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review added: 11/5/01



Joseph: King of Dreams
Special Edition - 2000 (2000) - DreamWorks

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Joseph: King of Dreams - Special Edition Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

Specs and Features

74 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (no layer switch), keep case packaging, read-along & sing-along material, trivia game, storyboard presentation (with optional directors commentary), production notes, cast and filmmakers' bios, "theatrical" trailer, PC Friendly DVD-ROM features (including downloadable kids coloring sheet, downloadable activity sheets and a memory game), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English

Joseph: King of Dreams is an animated retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, the man who saved the Egyptian people from a 7-year plight by being able to interpret the future in his and others' dreams. The story is from the book of Genesis, and DreamWorks was careful enough to start the film with a disclaimer declaring that while the film is accurate in its tone and structure to the original Bible story, some artistic license was taken. Fair enough.

Joseph (voiced by Ben Affleck), born in Canaan, is considered a "Miracle Child" because his mother was barren and his father was elderly (although that never stopped Tony Randall and Larry King). As he grows up, Joseph falls more and more out of favor with his 10 older half-brothers, because their father gives special treatment to Joseph and educates him, while the siblings are forced to do hard labor all day long. Making matters worse between he and his brothers, Joseph discovers that he able to foresee the future in his dreams, and his father declares that Joseph is a gift from God. Despite trying to nurture a relationship with his 10 siblings, they have their fill of Joseph's supposed superiority and sell him into slavery. His parents are led to believe wolves killed Joseph, and are devastated.

Joseph is taken to Egypt to become a slave. After a brief stint as a laborer, a high-ranking Egyptian official, Potiphar (voiced by James Eckhouse), discovers that Joseph is educated and takes him into his home, where life becomes a bit easier. When Poitphar's wife falsely accuses Joseph of making sexual advances (it was, in fact, the other way around) Joseph is sent to prison for a long time. When rumors of Joseph's gift of dream interpretation find their way to the Pharaoh, Joseph is called upon to deduce the meaning of the leader's cryptic, recurring nightmares. It seems that Egypt will soon be the victim of a plight that will last for seven years. Joseph suggests that seven years worth of grain be stored so that the city will survive the hard times. The Pharaoh makes Joseph his second in command and places him in charge of the collection of food reserves. So, time passes, Joseph marries and has children and all is going well for our hero... when, all of a sudden, his past comes back to torment him. At the plight's beginning, his 10 brothers come to Egypt in search of food. So Joseph must confront his brothers and find forgiveness in his heart, or his simmering 20-year fury will overtake his spirit.

Joseph: King of Dreams is a fairly decent film, with an epic storyline and many interesting characters (I'm amazed that DreamWorks was able to squeeze it all into 74 minutes without compromising the story). However, the film is definitely geared toward children, more so than other animated films like The Lion King or even DreamWorks's previous animated effort, The Prince of Egypt. The dialog is not something a five-year-old would have trouble understanding, and simple exposition is often reintroduced in attempt to recapture the wandering attention of most children. The animation is also well done, but falls a bit short of The Prince of Egypt in terms of depth and detail. Still, for a film that went straight to video, the animation is very, very good.

The biggest quibble I have with this film (and that I, to a lesser extent, also share with The Prince of Egypt) is that the songs are weak. Written by John Bucchino, the tracks are so syrupy and riddled with musical clichés, that even the most saccharine easy listening radio stations would be embarrassed to play them. Animated films don't always need songs, but traditionally they have them, so it's something that must be addressed. However, I hope that in the future both DreamWorks and Disney will take a chance and use songs in their films that defy convention (think The Nightmare Before Christmas). I'm not suggesting filling a soundtrack with the gentle sounds of Jane's Addiction and Sepultura, but how about something a little different next time, hmm?

Despite its straight to video status, DreamWorks more than delivered the goods in the audio/video department. The video is 1.85:1 widescreen (anamorphically encoded) and looks gorgeous. Colors are bold and rich, and fine picture detail is abundant. Even though the animation in this film doesn't quite equal the stunning work of The Price of Egypt, it's still a wonderful effort.

The production quality of this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is equally stunning, given that the film never had a theatrical run and is aimed at children. The soundstage is wide and spacious, with sound effects and musical fill radiating from the rear channels. Dialog is always intelligible and low frequency effects can sometimes be deep and forceful.

Even though DreamWorks embossed a special edition banner at the top of the box art, this special edition is meant almost totally for the kiddies. If you're a fan of animated filmmaking, and hope to learn how the film was made, this set of extras will definitely leave you wanting much more. The supplements include a read-along, in which a narrator reads the story of the film, while the words appear at the bottom of the screen. The words are accompanied by visuals from the film. Next is a sing-along, where kids can choose between three songs in the film, and watch the segment from the film that includes the song, supplemented with the lyrics at the bottom of the screen. There's also a 22-question trivia game that will test the kids' knowledge of the movie they just watched (I can't imagine a kid voluntarily taking any sort of test). Probably the only thing film fans will be interested in is a storyboard presentation (with optional director's commentary) that highlights extensions to the scene where Joseph first enters Egypt. Cast and filmmakers' bios, production notes and a trailer wrap up the in-player extra features. Computer savvy children will also find a good deal of PC Friendly DVD-ROM content, including downloadable activity sheets and a downloadable coloring sheet and a memory game.

All in all, Joseph: King of Dreams is a good film. The animation is grand for a straight-to-video release, but the songs are… well, blah. Kids will spend a good deal of time tinkering with the bevy of interactive features, but adults will want to pass. Still, there's a little something here for everyone, so it's worth checking out.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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