2.5 stars out of four. It looks pretty good, features some nice voice work, has a couple of killer action sequences and generates a few solid laughs.
But mostly DreamWorks' new animated "Sinbad" feels under-inspired.
Jettisoning most of the Middle Eastern trappings of its Arabian Nights origins, this animated feature is essentially generic. It could have been created by a computer programmed to pluck attractive elements from far more original films and cobble them together in a semblance of a script.
See if this sounds at all familiar: Self-centered, looking-out-for-No. 1 pirate/smuggler gets caught up in epic quest, bickers with and then falls for feisty princess, and finally overcomes his selfishness to do the right thing.
Han Solo should sue.
Granted, these are the thoughts of a middle-aged grump. Your average grade-schooler may very well have a fine old time.
Anyway, our title character (voiced by Brad Pitt) is intent on stealing an artifact known as the Book of Peace, a tome with the power to protect the city of Syracuse from all harm. As the film starts, Sinbad is preparing to hijack said sacred object from a ship bringing it to Syracuse.
Two problems. First, Sinbad's old friend Prince Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) is guarding the treasure. He and Sinbad misspent their youths together, but now Proteus walks the straight and narrow.
Second, the scheming goddess Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer) -- whose specialty is chaos -- wants to get her hands on the book as well.
Instead of battling each other, Sinbad's and Proteus' crews must band together to defeat -- in a very exciting sequence -- a sea monster sent by Eris. The book is returned to Syracuse, but the sneaky goddess gets her hands on it, and Sinbad is dispatched to retrieve it. What he doesn't know is that Proteus' fiancee, Princess Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), has stowed aboard and is about to turn his life upside down. (Turns out Sinbad's reprobate crewmen actually like taking orders from a pretty woman.)
A little bit of everything has been thrown at "Sinbad." We've got odds and ends of Greek mythology, a battle-of-the-sexes element that works surprisingly well, an amusing animal sidekick (Sinbad's pet dog, Spike), a couple of nifty set pieces, pirate movie cliches and a whole bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo that lacks the internal logic to be convincing even in cartoon form.
Visually "Sinbad" combines conventional 2-D cell animation (for the characters) with 3-D computer-generated backgrounds. This same technique worked well on DreamWorks' "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," but the seascapes of "Sinbad" with their hyper-realistic rolling waves and fluttering ship's sails seem almost too animated; the characters and the environment through which they move seem to belong to different movies.
The voice work is solid, particularly from the women: Pfeiffer fills Eris with sexy malevolence (she's a sort of shape-shifting film noir femme fatale), while Zeta-Jones sparkles as the smart gal who runs circles around Sinbad's toothless chauvinism.
As our hero, Pitt is adequate but hardly overwhelming...his voice isn't distinctive enough to give the film the big dramatic personality it needs.
In other words, it's acceptable, but "Nemo" continues to rule the seas this summer.