"Shrek" -- it now appears -- was lightning in a bottle for DreamWorks animation, a monster fluke. They've not been able to recapture that film's sassy appeal and box-office magic since. With this year's "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," they haven't even come close.
So don't be fooled by all the "Shrek" CD-ROM giveaways and tie-ins with "Sinbad." Those are just signs of desperation. DreamWorks knows how lame "Sinbad" is.
The latest bland blend of traditional hand-drawn and computer-assisted animation is a loose -- very loose -- absurdly loose adaptation of the sailor-swashbuckler of the "Arabian Nights," Sinbad. The story has something to do with a Book of Peace which has been stolen. Sinbad didn't take it, but is framed for it.
So he can either find the true thief and return the book to his prince-pal, Proteus. Or he and the crew can head for Fiji. Guess which they pick.
Proteus' intended, Marina, stows away and catches Sinbad's eye. And the evil Eris, goddess of chaos, manipulates whatever she can.
The story borrows freely from "The Odyssey" and Disney's "The Little Mermaid," but not much from "The Arabian Nights," where Sinbad, or "Sindbad" as early translations called him, made his bow.
The voice talents pack a lot of star power. But stars don't make the best cartoon voices, character actors do. "Finding Nemo" doesn't have Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer or Catherine Zeta-Jones in it. Thank goodness.
Pitt is a lot of things, but a compelling voice is not one of them. He makes a lukewarm Sinbad, Joseph Fiennes is underused as Proteus and Dennis Haybsert never seems comfortable with his lines, playing a sailing sidekick.
Pfeiffer isn't bad, but in Eris, she's voicing a skinnier version of Ursula from "The Little Mermaid," so the effect is lost.
Only Zeta-Jones, who was born to play this sort of Marina-firecracker, leaves any sort of vocal impression.
You don't need an Oscar winner to make a 'toon come to life. You do need a pirate who acts and sounds a little piratical. This "Sinbad" has neither.
Which makes it every bit as bad as another pirate cartoon, the one that Disney unleashed around Thanksgiving. You could take all the fun bits from "Treasure Planet" and "Sinbad," put them in the same movie, and you still wouldn't have anything worth loading up the minivan for.