The Disney animation juggernaut is challenged, once again, by DreamWorks Pictures, this time in a realm that the Mouse House has long dominated: the anime of classical adventure stories. Now, the newer kids take on one of the most famous of the Arabian Nights stories with John Logan's adaptation of the updated adventures of "Sinbad: The Legend of the Seven Seas."
Sinbad (voice of Brad Pitt) is a likable rogue who plies the seven seas with his crew of brigands (lovable and funny in a cutthroat kind of way) as they seek out their pirate's prey with the plan to make a lot of money and retire to the beaches of Fiji. They come across a particularly profitable quarry: a ship transporting to Syracuse the fabled and powerful Book of Peace. But, unbeknownst to Sinbad, the vessel is captained by Proteus (voice of Joseph Fiennes), his long ago companion, best friend and prince of Syracuse. The bond between the two is too great and Sinbad departs with empty hands, much to the chagrin of his crew.
Meanwhile, the goddess Eris (voice of Michelle Pfeiffer) has designs of her own for the magnificent book and plan to recruit Sinbad to help her. But, she isn't known as the Goddess of Discord for nothing and she plans to have some fun with the buccaneer and his men while sowing the seeds of chaos in the land of the living. Still, Sinbad isn't the kind to shirk a challenge and he agrees to go to Syracuse and steal the book for Eris in return for wealth untold.
When Sinbad arrives, prince Proteus greets him, once again, and their bond of friendship again proves to be stronger than the pirate's need for vast wealth. But, Eris isn't the kind to waste opportunity so she disguises herself as Sinbad, steals the tome herself and leaves the pirate chief with the threat of imminent execution. He vows to get the book back and Proteus convinces the king and his advisors to keep him, the prince, under arrest (promising to sacrifice his own life) as his friend quests for the return of the Book of Peace. Of course, it wouldn't be a good swashbuckling story without a heroine and "Sinbad" has one in the form of Marina (voice of Catherine Zeta-Jones), the smart, capable and feisty fiancée of Proteus.
Sinbad, Marina, his crew and his loyal, lovable dog Spike head for Tartarus, the home of Eris, on the very edge of the world. Along the way, the purely evil (but mischief-loving) Eris places the usual mythical obstacles in the way. They must face the destructively seductive songs of the Sirens (who, fortunately, Marina is unaffected by); then they land on a giant fish the size of an island and all hands are nearly lost; they are trapped in frigid, ice-bound waters, the home of a humungous snowbird that thinks Sinbad and Marina happen to be a pair of convenient snacks. All this happens and Sinbad and company must still face the all-powerful Eris if they are to get the book back and save Proteus's life.
"Sinbad" is a combination of traditional cel animation (2D) and high-tech computer graphics (3D) in much the same way as Disney's rollicking "Treasure Island" but the Mouse House still holds the cards in their melding of the two techniques. With "Legend of the Seven Seas" there is a jolt as the action changes from 2D to CGI and the two looks don't transition together smoothly.
Helmers Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore muster their talented vocal cast and try to give life to the story by scribe Logan. Unfortunately, they are at a disadvantage because the screenplay delves into new "adventures" for the roguish hero rather than sticking with the traditional, familiar stories of the source work. The seductive Sirens are here (and a bit erotic, too) but Sinbad doesn't face the terrible Cyclops, meet genies or fight sword-wielding skeletons. Instead, this "Sinbad" is a roller coaster ride as the able sailor guides his trusty ship, The Chimera, across the danger-ridden seas. It's fun but not particularly satisfying.
The top name cast does a fine job of giving voice to the principal roles with Brad Pitt playing the calculating but likable title character with good humor. Catherine Zeta-Jones is forthright as the diminutive but feisty Marina - togged in modern-day Capri pants for some reason. Michelle Pfeiffer has some lusciously malevolent fun giving voice to Eris. Baritone-voiced Dennis Haysbert gives Sinbad's loyal lieutenant Kale a comforting strength of character to go along with his muscular screen depiction. Adriano Giannini voices the ferret-like Rat but he and the rest of the supporting characters are given little development.
There is a parting note in "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" as the hero and heroine talk of the further adventures from the Arabian Nights tales. I would rather have seen those stories told instead of the hip update. Try to catch the Ray Harryhausen stop motion versions of the Sinbad stories if you really want to have some mythical fun.
I give it a B-.
Sinbad (Brad Pitt) meets an old childhood friend, Proteus (Joseph Fiennes, "Shakespeare in Love"), the prince of Syracuse, while attempting to pirate The Book of Peace. The two are interrupted in their squabble over morality and the meaning of friendship by a giant squid, which threatens their ships. In saving them, Sinbad almost drowns, but is saved by the Goddess of Chaos, Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer), who sets wheels in motion to set up Sinbad for the loss of the book after it has been enshrined in Syracuse. Her plan works all too well, but the honorable Proteus believes in his friend and substitutes himself for Sinbad's death sentence, giving Sinbad and Proteus's fiancee Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones) ten days to recapture the treasured amulet in "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas."
Dreamworks's second foray into traditional animation has a lot in common with Disney's underrated "Treasure Planet" - flying ships, pirates, a funny dog, romance and a combination of hand drawn and computer generated animation (albeit not as successfully integrated). This lively adventure is an entertaining, colorful romp that will please kids while gifting parents with 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' jokes.
Although some of the humor is a little too anachronistic ('Stand by for sushi!'), "Sinbad's" writers take impish glee sliding in subversive lines (Sinbad points a knife at his crotch and a sailor bursts from below decks shouting 'pickles and eggs!'). Sinbad's crew member Rat (Adriano Giannini) looks an awfully lot like Johnny Depp - a playful nod to Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" perhaps? The screenplay balances its modern touches with welcome old-fashioned banter between Pitt and Zeta Jones, who classically resist each other until Sinbad recognizes Marina as a sea-faring equal. A running joke finds Sinbad's crew betting in the background whenever his life hangs in the balance.
Pitt and Zeta-Jones give the right amount of playfulness to their vocal performances, while Fiennes attains a more courtly gravity. Pfeiffer is wonderful as the treacherous Eris, her voice as snakily sinuous as the wisps of smoke that trail and envelop her. Also good is Dennis Haysbert ("Far From Heaven") as Kale, Sinbad's stalwart, always unruffled first mate.
While the hand drawn animation is a bit flat, the CGI sparkles from the ocean Sinbad travels over to the etherealness of Eris and her constellation of minions. An island which turns animate is awesomely realized. An impromptu saucer ride down an icy cliff brings the audience along on the breathless ride. Harry Gregson-Williams's ("Shrek") score richly complements the adventurous tale.
"Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" is a fine updating of a classic for a new generation.
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