DreamWorks' animated feature Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is a work of art. It seamlessly integrates traditional cel animation with stunning advances in computer animation.
The characters are drawn with the same loving care the Disney animators lavished on Bambi, Dumbo, Snow White and Pinocchio. The backgrounds and special effects have been supplied by computer wizards..
The result is magical -- especially when Sinbad is battling sea monsters, gargantuan birds or celestial monsters.
The combination of the two styles also lets Sinbad's boat seem to be riding the waves.
But such technical excellence is bound to impress adults and older children more than Sinbad's target preteen audience -- and there's the problem.
Sinbad was written by John Logan, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Gladiator. It's one thing not to condescend to children, but it's another to pretend they don't demand certain things in their animated films while shying away from others.
There are three central themes in Logan's Sinbad.
The first is an adventure story in which Sinbad, self-proclaimed sea rascal (Brad Pitt), battles mighty foes.
Then there's the theme of friendship. Sinbad thought he had seen the last of his childhood friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) years earlier, but he suddenly holds the prince's life in his hands.
These already entwined story lines are crisscrossed with a love story.
From the moment Sinbad saw Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones) arrive to become Proteus' fiancee, he was smitten. This was the woman of his dreams, but she belonged to his friend, so he sailed away as far from temptation as possible.
Now fate and Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer), the meddling goddess of chaos, brings her back into his life, arms and heart.
There have been love affairs in other animated features, but they didn't seem nearly as pronounced or intrusive as this one.
As a film, Sinbad needs more chaos and less eros. A little more peril and a little less romance would have gone a long way to making it an adventure classic.
Pitt gives Sinbad a kind of Indiana Jones cockiness and Zeta-Jones makes Marina anything but a damsel in distress. She ends up saving Sinbad as many times as he does her.
There's a lot of witty banter between these characters that Pitt and Zeta-Jones make sparkle. It makes one long to see them do the same in the flesh.
Pfeiffer perfectly understands her role as the villain.
She's a smoothly sardonic puppetmaster, playing with humans for pleasure and gain.
Sinbad is undeniably enjoyable. It just needs one or two more adventures, a dozen or so more sure-fire jokes and maybe a song or two.
SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS * * * 1/2
What: Animated adventure
Starring: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes
Where: Huron Market Place, 1251 Huron St. (453-4672); SilverCity, Masonville Place (673-4125); Wellington 8, 983 Wellington Rd. (685-2529); Westmount 6 Cinemas, 785 Wonderland Rd. (474-2152)