"Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" is one of those animated films that is probably more infamous for its box office numbers than the quality of the film itself. When it came out in 2003, it was a gigantic flop. While it made back its budget of $60 million, it didn't make nearly enough to earn a profit and nearly bankrupted DreamWorks Pictures when it along with other films released by the studio lost them almost $125 million. Not long after the film, DreamWorks Animation firmly gave up making traditionally animated films and have stuck strictly to making computer-animated films though they occasionally dabbled with traditional animation in short films. Since then, the film hasn't been forgotten but it hasn't sustained a cult following like other animated films that initially flopped including DreamWorks' own "The Road to El Dorado". Having finally seen it, I can say that it's a decent animated adventure film, but nothing outstanding. It's a film that does have some fine animation and other dazzling elements, but it's held back from being as amazing as I think it could've been.
The adventurous pirate Sinbad (Brad Pitt) is after the legendary Book of Peace. After a failed attempt to steal it from his childhood friend Prince Protheus (Joseph Fiennes) who has plans to take it to Syracuse, Sinbad is given a deal by the god Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer) to steal it and bring it to her in her realm of Tartarus so she can make him incredibly rich. When Sinbad goes back on his word, Eris steals the book herself and frames Sinbad for the crime which plunges Syracuse into despair. Despite pleading his innocence, the court decides to sentence him to death though Protheus offers to trade his place as he believes that Eris indeed stole the book. Reluctant to quickly execute Protheus, the court gives Sinbad ten days to retrieve the book or else his friend will die. Along with his crew and Protheus' stowaway fiancé Lady Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Sinbad sets off to Tartarus to retrieve the book to clear his name and save his friend.
As I stated at the beginning of the review, this film was a massive flop when it came out. It could be because the film had opened up the week before "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" which became the surprise monster hit of 2003 or it could be that audiences weren't interested in the story of the film. Whatever the case, I didn't find this film as bad as I think its reputation made it out to be though it certainly wasn't anything special. The story is a perfectly serviceable adventure film. The film does have a weak first act where it relies too heavily on exposition and has a rather dull action scene with a sea monster that attacks the ship of Protheus', but the film does pick up the pace when Sinbad sets off on his journey. The film does have some excellent set-pieces with monsters that Sinbad and his crew encounter along the journey with one notable scene being where the crew travels through a treacherous canyon where sirens try to seduce the men to their deaths while Marina has to sail the ship out of the doomed waters. It's action-packed and tight and there are some funny bits thrown in once in a while. I do think that the screenplay could've been a bit more polished during the quieter scenes when the film doesn't focus on the action where it mostly came across as cliched and dull. Most of the film has Sinbad and Marina bickering and arguing over how Marina is a woman and how she can't be on Sinbad's ship and how Sinbad is too stuck up and selfish and it gets tiresome after a while. The screenplay was written by famed screenwriter John Logan who would later go on to write other children's films like "Hugo" and "Rango" and his work in this film isn't as polished as it should've been. As far as the animation goes, it's mostly great. While I do think some of the CG elements haven't aged particularly well, most of the film really looks amazing. There's a lot of dazzling moments where the animation uses unique camera tricks to heighten the tension and suspense by moving it in directions that were impossible a long time ago and it also has a lot of dazzling locations. The city of Syracuse and Tartarus are both easily the visual highlights of the film as they both dazzle the screen with Syracuse's stunning beauty and size and Tartarus feeling deep and mysterious. Even the character animation has its moments with the character animation of Eris easily stealing the show. Her animation moves like paint in water and seeing her play around with the world either through floating spheres, a martini glass, or even a giant globe was so much fun to watch. I guess that leads me into the characters and I should start with Eris since she easily was my favorite part of the film. Her presence is minimal, but every second she's on-screen is a treat to watch. She's so deliciously evil and playful and Michelle Pfeiffer is such a delight voicing her. I wish she was in the film a bit more because she is what made the film work for me. I also did admire the character of Marina. While I do think her dream of not wanting to be stuck inside the palace walls and wanting to be on the open sea could've been conveyed better, I think she was still a strong character that worked well off of the crew and had moments where she was able to stand up for herself. I also think Catherine Zeta-Jones worked well as the character with her strong determination shining through. As for Sinbad, he's sadly the weakest character of the film. He's mostly dull as he feels cocky and uptight but doesn't have much personality or strong conviction beyond that. Most of the time, he argues with Marina when he gets too confident and his backstories involving Protheus are rather uninteresting as they are told and not shown. It's also why it's hard to relate and care for Protheus since we barely have time to know him and care about him which again comes down to Logan's uneven screenplay. I think if this script had been a bit more polished, this could've really been an amazing animated adventure.
As is, "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" is still a fun time if nothing outstanding. The story has some fun action set pieces even if it suffers in its slower moments, the animation is outstanding despite some of its CG shortcomings, and some of the characters are well fleshed and fun even is some should've had better development. Overall despite its problems, this was a decent animated adventure and I do give it a slight recommendation that's worth seeing. Maybe one day DreamWorks will do something amazing with traditional animation in their films once again, but we'll just have to wait and see.