Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is the best animated movie of the year that next to no one will see.
Seemingly and strangely abandoned by studio Dreamworks — quite an odd orphaning when you consider it’s the studio’s only big summer 2003 film), Sinbad tanked over the Independence Day weekend, taking in only $10 million over five days.
Brad Pitt is the voice of the legendary Arabian sailor / thief, who is reunited with long-lost friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) when he turns out to be the captain of the ship Sinbad is pillaging.
Onboard is The Book of Peace, which protects 12 cities from evil forces. The Book of Peace is the film’s sketchiest device, as it’s never explained how it works, why it protects only 12 cities or why it’s being transported out on the seas in the first place.
Sinbad wants to steal the book and sell it to the highest bidder. Proteus, now a prince, is on an official voyage to store it in his homeland.
But working on a more cosmically destructive plane is Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer, channeling Cruella de Vil with her snake-tongued psychology), the goddess of chaos, who works her magic to frame Sinbad for the book’s theft.
After Proteus stands in for his friend on the executioner’s block, Sinbad is given 10 days to recover the book or his friend will die. Along for the mission is Proteus’ fiancée, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), with whom Sinbad unsurprisingly falls in love.
If that sounds headier and harsher than your average summer romp, that’s part of Sinbad’s strength. Written by John Logan (Gladiator), Sinbad achieves a considerably greater depth than most other animated films of its escapist ilk. Just when the title character seems to be yet another page out of the lovable rogue playbook, the film shifts to focus on how his actions and their consequences will resolve the tale.
Plus the romance isn’t corny, handled with a sprinkle of political undertones and past encounters that make sense amid the friendship and suspense conflicts.
Sinbad gets a little talky at times, but for the most part, the action is brisk and beautifully presented with a jaunty touch. Most impressive is an attack Sinbad’s ship by the mythical sirens, where Marina is the only one not lured by their song to crash the vessel on the rocks.
All at once it’s slapstick comedy, fluid action, and the beautiful musical majesty of Fantasia. While none quite compares to that, Sinbad offers up several more impressive fantasy sequences, including a chase from a large white owl and a floating plateau in Eris’ Realm of Chaos.
Director Tim Johnson (who co-directed Dreamworks’ Antz) wisely forgoes the wacky and tacky bright color scheme of The Road to El Dorado for a muted, ethereal look that captures the story’s mythic, supernatural flavor.
Dreamworks has no problem promoting the lumbering Prince of Egypt, bumbling Road to El Dorado or Bryan Adams-addled Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. But apparently they’d rather put no muscle behind their finest traditional animation outing yet, a film with beautiful animation and a robust spirit.