July 02, 2003
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'Sinbad' doesn't live up to legend

By Christian Toto

Animated features are not for children only anymore. With sly humor and sophisticated storytelling appealing to parents as much as to kiddies, computer-generated films such as "Finding Nemo" and 2002's "Ice Age" have raised the bar for the makers of big-screen animated fare.
    "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" falls a little short of the standards set by those digital features.
    "Sinbad" does trot out its own visual tricks, a clever combination of old-school animation and computer-based imagery that will resonate with those raised on "Shrek" et al.
    But casting Brad Pitt as the rogue hero turns out to have been a mistake. The handsome screen idol can act, but his oh-so-modern vocal tics are all wrong for such a legendary character.
    Much better are Michelle Pfeiffer and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who luxuriate in the freedom vocal work permits. Miss Zeta-Jones, in particular, inhabits the film's feisty heroine as if she had toiled for years in animation.
    "Sinbad" opens as the title character is pillaging a ship captained by his childhood pal, Proteus (Joseph Fiennes). Proteus' ship is carrying the Book of Peace, a glowing tome which supposedly protects "the 12 cities." Sinbad sees it only as something that can fetch plenty of gold.
    Before Sinbad can disappoint his old friend and make off with the book, a massive octopus-type creature rises up from the water and attacks Sinbad and his fellow marauders. They lose the book in a melee, but Sinbad is later framed for its disappearance by Eris, the Goddess of Chaos (Miss Pfeiffer).
    What Sinbad doesn't know is that it was Eris who summoned the octopus, now, the ethereal meanie and has set up Sinbad for the executioner's block unless he can recover the book.
    The protectors of the book suspect Sinbad will flee, rather than fulfill his duty, but Proteus steps forward to vouch for Sinbad's character. There's one twist. Proteus will be executed in Sinbad's place should Sinbad fail.
    Saddled with Proteus' betrothed, Marina (Miss Zeta-Jones), to make sure he finishes his quest, Sinbad sets out to retrieve the book. Eris isn't finished with Sinbad, though, and she continually throws obstacles — bad weather and even badder creatures — in his way during the journey.
    Along the way Marina and Sinbad bicker like sitcom newlyweds, and it's pretty clear love is blooming over the high seas.
    "Sinbad" promotes moral precepts every child should hear, from loyalty and honor to being true to your own nature, but it doesn't smack us over the head with the bromides.
    The titular character seems unworthy of our affections for much of the action, particularly given Mr. Pitt's disagreeable vocal turn. Only when he speaks in a husky whisper does he approximate a compassionate hero.
    Like most animated features, "Sinbad" features an adorable sidekick. A slobbering dog named Spike supplies some comic relief and even joins in on several of Sinbad's scrapes.
    Those of us who have been reading the entertainment press in recent weeks can only hope the poor canine has better lawyers than Viacom.
    While "Sinbad" shifts from one compelling action sequence to another, we're left with leaden dialogue and too few snappy punch lines. Better are the gorgeous visuals, which render the fantasy world with all the imagination for which a viewer could ask. The animation team behind "Sinbad" keeps the main characters anchored in traditional animation but leverages computers for much of the rest, including the furious sea monster and an ivory bird which attacks our flawed heroes from above.
    The film's breezy spirit and enchanting sights make "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" a lightly entertaining summer yarn, fine until you remember how much more animation can be.
    @Byhead:Movies / Christian Toto
    TITLE: "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas"
    RATING: PG (Animated violence, pirate-style)
    CREDITS: Directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore, screenplay by John Logan, art direction by David James and Seth Engstrom, produced by Mireille Soria and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
    RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

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