These details are the elements that can make or break a film like The Prince of Egypt. They’ve done all they can, now it’s up to us – you and me, audiences around the world. Does it work? DreamWorks hopes so.

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See Paul Fischer's interview with

Ralph Fiennes as Rameses

Val Kilmer as Moses

Sandra Bullock as Miriam

Jeff Goldblum as Aaron

Michelle Pfeiffer as Tzipporah


Over 800 people contributed to making The Prince of Egypt. One of them is a cellist called Tony, a session muso who also works with the prestigious London Symphony. He was booked to play a solo, a rather sad piece for a sad scene, when Moses leaves his brother, devastated by the death of the little babies - the plague called ‘death of the first born’. Tony’s wife went into labor on the same day, and soon delivered a healthy boy. A little later, Tony went in to the studio and delivered a "phenomenal solo", says producer Sandra Rabins. "It’s a great example of the passion people had in every area of the filmmaking process."


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