With most animated features skewing toward the lighter side, DreamWorks appears to be cornering the market on “serious” animation with their first direct-to-video release in that field, “Joseph: King of Dreams.” A sober Biblical adaptation in the vein of their Oscar-winning The Prince of Egypt, “Joseph,” while clearly not on the level of that 1998 classic, it is a solid piece of work that is about on par with the SKG’s spring theatrical release The Road to El Dorado.
“Joseph,” based on the same Old Testament story that inspired the long-running stage musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” lacks the emotional sweep of Prince, but it is nonetheless an inspiring tale for the whole family. The youngest and favored son to Jacob, Joseph (voiced by Ben Affleck) is given a lavish coat and spared the hard shepherding work that his many other brothers are made to do. Insanely jealous, the brothers sell Joseph to slavery, but Joseph won’t be counted out so easily, thanks to his indomitable spirit–and his gift for interpreting dreams.
Like Prince, Joseph is also a musical, and, not surprisingly, the song score by John Bucchino is not as memorable as the one Stephen Schwartz gave Prince. In fact, Bucchino’s work is downright forgettable; the only song making the slightest inkling of an impression is Joseph’s–and the film’s–central number, “Better Than I,” during which a dejected Joseph learns to keep his faith under dire circumstances. Also problematic is the fact that the voices of Affleck and David Campbell, who does Joseph’s singing duties, are too dissimilar; the split casting doesn’t quite convince.
What does convince, however, is the animation. Although produced by DreamWorks’ television division, the art could very well hold up on the big screen; while there is a loss in detail, the motion is fluid; the color palette is vivid; and the shading and highlighting effects are quite polished. There are also a number of impressive computer-aided sequences: the surreal dream scenes, including an homage to Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” that brings that classic image to swirling life; and animated hieroglyph effects that were introduced in Prince (though not quite as effective here as they were in that film). All in all, “Joseph” is a new technical benchmark for straight-to-tape animated features, putting Disney’s chintzy home video efforts to shame.
Although it was produced exclusively for the home market, “Joseph: King of Dreams” was shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, nicely preserved on the disc in an anamorphic transfer. The extras mostly skew toward the younger set; there is a read-along feature and a 25-question (!) trivia quiz on the film. Presumably included for the entire family is a sing-along feature that presents three of the film’s seven musical numbers karaoke style, but given how weak the song score is, I can’t imagine anyone getting much use out of this feature. The one big concession to older viewers is a presentation of storyboards for three sequences, one which didn’t make the final film. Viewable with or without commentary from directors Robert Ramirez and Rob LaDuca, this is a tasty morsel for animation aficionados, but at only 11 minutes long, too small of one.
Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; English subtitles; DVD-ROM features.