Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

(2003) ** Pg
85 min. distributer. Directors: Tim Johnson, Patrick Gilmore. Cast: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert.

It's odd that DreamWorks can't seem to get its animated act together. Since 1998—when Antz and The Prince of Egypt shot out of the proverbial corporate cannon (with a battle cry of "Take that, Mouse!)—DreamWorks has earned a reputation for splashy but mediocre derivations of Disney. The best of these were farmed out to other production companies: Pixar mirror PDI (Antz, Shrek) and Nick Park's Aardman Animations (Chicken Run). DreamWorks SKG co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg (he's the K in SKG) absconded from Disney years ago with an armload of their talents and ideas. Perhaps—just as Steven Spielberg makes his "inner child" the dominant presence of his films—Katzenberg fancies himself as the thieving Sinbad, the scrappy scalawag who made good.

Except that Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas isn't particularly good. It ain't bad, exactly, and younger kids will undoubtedly take a shine to its simple-minded, straight-ahead story. But most over the age of twelve will frown at Sinbad's bland familiarity or its egregious composting of the Sinbad mythology.

Sinbad is scripted, weakly, by John Logan. Since Gladiator, he's written The Time Machine and Star Trek: Nemesis. A genre geek, Logan has apparently advanced well beyond his highest level of competence. Logan has actually recycled elements of The Odyssey here, but since The Odyssey isn't a very good name, he called it Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas instead. Though all traces of the story's mostly Arabic origins in One Thousand and One Nights (a.k.a. The Arabian Nights) have been meticulously scrubbed away, Sinbad (voiced by Brad Pitt) still sails the Seven Seas. Here, he also runs afoul of the good people of the Twelve Cities, including his childhood friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes). The upstanding Proteus has been charged with guarding the protective Book of Peace, which shoots a fancy blue light everywhere as all sacred objects in movies since Raiders of the Lost Ark are obliged to do.

Anyway, Sinbad wants it, because he's a thief looking to retire to an island paradise. Eris--the goddess of discord who lives in the dark confines of Tartarus (more halfway Greek mythology for you)--swindles Sinbad into stealing the book for her. Complications ensue, leading Sinbad and Proteus's fiancée Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to set sail for Tartarus to reclaim the book.

In color, design, and sensibility, Sinbad resembles Disney's Treasure Planet (go figure), though it makes that flop seem classier by comparison. Though Sinbad is not, like Treasure Planet, science fiction, the filmmakers include a flying ship sequence of their own. The hand-drawn animation melds poorly with CGI elements such as a sea serpent, but the action is generally passable. Some muddled Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling and, in particular, a lushly designed Siren sequence (yet more Greek mythology) stand out as visually interesting.

Most pleasure there is to be had for the elder members of the audience comes from the distinctive voices of the leads: Pitt grumbles amusingly, and Michelle Pfeiffer vamps it up as Eris. A bad sound mix sometimes drowns out the dialogue, which—come to think of it—may be a good thing. With set-'em-up, knock-'em down predictability, Sinbad blusters something like "A ship is no place for a woman," only to be immediately proven wrong.

Unfortunately, in this way and others, Sinbad is more a selfish jerk than an appealing rogue, turning into a likeable hero only in the home stretch. By then, adults will be checking their watches and kids will have set to work forgetting the movie which came before.

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