The last of DreamWorks’ traditionally animated films (they chose to pretty much abandon the format after the film tanked), Sinbad is another one of those films that is just frustrating. Though unlike Turbo, this is because the film truly aspires to be great, and falls short in certain areas. It’s by no means a bad film, and there is much I enjoy about it. But between the miscast lead characters and the less engaging story choices it makes, it’s ultimately left as a fun, gorgeous but ultimately ephemeral action-adventure pieces, lacking the grandeur and emotional heft of The Prince of Egypt, the witty comedy of The Road to El Dorado, or the quiet majesty of Spirit: The Stallion of the Cimarron.
As noted, the film is visually excellent. The CGI is rather obvious after 11 years, but it’s still integrated fairly well and in imaginative ways. The action scenes are wonderfully conceived and animated, even with the sticking-out CGI creatures. The best are probably the opening raid on Proteus’ ship that turns into a battle against Eris’ Kraken (or “Cetus”), an eerie sequence involving sirens, and a thrilling fight/chase with a giant snow eagle-like Roc. The character animation is fluid and convincing at all times (this is true for all of DreamWorks’ 2D theatrical films, which were all at least near or surpassing Disney quality), even with some of the vocal issues I’ll get to. Eris in particular is a magnificent combination of seductive movements and terrific effects animation. On the aural end of things, the sound design is quite nice, and Harry Gregson-Williams contributes an appropriately stirring adventure score, though it has some fun atypical moments like Eris’ playful theme or the tense standoffs in the climax.
The first major issue comes with the voice cast. Now, most of the cast is honestly quite excellent. Dennis Haysbert lends his wonderful baritone to Sinbad’s first mate Kale, managing to steal a number of scenes through quiet dignity and subtle humor. Michelle Pfieffer has the time of her life dining on the scenery as the goddess of discord and chaos, Eris, who serves as the villain of the movie. Adriano Giannini has some fun bits as the cowardly crew member Rat, and Joseph Fiennes manages to make the potentially dull character that is Proteus rather interesting through his near-Shakespearean tones. No, the supporting cast (rounded out by British stage actors such as Timothy West as Proteus’ father Dymas and professional VAs like Jim Cummings in a couple of roles) is perfectly fine. The problem is in our two leads. Brad Pitt is quite frankly woefully miscast as the title character; he clearly cared and is putting his best foot forward, but his voice just doesn’t match Sinbad’s character or design. He would end up faring much better spoofing his matinee idol image as Metroman in Megamind. Catherine Zeta-Jones fares similarly poorly as Marina, Sinbad’s fiery love interest; she has a more interesting voice than Pitt with its Welsh origins, and she’s clearly trying, but it just doesn’t work. This in turns makes the aforementioned romance fall rather flat, especially since the script doesn’t back it up either.
Speaking of which, the main issue with Sinbad‘s story is that it has a terrific set-up, some excellent story-driven setpieces, a creative villain defeat (really, Eris is a great, unpredictable antagonist, easily one of the most underrated characters amongst animated villains despite only being onscreen for about 11 minutes in total)…yet it completely fumbles the emotional core. Now, I’m not talking about Sinbad and Proteus. That relationship works rather well, especially in the writing. But the romance between Sinbad and Marina falls flat in almost every way. You get the idea of what they were going (classic hate-that-turns-to-love), but it’s too rushed and unsatisfying. When Marina tearfully says near the end that she loves Sinbad and doesn’t want to see him die, we don’t buy it. Nor do we accept the final reunion between the two; it works for Proteus’ noble, self-sacrificing character, but it feels wrong for the story to make an easy decision after the characters have made hard choices to remain apart. To look at an example of a film that did this right, there’s Disney’s version of Tarzan. In that film, Jane decides to stay in the jungle with Tarzan, but her decision has been built up properly to this point by showing that she truly belongs there. Marina is shown as an adventurer who loves the sea, yes, but she mostly just talks about how she wants to see the world. It’s not as satisfying, and so what should be an uplifting ending falls apart.
In the end, as I said, it’s far from a bad film, and I’m happy to own a copy. But it lacks the replay value of the other films I mentioned, proving that one or two big decisions can sink an otherwise perfectly fine film. Sinbad sinks when it should sail, and that’s a real shame.