DreamWorks belts Bible with three 'Prince of Egypt' soundtracks
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From Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- DreamWorks Pictures' animated film "The Prince of Egypt" opens nationwide on December 18, but those unable to wait another month for biblical inspiration and entertainment can satisfy their canonical cravings with not one, but three separate soundtracks.
The first motion picture in history to produce three simultaneously released albums, "The Prince of Egypt" has spawned one official soundtrack, plus two "inspired-by" CDs boasting some of the most famous names in the recording industry. In stores since November 17, the soundtracks are perhaps the most ambitious undertaking on the part of a movie studio trying to cross-pollinate the big screen with the CD player -- and widen the scope of the animation audience.
It may be a case of overconfidence or just wishful thinking, but you can't fault DreamWorks for hoping that such megastars as Mariah Carey, Clint Black or Boyz II Men will expand the audience for animation and have shoppers packing the checkout aisles just in time for Christmas. And at the very least, the label has its bases covered -- rock, country and R&B were the three best-selling musical genres in 1997, as measured by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Kid movie, adult music
"The Price of Egypt" tells the epic, biblical journey of Moses as he goes from slave to prince to deliverer. And DreamWorks pulled out all the all-star stops for this movie, with Val Kilmer and Ralph Fiennes voicing Moses and Ramses, and Sandra Bullock, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Steve Martin, Helen Mirren, Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Short and Patrick Stewart taking on the other roles.
Likewise, the official soundtrack has the Hollywood A-list seal of approval, with six new songs written by "Pocahontas" lyricist Stephen Schwartz and a score composed by Hans Zimmer of "The Lion King."
But although "The Prince of Egypt" may be a flick geared for kids, the soundtracks are anything but. Curiously enough, a movie crafted to hit children at Christmas has a trio of soundtracks that seem more likely to appeal only to their parents.
"When I saw [the film] the wind was knocked out of me," says country singer and mom of two Wynona, whose "Freedom" is featured on the country inspired-by soundtrack. "It was so beautiful and big. I forgot it was animated because it's brilliant and real-to-life. This isn't anything I've seen before."
Neither is the massive soundtrack offering by DreamWorks. For all three of its albums, the company tapped into the best and most pedigreed talent the music industry has to offer. Given the delicate, potentially tricky subject matter, the studio is taking no chances at offense.
Three soundtracks, but no happy meals
In what is billed as an epic, magical collaboration, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey perform "When You Believe," the signature single on the main soundtrack. DreamWorks is betting that the two divas, with combined worldwide album sales of a tremendous 175 million copies, will move a few more CDs globally with their intense hymn of faith, written by "Pocahontas"' Schwartz and produced by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.
But that's not all. The main album is crammed with an apex of the music industry's who's-who, including R&B superstars Boyz II Men, Christian crossover success Amy Grant and Israeli folk singer Ofra Haza -- and even includes a singing cameo from actress Michelle Pfeiffer.
For those wanting something a little more country than rock 'n' roll, DreamWorks has concocted a Nashville soundtrack stuffed with more talent than the Grand Ol' Opry on a good day. A slew of platinum-selling artists, from Vince Gill, Reba and Randy Travis to Clint Black, Alabama, Pam Tillis, Wynonna and Charlie Daniels, perform all-new songs that mix faith with devotion.
And there's always the inspirational soundtrack, which is showcases the crème de la crème of gospel and Christian rock. Boyz II Men, themselves serving as a "Prince of Egypt" crossover act, CeCe Winans, Brian McKnight and Kirk Franklin croon, chant and sing their way to a fantastically reverential tribute to God.
"Everybody that sat down and watched this film, whatever came to their heart, they were able to write into a song and sing it," says Winans. "There's nothing an artist likes more than being able to put their teeth into singing something that comes from the heart and soul."
But in for this movie, at least, kids won't be sinking their teeth into "The Prince of Egypt" happy meals or candy. Recognizing that the Bible and burgers don't mix, DreamWorks is eschewing the usual promotional tie-in overkill for a fairly restrained marketing strategy. The studio has recognized the sensitive subject matter of "The Prince of Egypt" and says it will only be selling the soundtrack and 25 movie-based books in retail stores nationwide.
Of course, the ultimate fate of the soundtracks will probably rest on how well the animated biblical tale performs at the box office, come December, when the picture opens on about 5,000 screens in 37 countries, including Australia and territories in Europe, Asia and Latin America. North American viewers can check out the movie in more than 2,500 theaters nationwide.
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