Rated PG - Running Time: 1:24 - Released 7/2/03

It is interesting to think that right now, at the height of America’s bitter conflict with an Arabic nation, Dreamworks SKG would choose the mythical Arab folk hero Sinbad as the star of its summer cartoon release. Of course, the character is so Americanized this is almost a moot point—I mean, next to this, Aladdin looks like a documentary of Islamic culture. In fact it occurs to me that maybe this is simply a subtle little show of patriotism by producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Mireille Soria—after all, what could be more insulting to the hated enemy than taking one of their folk heroes and effectively transforming him into a full-fledged American infidel, played by Brad Pitt? Nevertheless, here it is—Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas, while it bears little resemblance to any of its source material and contains virtually no reference to Islam, Arabs, or the Middle-Eastern way of life, past or present, it certainly perpetuates the Dreamworks company’s good reputation for cartoon entertainment with fun characterizations, spectacular visuals, and a modern-day American-style romance that would probably make Saddam Hussein blow a gasket. God bless the U.S.A.

This story, written by Gladiator scribe John Logan and directed by newcomer Patrick Gilmore and sophomore Tim Johnson (who co-directed Dreamworks’s spectacular entrée into the animated cartoon genre, 1998’s Antz), is set several hundred years ago during the age of sailing ships, pirates, and pagan gods who control everything we poor helpless humans do. Actually only one of these gods appears in the film—namely, Eris, the extremely sexy goddess of discord, voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer—but she does enough damage to compensate for her lack of compatriots. Eris’s main desire is to get ahold of the legendary Book Of Peace, so that she can withhold it from the human population and thereby plunge their lives into chaos. So she makes a deal with Sinbad (Pitt), a seafaring scalawag who is already working on stealing the book for himself, promising him all the riches in the world if he gets it for her. The trouble is, the book is currently in the possession of Sinbad’s childhood friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), who has just brought it to the city of Syracuse to please his father the emperor and Lady Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the lovely ambassador whom Proteus plans to wed. While Sinbad is trying to decide whether to betray his best friend and steal the book or leave it and face Eris’s wrath, she decides for him. Disguised as Sinbad, she steals it and makes off for Tartarus, her mythical nether-world at the edge of the ocean, famed for danger and destruction. To save face, Sinbad must go and retrieve it—and Marina decides to go along too, since she has always craved a life of adventure. And you can’t get more adventurous than a beautiful unmarried virgin aboard a shipful of scurvy pirates. Hubba, hubba.

As has been the tradition of late among cartoon features, the artwork—or computer work—of this film is crisp, sharp, and stylized, with the character renderings full of jaunty angles and simplistic, square-jawed attractiveness. Pitt and Zeta-Jones are both amiable heroes, and Pfeiffer doesn’t disappoint with her deliciously naughty characterization of the chaos-loving Eris. The backgrounds and special effects are quite stunning, including several action setpieces, a couple of gigantic sea monsters, and a surrealistic ocean of sand (in the dreamlike world of Tartarus) which swells and ebbs like water, constantly uncovering and re-covering the artifacts and architecture of various ancient civilizations. At less than 1½ hours, it goes down easily without a hint of tedium, much like the similarly short Dreamworks outings Antz, The Prince Of Egypt, and Shrek; still, this short length contributes to an overall feeling that it’s not as Earth-shatteringly fabulous as some other cartoon features of the last several years. It’s an ancient mythical Middle-Eastern story refitted to 21st-c. American tastes (read: beyond recognition) and dumbed down sufficiently to be suitable for the pre-school mentality. It’s not the greatest cartoon feature ever released, but, hey, if it can annoy those Arabs... ****

Copyright 2003 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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