• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    Animated Stories from the Bible - Moses: From Birth to Burning Bush

    There are a lot of animated re-tellings of the story of Moses. More even, perhaps, that there are about Jesus. As a result, I've never really tried to track them all down,nevertheless, when I come across one, I'm usually pretty happy to take a look. This one was made in 1993 and is taken from the sister series to Richard Rich's Animated Stories from the New Testament. Once again it's Rich (The Fox and The Hound) at the helm here.

    And as Moses cartoons go, it's not bad. For a start there are no silly sidekicks or overly elaborate sub-plots, the story just sticks to its main focus and tells the story with a nice balance between economy and fleshing out the characters. A meal-time scene from Jethro's tent captures this approach nicely. The group holds hands for a pre-meal blessing - as is apparently the family's custom - but the way it's shown captures both the sense that this is a new custom for Moses, and that there is a spark of attraction between he and Zipporah.

    The biggest drawback with it, however, is that the story only goes as far as the burning bush. Whilst it's unclear why this happened, the most likely explanation is that Rich planned to return to the Exodus as later date, but never did. Given that the episodes from the New Testament series were produced over an 18 year period, that would hardly be surprising. But it does tend to leave the story hanging in mid air. Whilst an encounter with the divine has formed the climax to many a tale, it's always just a means to an end in the story of Moses.

    It's a shame that the rest of the story never got made however because there's an interesting premise here: In contrast to many versions of the story Moses, indeed everybody from the slaves to the Pharaoh, knows he is a Hebrew. The slaves criticise him for doing Pharaoh's dirty work. The overseers moan about having to work for a Hebrew ("I don't like it, a Hebrew ruling over us"), but broadly speaking there is no major problem with such a state of affairs, nothing to suggest this is totally out of the ordinary.

    The most interesting by product of this narrative stance is where it locates Moses' attitude to slavery. We tend to think of Moses as the first anti-slavery pioneer, but in fact the Torah not only accepts the existence of slaves but legislates for the situation. Here Moses is not troubled by the fact that Pharaoh uses slave labour, he's just cares more about how they are treated, increasing rations, ending beatings and allowing a sabbath.

    There's some nuance here as well. When making arguments for treating the slaves better to his fellow Egyptians his arguments are all based on capitalism and extracting the greatest benefit. "Treat them better" Moses says, gesturing towards the slaves "you'll have better workers". Privately, however, it's clear that whilst Moses thinks his economic arguments will prove to be the more persuasive, he is driven more by compassion describing a beaten Hebrew as "A man, a person, a living soul".

    Ultimately, however, that's an argument that never gets resolved. Moses kills an Egyptian and, when it becomes known, he is sentenced to death. The system, it seems, can tolerate an Israelite in power, but murdering an Egyptian, strips away any such privilege. Moses is foolhardy enough not to realise the bigger implications of his act. He fails to appreciate the meaning of crossing that particular line and it is only a moment of compassion from his adopted mother, and apparently good luck, that he manages to escape with his life.

    So whilst this is very much a film for children in terms of form there's a little bit more going on in terms of content and Rich's decision not to pander to the lowest common denominator by introducing twee quirkiness more than pays off.



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