hat's bad? "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," the newest animated feature with a boatload of celebrities slumming through another not-quite-thawed adventure story. To invoke the name of another underwhelming new film, "Sinbad" is legally bland.
It stars Brad Pitt, who is such an avatar of golden-haired perfection that he is more credible as a cartoon. But he is more believable as a cartoon in real life than he is here, where his underinflected, slightly toasted-sounding arrogance seems less than fitting for a lusty, robust hero and con man, and more in line with the stoner he played in "True Romance." As it stands, children will gravitate more toward his antic, commanding and inventive sidekick dog than toward him.
Or toward Eris, the capricious god of Chaos (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose need to stir up trouble is not quite as grand as "Sinbad" requires. As Sinbad sails this film's marvelous computer-rendered seven seas on his mission, Eris conjures mischief. She is the otherworldly presence looming over the titular figure's peregrinations, and her mellifluous malevolence is a distinctive element.
She presides over a pack of mutated constellations and what appear to be astrological figures that didn't quite make the first cut; they are the Miss Congenialities of the zodiac. She unleashes these creatures, and others — like a gigantic ice hawk, in the movie's most rousing action scene, which includes the standard anachronistic use of snowboarding — because she cares enough to send the very beast.
Sinbad's mission? To return an enchanted artifact, the Book of Peace, that will prove the innocence of his childhood friend, Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), with whom he was recently reunited. Can Sinbad overcome his craven selfishness and bring back the Book of Peace? Will his flirtation with Proteus's fiancée, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones, doing an animated version of her feisty tomboy routine from "The Mask of Zorro"), ruin his old buddy's impending marriage? Will even children sit still for this movie's abbreviated running time (83 minutes)? The last question will probably be the most suspenseful one about the film.
Most full-length animated films give the best material to the subsidiary characters, leaving the heroes to function as straight men charged with moving the plot forward. Members of Sinbad's crew get what pass for the laugh lines. The hilarity for adults may be in observing the mildewed homoeroticism between Sinbad and most of the guys, especially his burly Nubian first mate (Dennis Haysbert), who inspires a crack about nipples that poses more questions than it answers. Like his crew members, Sinbad was drawn as if he were meant to be part of the background. More thought and care were lavished on the design of the monsters than on the hand-drawn lead characters, who have the same kind of sketchy features as the stars of those animated Bible story cartoons sold on late-night infomercials.
The visual power of evil is chillingly evident when Sinbad and Marina find themselves transported to another dimension and a group of long-dead soldiers, realized through computer artistry, rise from a desert. This moment brings to mind the skeletal army that the renowned model animator Ray Harryhausen created for "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" in 1958. That film has its deficiencies, too, but it is far more entertaining than "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas"; it is certainly more deserving of the word legend.
"Sinbad" is rated PG for mildly lusty language.
Legend of the Seven Seas
Directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore; written by John Logan; edited by Tom Finan; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Raymond Zibach; produced by Mireille Soria and Jeffrey Katzenberg; released by DreamWorks Pictures. Running time: 83 minutes. This film is rated PG.
WITH THE VOICES OF: Brad Pitt (Sinbad), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marina), Michelle Pfeiffer (Eris), Joseph Fiennes (Proteus), Dennis Haysbert (Kale) and Timothy West (Dymas).