Shrewdly released just in time for Christmas and Hanukah gift-giving, “Joseph: King of Dreams” doubtless will enjoy a shelf life that extends far into next year and beyond. The first made-for-video animated feature from DreamWorks, pic is a follow-up — of, if you prefer, a prequel — to studio’s Biblical-inspired “Prince of Egypt.” Unlike many similar small-screen sequels from Disney, however, “King of Dreams” has just as much cross-generational appeal as its predecessor, and doesn’t make the mistake of skewing primarily toward moppets. To put it another way: This is family entertainment in the best sense of the term, for which many families will be immensely grateful.
Fancifully embellishing Biblical narrative, “King of Dreams” takes a respectful but hardly reverential approach to dramatizing events described in the Book of Genesis. (To preempt possible criticism, pic begins by acknowledging “artistic and historic license has been taken.”)
In the world according to screenwriters Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Joe Stillman and Marshall Goldberg, Joseph (voice by Ben Affleck), the favorite son of Judah (Mark Hamill), is sold into slavery by his jealous half-brothers, and transported from the verdant climes of Canaan to faraway Egypt.
Sold to Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, Joseph proves to be an industrious and resourceful servant. Unfortunately, Joseph also attracts the amorous interest of Zuleika (Judith Light), Potiphar’s slinky wife. When he rebuffs her romantic overtures, she bears false witness that leads to his imprisonment. Joseph manages to survive — and thrive — through his sorely tested faith in God, and his remarkable ability to interpret dreams.
Although “King of Dreams” largely downplays the religious elements that loomed so large in “Prince of Egypt,” the vidpic stops far short of secularism. Indeed, the best of the songs by John Bucchino, “Better Than I” and “What Road Lies at Your Feet,” are unabashedly soaring anthems that accept and celebrate the divine. Both tunes have potential to become standards for both mainstream entertainers and Christian music performing artists.
Directors Robert Ramirez and Rob LaDuca seamlessly mesh a variety of animation styles, running the gamut from Vincent Van Gogh-influenced dream sequences to computer-generated graphics in a portentous nightmare.
Among the well-cast vocal talents, Ben Affleck makes a thoroughly persuasive and aptly compelling transition from feckless youth to wise adult as Joseph, while Jodi Benson (of “Little Mermaid” fame) hits the right notes of girlishness and seriousness as Asenath, Joseph’s eventual wife, who encourages her husband to forgive the trespasses of his half-brothers.
Chief among the extra features offered in the DVD edition of “Joseph: King of Dreams” is an “outtakes” section that will be of interest to movie buffs and animation aficionados who might wonder how pics evolve from the drawing-board stage.
Co-directors provide storyboard illustrations and interesting commentary as they explain why they plotted, then discarded, a seriocomic depiction of the newly enslaved Joseph’s arrival in Egypt. Ramirez and LaDuca opted for a more serious tone, greatly enhancing the final version of the scene that appears in the finished pic.