Movie Review: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
By Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune Movie Writer
The Disney movies that revived the animated feature "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King" wowed us in ways that live-action films couldn't. They introduced us to magical creatures in wondrous lands and gave us earfuls of catchy tunes, thus resuscitating the movie musical years before Richard Gere donned tap shoes.
But at some point the animated musical became passe, computer-animated tales took the lead in innovation and imagination, and traditionally animated stories found themselves in limbo. Hence the recent spate of non-musical adventure tales: Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Treasure Planet," and now DreamWorks' "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas."
"Sinbad" is certainly more engaging than "Treasure Planet," but it never answers a crucial question: Why is this movie animated? It's a high-seas romantic comedy of sorts, with the pirate title character (voiced by Brad Pitt) trying to save his old friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) as he grows closer to Proteus' fiancee, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The noble Proteus has bet his life on Sinbad's good side, swapping places with the imprisoned pirate, who had been wrongly accused of stealing the fabled Book of Peace from the city of Syracuse. If Sinbad does not find this book, Proteus will be executed in his stead. Marina stows away on Sinbad's ship to make sure he saves her fiance, but also because the sea is where she feels most at home.
The pair's dynamic covers most of the really old battle-of-the-sexes bases. Sinbad bellows, "The ship is no place for a woman!" and becomes nonplussed as Marina winds up at the center of several near-disasters. Marina, meanwhile, saves his bacon a couple of times while proving to the rest of the crew that she's as seaworthy as any fella.
As anyone who has ever seen a comedy/adventure romance will attest, a triangle is taking shape: Will Marina and Sinbad decide they're meant for each other, or will she return to the arms of her steadfast fiance?
Of course, much of the "Sinbad" demographic isn't romantic-triangle savvy, so the story may be fresher to these viewers. But it's still mostly a romance, less likely to capture young imaginations than more kid-friendly tales of a teen mermaid who wishes to be human, a lion cub who comes of age or a young guy who discovers a magic lantern. At least the love story of "Beauty and the Beast" involved a big furry animal.
Animated features, Disney or otherwise, have tended to be more successful enlivening animals and magical creatures than humans. The men of "Sinbad" are drawn with the requisite chiseled, angular features while the females have the standard-issue saucer-plate eyes. Few kids are likely to see themselves in the goateed, muscular Sinbad, though perhaps he's supposed to suggest a hunky lost member of 'N Sync there's even a half-exposed booty shot.
Young viewers are more likely to respond to the action scenes, from Sinbad's early attempt to overrun Proteus' ship (where the Book of Peace lurks) to the pirate's battles with various monsters, including a large tentacled thing and a sea creature so large that Sinbad's crew mistakes it for an island.
These scenes are lively but hindered by the obvious computer work that went into the monsters. DreamWorks' previous animated feature, last summer's "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," impressively integrated traditionally animated creatures with computer-generated landscapes. With "Sinbad" the two techniques coexist less harmoniously; the pen-drawn figures seem to occupy a different world from the three-dimensional rubbery beasties.
Again, given that computers produce the big special effects of most live-action adventures, what's the advantage of "Sinbad" being animated? Wouldn't more heat be generated by the real-life Pitt and Zeta-Jones squaring off, with the actual Michelle Pfeiffer playing Eris, "the Goddess of Discord"?
"Sinbad" directors Tim Johnson ("Antz") and Patrick Gilmore deserve credit, though, for giving the characters their own individual traits rather than turning them into cartoon facsimiles of the stars, who do credible voice work themselves.
The movie works best when the traditional animation serves fantasy, such as when sea sirens hypnotize Sinbad and his male crewmates. The dialogue and story, however, fall short of magical.
On three different occasions, a character exclaims surprise by saying, "What the ?" The Book of Peace, meanwhile, is a classic MacGuffin, the sought-after object that's meaningless aside from its function as plot catalyst. If this book is so important, why doesn't war break out when Eris nabs it? (Everything just gets dark.)
"Sinbad" needs some extra juice, if not from catchy songs then from added inspiration. Neither sinful nor particularly bad, the movie nonetheless diverts us when it should transport us. Its heroes' hearts may lie out at sea, but its soul never leaves dry land.
"Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas"
Directed by Tim Johnson, Patrick Gilmore; written by John Logan; edited by Tom Finan; production designed by Raymond Zibach; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; produced by Mireille Soria, Jeffrey Katzenberg. A DreamWorks Pictures release; opened Wednesday, July 2. Running time: 1:26. MPAA rating: PG (adventure action, some mild sensuality, brief language).
Sinbad Brad Pitt
Marina Catherine Zeta-Jones
Eris Michelle Pfeiffer
Proteus Joseph Fiennes
Kale Dennis Haysbert
Dymas Timothy West