DreamWorks Animation is in fine form with its latest 2D/3D hybrid, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, an exciting popcorn movie that also shows more maturity than most U.S.-produced animated fare. With superbly staged action sequences, a witty script and a well-developed romantic element, the film doesn’t aim squarely at kids, but casts a broader net to offer something for everyone.
Sinbad stars the voice of Brad Pitt as the daring, seafaring thief of legend who laughs in the face of death but cowers from responsibility. After being reunited with boyhood pal Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), Sinbad is seduced by villainous goddess of chaos Ersis (Michelle Pfeiffer) into betraying his friend and his homeland by stealing the mystical Book of Peace. He also develops an interest in Proteus’ beautiful fiance, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who ends up joining him on a treacherous journey that will prove the ultimate test of friendship and of character.
Pitt is miscast as the most famous anti-hero from The Arabian Nights tales (circa 850 A.D.), a role that would have been better served by someone like Oded Fehr from Universal’s Mummy franchise. Pitt’s California surfer dude treatment doesn’t match the brawny, drawn character that looks vaguely ethnic and hails from Syracuse rather than Bagdad like the original legend.
The rest of the voice cast does a fine job with Gladiator scribe John Logan’s script, which contains a few big laughs but avoids being too jokey and slapstick. The film also forgoes other cliches of popular animated movies. Thankfully, there are no obnoxious talking animal sidekicks or kid stowaways thrown in to up the appeal for younger viewers. Sinbad does have a mischievous, drooling dog, but the script doesn’t spend a lot of time with Spike or hinge an inordinate amount of the comic relief on him.
While action sequences in big-budget blockbusters are becoming increasingly laborious and dull, Sinbad‘s are thrilling and fresh. Like Disney’s Treasure Planet, the extreme sports angle is perhaps played a bit too much, but it seems to fit the Sinbad character. Though the pacing is quick, directors Patrick Gilmore and Tim Johnson take time to develop the main characters so that you actually care whether or not they get out of these harrowing scrapes.
The marriage of 2D and 3D animation doesn’t always work. At distances, the characters look like motion-captured digital stand-ins. Minor gripes aside, the movie is, for the most part, beautiful to look at and creates believable environments that inspire the imagination.
Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and crew opted for a more live-action feel with this latest animated effort. And while no one can top Harryhausen’s classic visions of the Sinbad stories, this film does a good job of presenting its own take on the lore and exploiting the ripe possibilities of a world populated by brave sailors, petty gods, giant monsters, unspeakable dangers and unfathomable treasures. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas may not be the Golden Fleece of animated films, but it is well worth the journey to your local cineplex. It opens nationwide tomorrow.
Read about the making of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas in the July issue of Animation Magazine.