Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is notable for being the last traditionally animated feature film produced by DreamWorks Animation, and the box office numbers make the reason for that pretty clear. Despite featuring such stars as Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michelle Pfeiffer among its voice cast, it earned $80.7 million on a budget of $60 million, and with marketing taken into account, resulted in a $125 million loss for the studio. From then on, DreamWorks would be placing all of its focus on computer animation. Yet Sinbad still demonstrates the value of 2D animation as its visuals (at least, most of them) are among its biggest strengths, even if nothing else leaves much of an impression.
This film may be called “Sinbad,” but really its only connection to the traditional tales of Sinbad the Sailor is that the titular character is a sailor and he encounters a giant bird – which is never specifically referred to as a roc – at one point. In fact, despite Sinbad originating from the Middle Eastern folk tale collection One Thousand and One Nights, the film’s story takes more inspiration from Greek mythology.
This Sinbad (voiced by Brad Pitt) is not merely a sailor, but a pirate; the film begins with him attempting to steal a valuable artifact called the Book of Peace, despite the fact that his childhood friend, Prince Proteus of Syracuse (Joseph Fiennes), is guarding it. Following some swashbuckling and a battle with a giant sea monster, Sinbad encounters Eris, the goddess of chaos (Michelle Pfeiffer), who promises to richly reward him if he can bring the Book of Peace to her kingdom in Tartarus. A little bewilderingly, Eris then proceeds to steal the Book herself and frame Sinbad for the crime. When Proteus offers to be executed in his friend’s place, Sinbad is given ten days to bring the Book back to Syracuse before the sentence is carried out – and so he sets off on his quest, with Proteus’ fiancée Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones) stowing away to make sure he sticks to the task.
A lot about the film’s characters feels very basic: they’re watchable, but don’t offer much that most film-goers haven’t seen before. Sinbad is the classic charismatic scoundrel who is primarily motivated by money but has a bigger heart than he would care to admit. Marina is the typical free-spirited lady who’s not going to let any man tell her what to do, and she and Sinbad have the familiar love-hate relationship where they start out constantly arguing only to gradually warm to each other.
With regards to the voice acting, Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones are good enough that when they speak, you can hear the characters without imagining actors behind a microphone. But it’s Michelle Pfeiffer who puts the most enthusiasm and relish into her performance as the devilish Eris. The goddess of chaos also happens to be the high point of the film’s animation, with her fluid-like transitions from one spot to another, and her hair constantly swaying as though she’s submerged. Character-wise, while Eris is a fun and silkily sinister villain, her overall scheme is confusing and appears unnecessarily convoluted – but what else can you expect from the embodiment of discord?
It’s not just Eris who looks fantastic: for the most part, the whole film does. Its settings range from colorful and dramatic, to dark and eerie. The movements of the shots are handled especially well in the action scenes, as the “camera” sweeps rapidly through the scene to increase the thrill factor. Unfortunately, in the scenes when CGI is employed – say, for a monster – it looks very dated, and often jars with the much more attractive traditional animation.
While some of the story’s background feels underdeveloped – such as exactly what the Book of Peace does and why it’s being taken to Syracuse – the central quest element is entertaining. It creates opportunities for a number of different action set-pieces; one or two of these are a bit bland, but the opening sea battle, and the attack by the aforementioned giant bird, are highlights. Likewise, some of the comedy works (upon seeing a soldier get spat out by a sea monster and immediately rush to attack it again, Sinbad tells Proteus, “Give that guy a raise!”), while other jokes fall flat, such as Sinbad making a comment about women drivers.
Watching Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is rather like eating fast food: there may be better and more unique fare out there, but if you’re in the mood for something quick and basic, it does its job and keeps you entertained. It might even make you wistful for the old days of traditional animation.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden