In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Disney went a little crazy with their straight-to-video sequels. They released multiple sequels to Aladdin (not great, but not bad), The Little Mermaid (decent concepts, but lackluster results), Beauty and the Beast (travesties – all of them) and more. DreamWorks on the other hand released exactly one straight-to-video sequel. In fact it’s their only straight-to-video movie ever. Enter Joseph: King of Dreams, meant as a companion piece to The Prince Of Egypt.
Development for King of Dreams began during The Prince of Egypt’s production. Some of the same crew members worked on both movies, and even the same group of ministers consulting The Prince of Egypt’s filmmakers also helped with King of Dreams. Executive producer Penny Finkelman Cox noted that they wanted to keep it faithful to the original Biblical story, yet still making it interesting and marketable. “We had to take powerful themes and tell them in a way that’s compelling and accessible for all ages.”
Like a lot of DreamWorks’ theatrical releases, this movie actually contains a fairly recognizable cast. Ben Affleck portrays Joseph. Mark Hamill portrays Judah, the most prominent of Joseph’s brothers in the movie. Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, plays the Egyptian woman who eventually becomes Joseph’s wife. Richard McGonagle, a well-known voice actor in TV shows and video games, voices Rameses I. And let’s not forget Judith Light, an experienced actress who’s done a bit of everything, portraying Potifar’s wife.
Joseph: King of Dreams released in November of 2000, to mostly positive reviews. It was praised for its animation, storytelling and music. Most of the criticism focused on how it compared negatively to the much larger Prince of Egypt production. The Movie Report stated that it puts Disney’s straight to video efforts to shame, and I completely agree with that statement. The movie even earned a couple awards and nominations, including the Video Premier Award for Best Song “Better than I”, and two DVD Exclusive Video Premier Awards for Best Animated Video Premiere and Best Screenplay.
I remember seeing this movie years ago, and not thinking much of it either way. After finally seeing it again, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. As much as it’s not entirely fair, it’s hard for me not to compare it to two other projects I’ve seen. The first is obviously The Prince of Egypt. The theatrical release is clearly the better movie, with the smoother animation, the epic scope of the visuals and the music that perfectly matches the epic visuals. Everything about Joseph: King of Dreams feels smaller. But to be fair, the story itself is also smaller by nature.
The other project I can’t help but compare it to is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was actually Webber’s first musical to ever be performed publically, way back in 1968. The musical is a very energetic performance that I remember seeing live during its mid-90’s revival, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We also owned the 1999 VHS release at one point, and it perfectly captured the live show’s energy, grandeur and sense of humour. It also emulated the backgrounds of a live performance, while at the same time taking advantage of turning it into a movie. In case you’re curious about this play, the entire VHS release is on YouTube. I rewatched it very recently – just before I started this DreamWorks Blogathon in fact. It still stands up quite well today.
Back when I first watched King of Dreams, I couldn’t help but think that The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was better. Even now, it’s hard not to think of Webber’s production as more entertaining, and the music more fun. But at the same time, King of Dreams is the more dramatically told of the two, and it is more biblically accurate without sacrificing that drama. In fact if anything, staying mostly true to the biblical account makes this story more dramatic.
I might need to see King of Dreams again sometime in the near future to fully decide how I feel about it. I thought it kind of meh at first when I turned it on, but it grew on me as the movie entered its second half. Now that it’s been a day since I’ve rewatched it, I realize there are aspects of the movie that work very well. There are nice touches of visual storytelling that help develop Joseph’s personality. And as much as the lower budget makes for visuals that aren’t as crisp, it’s still competent. The songs might not even try to match The Prince Of Egypt’s epic tone, but they’re still good songs.
With all that said, unlike the epic Prince of Egypt movie, I don’t think I’d recommend Joseph: King of Dreams to anyone who isn’t either Jewish or Christian. But if you’re a Christian or Jew who enjoys The Prince of Egypt, King of Dreams is worth a look if you can track it down. Either way, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is definitely worth checking out.
Next up is DreamWorks’ first mega hit, Shrek. After that, I’ll be looking at James Bond movies that don’t quite fit any of the other categories I have planned, including both Timothy Dalton movies, the only George Lazenby Bond movie, and either two or three unofficial entries. Then we’ll get back to the DreamWorks Blogathon proper with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.