This is a swashbuckling romp of a movie, which –- with a couple of clever plot tweaks and some jaw-dropping animation -—exceeds the low expectations you might have for the hundredth remake of the Sinbad legend. Is this a great movie? No. Does it compare to Dreamwork’s uber-mega-hit, “Shrek”, in fun and intelligence? No again. But with a bag of popcorn and an open mind, this flick will provide a fine family summer getaway on the open seas.
And what seas they are! Dreamworks, the studio responsible for such hits as “Antz” (1998) and “Shrek” (2001), have taken three years to make this movie, combining three-dimensional computer generated images for the background with two-dimensional characters crossing swords and swinging from ropes in the foreground, to stunning effect. The oceans swirl and sparkle, light dances off waves, and you can almost smell the salt air as the ships pull out of port and the seagulls swoop overhead. For those who find that the subtleties of living creatures still elude the computer animation wizards – those who might have seen “Final Fantasy” (2001) or “The Hulk” (2003) without feeling any connection to the animated protagonists —- the presence of well-drawn (instead of generated) characters will be a welcome relief.
The characters themselves are cut from standard issue Disney-style cloth. There is the boyish hero, Sinbad (Brad Pitt), who learns he does have a conscience with the help of the wasp-waisted and fiercely independent Marina (Catherine Zeta Jones), with whom Sinbad shares verbal clashes that demand that there be a kiss before the movie ends. Sinbad’s crew includes loyal and wise First Mate, Kale, (Dennis Haysbert) as well as the usual rag-tag collection of colorful misfits who are quickly charmed by Marina. No animated movie these days would be complete without an animal side-kick, here in the form of a slobbering bulldog named Spike, who has more personality than half the crew combined.
The plot is more reminiscent of a Greek myth than a story from the Arabian Nights. The goddess of chaos, Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to remove the famed Book of Peace so that she can sow discord and ruin throughout the Twelve Cities. Sinbad and his crew are good-hearted pirates seeking adventure and fortune to realize their dream of retiring to the beaches of Fiji. When Sinbad attempts to steal the all-important Book in order to ransom it for his sandy paradise, he finds himself crossing swords with his childhood friend, Proteus (Joseph Fiennes). Eris frames Sinbad for the theft of the Book, leaving Proteus -– believing in his friend’s innocence -— to step in as Sinbad’s proxy in jail. Sinbad, with Proteus’ fiancé Marina as observer, must find a way to retrieve the Book within ten days or Proteus will be executed.
You might feel like you have been here before and in many ways you have. The fast pace, lovely animation and zingy dialogue will not distract you for long from noticing that there is little new or noteworthy in these 84 minutes of dazzle. However, there is a nice little message about friendship and duty here, which, teamed with ocean adventure, make this movie a sea-worthy vessel for the easy sailing of summer entertainment.
Parents should know that the characters are almost constantly in peril ranging from enormous snow-hawks to giant squid to sailing off the edge of the world. Very young children might be frightened by the threat of beheading and the masked executioner one character faces for a crime he did not commit.
Families who watch this movie should talk about the bond of friendship and what it means to believe in someone, even when they do not believe in themselves. Families might also discuss the different paths the characters choose to take and how the characters describe their choices.
Sinbad and Proteus were friends when they were young, does that mean that years later they still share a bond? Why does Sinbad tell Marina that he was lying about going back to Syracuse? Was he?
Families who enjoy this movie might consider hunting down a copy of “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958), a perennial Saturday afternoon UHF special which might be camp by today’s standards but which many parents will remember with nostalgia for its stop-action photography and vaunted skeleton-fight scene. For more dazzling animation in the swashbuckling vein, families might consider the overlooked “Treasure Planet” (2002). Those interested in another story from the classic book “The Thousand and One Arabian Nights” should rent “Aladdin” (1992) which can barely contain the voice of Robin Williams who set a standard for animated voices that has yet to be exceeded. And every family should see the neglected gem, “Arabian Knight” (sometimes known as “The Thief and the Cobbler”). Finally, for those not already familiar with the work of writer/illustrator Herge, the creator of Tintin, the books “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure” are definitely worth reading.