Some plunder, not much thunder
SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS
Starring: Voices of Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle
Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert.
Directors: Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore.
Running time: 1 hr. 26 min.
Playing: Wide release.
In a nutshell: Sometimes striking but more often strained
comedy/action cartoon in which the "Arabian Nights" mariner somehow winds
up in a Greek adventure.
In the, um, grand tradition of "Treasure Planet,' "Sinbad: Legend of
the Seven Seas' sets tall, animated ships a'sail on a voyage to nowhere
This DreamWorks baby messes with the "Arabian Nights' source material in
a way that may have seemed cool at the planning stage but may leave grown-ups
or older kids familiar with the Sinbad stories wondering what they were
The Greek context in this screen version won't be winning us any new
friends in Baghdad or its vicinity, either. ("Gladiator' scripter John
Logan gets credit for that.) Nevertheless, a few of Scheherazade's noteworthy
inventions -- a ravenous flying Roc, the island that turns out to be a very
large sea creature -- are captivatingly visualized here. And Sinbad himself
maintains his rakish, mercenary fundamentals.
Still, "Sinbad' is oceans away from "Aladdin's' masterful mix of
Middle Eastern authenticity and contemporary Western entertainment values. It
tries to make the voyage, though. Oh, how strenuously it tries.
As the roving privateer, Brad Pitt provides his best "Dude!' voice,
which unfortunately isn't made for anachronistic one-liners such as "Stand
by for sushi!' He and his crew are out to steal some mystical tome called
the Book of Peace and sell it to the highest bidder. Trouble is, his best
buddy, Proteus, Prince of Syracuse (Joseph Fiennes), is in charge of seeing
the powerful publication rightly installed in, well, Syracuse.
But there's a bigger problem than Sinbad's torn loyalty between his desire
to retire comfortably in Fiji (yes, it's an odd reference for ancient times,
especially in a film that actually shows the world to be flat) and the only
decent, brotherly impulse he's ever known. It seems chaos goddess Eris wants
the book for her own mischievous purposes. When, disguised as Sinbad, the
shape-shifting witch makes off with the tome, Proteus bets his own life that
the real Sinbad will sail to Eris' edge-of-the-world lair and bring it back.
Just to make sure that bad boy doesn't head for the tropics instead,
Proteus' feisty fiancee, Marina, stows on board. Once discovered, she and the
skipper trade elementary, hate-you-'cause-I'm-afraid-I-love-you barbs. But
Marina proves herself a valued mate when, cruising through a stretch of
shipwrecking sirens, a woman's perspective at the helm makes all the
Marina is voiced by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and like most of the vocal
talent here, even her usually sharp delivery sounds blunted and generic. The
only actor who rises to the high-water level of wit and emotion reached
earlier this year on the soundtracks of "Finding Nemo' is Michelle
Pfeiffer, who infuses wicked Catwoman glee into every one of Eris' nefarious
Similarly, Eris proves to be "Sinbad's' finest visual element as she
smoothly changes size, position, proportions and other aspects of her open
relationship to the space-time continuum. Except for some of the monsters, a
few ship shots, by-now overseen Maxfield Parrish-style backgrounds and the
occasional flock of flying fish, there is little else in the movie that comes
close to being expertly animated.
The action scenes tend to have a herky-jerky quality that Disney seemed to
lick way back around the time of "Sleeping Beauty.' Faces are too angular
and their expressions consequently puppetlike. And when sequences morph
between the predominant hand-drawn and computer graphics, the textural
differences are pronounced and annoyingly distracting.
Co-director Tim Johnson served similar duty on the witty "Antz.' Partner
Patrick Gilmore comes from a video game background. Neither appears to have
an inspired feel for traditional animation. But then, "Sinbad: Legend of the
Seven Seas' could have had a more inspiring story -- like, maybe, one of the
seven original "Voyages.'
Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670 and firstname.lastname@example.org