Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (June 27/03)
It's odd that Sinbad comes from Dreamworks, since the film is a hopelessly dull amalgam of virtually every Disney cliche there is. From the wise-cracking central character to the brassy and fiesty female love interest, there's nothing in Sinbad that we haven't seen countless times before in other (better) animated movies.
The wafer-thin plot finds Sinbad (voiced by Brad Pitt) and his crew all set to retire to Fiji, but Sinbad's plans are thrown for a loop when he has an encounter with a mysterious goddess named Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer). She offers to make him very rich if he agrees to steal a magical book from a nearby city. Sinbad agrees, but quickly changes his mind after discovering that his childhood friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) is the Prince of said city. Eris steals the book anyway, disguised as Sinbad, which means the real Sinbad is sentenced to die for the crime. Proteus, being the upstanding guy he is, offers to take Sinbad's place - provided he doesn't retrieve the book within a week.
Sinbad isn't necessarily a bad movie; it's just completely uninspired and mostly boring. The so-called action sequences are undermined by some seriously shoddy computer effects, most of which seem as though they were culled from an early '90s ILM experiment. That much is clear right off the bat, with a prolonged battle between Sinbad's crew and a large octopus-type creature. The monster's been animated solely through the use of computers, and there's absolutely nothing seamless about its presence in the film. CGI has become a permanent fixture in today's animated movies, and most filmmakers seem to have figured out how to use it effectively (see last year's underrated Treasure Planet for an example). But Sinbad's handling of the technology represents its most jarring use in a very long time.
If you're willing to look past that, though, you'll still have to deal with the underwhelming storyline and modernized dialogue. In terms of the latter, it's a common thing now to take a story that belongs in an entirely different century and infuse it with today's slang and behavior. The presence of contemporary elements in an old-school story generally never works all that well, but its inclusion is simply terrible here. That ever-present line in the film's promotional materials ("Who's bad? Sinbad!") essentially says it all. Not helping matters is Pitt's voice work as the titular Sinbad. He brings a decidedly modern flair to the character, which is exacerbated by the fact that Pitt is pretty much playing himself here. Sinbad's way of speaking and mannerisms bear a striking resemblance to Pitt's real-life demeanor, and as such, it's virtually impossible to just focus on the character and forget about Pitt. The same can be said of Pfeiffer and Catherine Zeta-Jones (playing Sinbad's love interest), both of whom never entirely disappear into their respective roles. The only two well-known cast members that are able to convincingly create characters are Fiennes and Dennis Haysbert (who provides the voice of Sinbad's right-hand man, Kale), not to mention the unrecognizable supporting players.
And then there's the storyline, which barely has enough elements in it to fill a half hour TV show, let alone a 90-minute movie. Once Sinbad and his crew head out in search of the book, the film proceeds to throw a variety of obstacles in their way - and that's it. The remainder of the movie from that point consists solely of Sinbad evading the monsters and stormy weather provided by Eris, occasionally cutting to Proteus preparing for his possibly execution. As if that wasn't bad enough, the ending is completely anti-climactic, consisting not of a big battle or a showdown between Sinbad and Eris, but rather...a test. Eris tests Sinbad, and the film essentially ends. It's an incredibly disappointing and silly way to conclude the story, and it's hard not to imagine that something must have been exised from the film at the last minute.
It's entirely possible that small children will enjoy Sinbad, but their parents would be well advised to drop them off and wait in the car with a good book.