Sinbad is awesome, spectacular, gorgeous and thrilling — though my praise carries this caveat: You have to go into this movie without any preconceived notions.
If you want a cartoon laugh riot, this isn’t for you. Sinbad has a few giggles, but no cuteness whatsoever. From start to finish, it’s a mythic adventure story in which courage is tested and character wins out.
If you’re expecting Shrek, the subversive anti-fairy tale that was producer Dreamwork’s previous animation success, you’ll again be disappointed: Sinbad isn’t anti anything. It’s actually for a lot of things — simple, old-fashioned stuff (friendship, idealism, self-sacrifice, keeping your word and not kissing the girl until she breaks up with her current boyfriend). Though perhaps too serious for tiny tykes, Sinbad is a perfect movie for both pre-teens and adults.
Sinbad is actually more than old-fashioned, it’s ancient. The legend of Sinbad the swashbuckling sailor is over a thousand years old, based on a character from the Arabian Nights tales. (Some say our hero was born in Basra, Iraq, but we’ll let that speculation go untouched.) Throwing any pretence of historical authenticity to the winds, however, Sinbad’s creators mixed up a pleasing amalgam of Greek mythology, Charles Dickens (“It is a far, far better thing that I do …”), Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Avengers and Crouching Tiger.
Sinbad (voiced by Brad Pitt, Spy Game) is a hunky, roguish pirate who sails the seas with his pet mutt Spike and his motley crew of multi-ethnic criminals. While trying to rob a trading ship, who should Sinbad run into but his former best friend, the heroic Prince Proteus (voiced by Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love), who is taking the priceless Book of Peace to the walled city of Syracuse. Proteus’s father, the king, wants to give the tome (and its attendant hopes for civilization) a safe home there.
The two old chums and their respective buddies go at it with great vigor and good humor — lots of wild fighting but no bloodshed, and rivaling the fighting ballets in Matrix Reloaded. The pair then join forces when both ships are attacked by a multi-tentacled sea monster, bringing on much leaping, jumping, whirling, somersaulting, wielding of glinting knives and sabers, and amazing, gravity-defying feats with the ships’ ropes. It’s all great fun until Sinbad falls into the sea and starts sinking.
Enter Eris (voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer, White Oleander), the goddess of discord. Oh, what a delicious creature she is — a sexy, sinuous, mischief-loving shapeshifter. And being a divine troublemaker, she has all manner of mystical creatures at her beck and call, along with the forces of nature, and she can lie and manipulate with impunity. My, oh my, what wicked chaos she creates — in so doing she has made herself the absolutely best female villain to bless the screen in ages.
Sinbad sets out on a treacherous journey to the land of Tarturus to retrieve the book from Eris. Stowing aboard his ship is Marina (voiced by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago), the feisty ambassador to Thrace who also happens to be betrothed to Proteus. She and Sinbad bicker constantly, falling ever more hopelessly in love, but both are so noble they don’t even dare touch one another. All kinds of adventures ensue, each more beautiful and breathtaking than the previous. Most eerie is their journey through a ship graveyard, where terrifying sirens try to seduce the men to their deaths.
Marina, as a woman, is impervious to the sirens’ charms, and saves the ship. With confidence, zest and not an ounce of coquettery, she proves herself the equal of any sailing man. It’s wonderfully gratifying that Sinbad has not one but two unforgettable female characters — this has got to be a first in animated films, and certainly a rarity in movies aimed at pre-teens.
So if you can leave your expectations at the theater door and surrender to surprise, you’ll love this movie.
— reviewed by Marci Miller