Dir: Tim Johnson & Patrick Gilmore. US. 2003. 86 mins.
DreamWorks' latest 2-D animated effort is a light-hearted adventure - with no songs - which is a marked improvement on The Road To El Dorado (2000) and the stolid Stallion: Spirit Of The Cimarron last year. But as Disney found out with November flop Treasure Planet, audience appetite for these visually flat, sometimes dramatically inert, animated films is waning while the CGI-created spectaculars like DreamWorks' own Shrek, Fox's Ice Age and Pixar's entire oeuvre are now the event titles in the field, which only ten years ago was being reinvented by The Lion King. Sinbad opens this week in the US and could grab some healthy family business before Pirates Of The Caribbean opens a week later on July 11 and steals that sector of the audience away. International audiences will follow the same pattern, preferring the live action swashbuckler to the animated, although, of the two, Sinbad is probably the more spirited film.
DreamWorks and directors Johnson and Gilmore have blended computer-generated backgrounds into the 2-D adventure, which makes for a more live-action experience. Combined with distinctly recognisable voicing from Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer, the impression is that it almost could have been a live action film, and in the age of $150m movies like Pirates, that is not such an unlikely scenario. Indeed Sinbad isn't dazzling enough, either visually or narratively, to stand out from the animated crowd. If the film-makers were trying so hard to make it look real, the question often arises why they made an animated movie.
Sinbad does, however, have a breezy pace and a pleasant sense of humour, even though the references to contemporary notions such as sushi and women drivers are woefully out-of-place in the mock-classical setting. Besides, there is no Robin Williams genie here to carry these jokes off.
The film starts as Sinbad and his crew of pirates attempt to board another ship heading for Syracuse to steal the Book of Peace, a volume which protects the 12 cities and which is being housed for the first time in the Sicilian port city. Sinbad comfortably boards the ship but discovers that the man in charge of transporting the book is Proteus, prince of Syracuse (voiced by Fiennes) and his old childhood friend. Just as they are reuniting while also fighting over the book, a huge sea monster attacks and Sinbad saves Proteus' life.
Unbeknownst to both, the whole scene has been engineered by Eris, the goddess of Chaos (Pfeiffer), who is watching over them keenly. Once in port, she steals the book herself and frames Sinbad for the deed. Sinbad is sentenced to death, but out of his old friendship, Proteus himself puts his life on the line and says that if Sinbad has not returned from Tartarus, where he claims Eris has told him the book is, within ten days with the book, he himself will be executed in his place.
So begins the voyage to Tartarus for Sinbad and his crew. Also on board for the ride is Marina (Zeta-Jones), Proteus' betrothed and a feisty, sea-loving girl who spars constantly with Sinbad but, after saving the crew when they are under the spell of the Sirens, earns his respect and eventually love.
The voyage contains several energetic setpieces including trouble on a desert island which is actually a giant fish, the escape from a giant snowbird which swoops down and kidnaps Marina, and the entrance into Tartarus where the world ends. There are various conflicting mythologies at play in the story, but then again, Sinbad has a broad American accent courtesy of Pitt, so why quibble'
Prod co: DreamWorks Pictures. Worldwide dist: DreamWorks SKG/UIP.
Prods: Mireille Soria, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Scr: John Logan.
Prod des: Raymond Zibach.
Ed: Tom Finan.
Mus: Harry Gregson-Williams.
Main voice cast: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert, Timothy West, Adriano Giannini