Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Movie review: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas ***

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas takes some characters from 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights, adds a dollop of Greek mythology, sprinkles it with modern sensibilities, and serves up 90 or so minutes of amusement that's appealing without being memorable.

This is not one of those magical productions that blurs the line between fantasy and reality and invites you into its world, such as Beauty and the Beast or Mulan. On the other hand, it may not have any such pretensions. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is a cartoon adventure, and within those parameters, it works well.

The screenplay is by John Logan, who co-wrote Gladiator, and the production bears a strong resemblance to 2000's The Road to El Dorado, which is no surprise, because many of the same animators, including production designer Raymond Zibach, also worked on that DreamWorks film.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, like many modern animated fantasies, uses celebrities to voice the main characters, in this case Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Feinnes, and Dennis Haysbert. But unlike some movies, the voices and characters are well matched. Occasionally a viewer may be conscious that Pitt's voice is coming out of Sinbad's mouth, but most of the time Pitt's roguish tones meld with Sinbad's rascally behavior.

We first meet Sinbad when his ship is in pursuit of some precious cargo on another ship. The ships collide, a battle ensues, and Sinbad closes in on his quarry, which has only one defender remaining to protect it. Unfortunately, the defender is Proteus (Feinnes), and the booty is the Book of Peace, which, when opened, spreads a protective veil over the ruling cities of the region, sort of an early Star Wars system.

Proteus and Sinbad, it turns out, were childhood pals who went their separate ways, the former to become prince of the city of Syracuse and the latter to become a pirate.

Proteus appeals to his friend's sense of honor. Sinbad replies that the cities won't lose their protection - if they cough up the ransom he plans to demand for the book. Proteus says, in essence, you'll have to go through me first.

But before the friends can fight, they are distracted by the arrival of Cetus, a sea monster sent by Eris (Pfeiffer), goddess of chaos, who also has designs on the Book of Peace. Sinbad, Proteus, and their crews fight off the monster, much to the goddess' chagrin, and Proteus gets away with the book.

But it's too soon to call Proteus a victor, for Eris still wants the book, and she has plans to use Sinbad to get it.

Pretty soon, the 12 cities are in chaos, Proteus is in jail awaiting execution, Sinbad is in pursuit of the book, and Marina (Zeta-Jones), Proteus' fianc e, has stowed away on Sinbad's ship with the aim of making sure Sinbad stays on course.

Sinbad is not happy about any of this, especially the presence of Marina, but she quickly wins the allegience of the crew, especially when she gets them out of a few serious scrapes.

Sinbad is by no means a perfect movie, and the animators' treatment of Marina is among the most disconcerting elements. When she first appears, she is in formal dress as the ambassador from Thrace. When she hides on the ship, she's wearing an outfit that could be at home in a modern mall.

I'm no expert on period dress, but I'm pretty sure the ancient Greeks didn't go in for hip-hugging capris and V-necked Spandex sweaters. OK, OK, it's nit-picking, but it was one of those things that diverted my attention span from the flow of the story.

Speaking of the story, those parents who think “animated” automatically equates to “children” might be in for a surprise. Oh, there's nothing terribly embarrassing, and the violence is the knock-'em-out kind instead of the knock-'em-dead variety. Parts of the story, with its Book of Peace and vengeful goddess and Siren songs, might take some explaining.

On the other hand, it also has plenty of action, a really cute dog who holds his own among the members of Sinbad's crew, and an appealing battle-of-the-sexes theme between the roguish Sinbad and feisty Marina.

The animation, a combination of traditional hand-drawing and computer-generated images, is generic. It ignores the Sinbad legend's Middle Eastern roots and seems to recycle scenes from The Road to El Dorado. It's pleasant but bland.

Come to think of it, that's a good way to describe the entire film.

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