Well here we are, the end of traditional animation, or at least, the end of DreamWorks traditional animation efforts. I apologise at how long it’s taken me to produce these reviews but I hope you’ve been able to bear with me through all of this. But since it is the end let’s see how this ends, with a whimper or with a bang.
Sinbad (Brad Pitt) is a pirate out for his last heist, to steal the mystical Book of Peace, before he and his crew retire to a life of luxury on the island of Fiji. They raid the boat pretty successfully and, after catching up with an old friend Prince Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), a battle with a huge squid monster and sinking to the bottom of the ocean where the Goddess of Discord Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer) makes Sinbad a deal that if he steals the Book of Peace for her, she’ll give him enough riches to, instead of lounging on a beach for the rest of his years, be able to “buy the beach, and the island, and the world.”
Tempted, Sinbad and his crew go to Syracuse in order to steal the Book of Peace; however Proteus then introduces Sinbad to his fiancée Marina of Thrace (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Upon seeing her, Sinbad orders his crew to leave without stealing the book. Eris then decides to take the form of Sinbad and steal the book herself, leaving Sinbad in the lurch and resulting in his capture and trial for stealing the Book of Peace.
Adamant that Eris stole it, keeping it in her realm of Tartarus, Sinbad is sentenced to death. However Proteus, believing Sinbad, demands he takes his place, giving time for Sinbad to retrieve the book from Eris. Sinbad is given ten days to get it so he, along with his crew and the stowaway Marina, set sale for Tartarus to retrieve the Book of Peace and save Proteus and the world from chaos.
So let’s get something out the way first. Something I was glad had nothing to do with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, as I was getting sick to the back teeth talking about it, was religion. But now it’s back. There are religious overtones setting the world within in Greek mythology. However, and now I can speak positively on religion, it’s not used as the driving force of the film like The Prince of Egypt or Joseph: King of Dreams. Rather, it is almost used in a similar way to The Road to El Dorado.
What I mean by this is that the religious overtones are there, but it’s only there to help move the story along rather than being the main point of the film. The Road to El Dorado was a story of adventure and a quest for gold. Sinbad is also about adventure and a quest to save a friend in need, so in reality the religious bit just adds to the film rather than being the core mechanic to it. There is even a bit of disbelief in gods as when Sinbad tells Kale (Dennis Haysbert) about his meeting with Eris, Kale laughs, commenting that he had to write that down.
But now to the animation and it is very, very good. It looks as if their efforts after going all out on The Prince of Egypt and the fun, playful but less awing style of The Road to El Dorado have finally coalesced into one definitive style. I would say Spirit nailed it first, but Sinbad shows that it wasn’t just a one-off effort.
One thing that I thought I would be irked by was the computer animation. While the backgrounds are all meant to look traditional, and therefore don’t seem to out of place, the memories of computer animated sea monsters left a feeling of dread that they would be completely dated and would ruin the entire experience. Amazingly, they didn’t.
You get the feeling that, since they are brought into the world by Eris, they are otherworldly and the fact they are computer animated lends to that other worldliness. But if you don’t think about it too much and just look at them from an aesthetic point of view, they hold up pretty well. Well, aside from the ice bird which does looks a little too out of place in the traditionally animated world. But aside from that, the computer stuff holds up pretty well. It would have been better traditionally animated but it still looks cool.
Something else which I find has gone a bit unnoticed in my reviews of these films is feminism. I realise how this could degenerate into a comment war and my analysis may be inaccurate or at least flawed, but I shall try my best to explain. I know Chel from The Road to El Dorado can be seen a little bit feministic with her stronger character than Tulio and Miguel, but Marina and Eris take it to a new level.
Marina is single-minded and an able seaman. Or is it seawoman? Seaperson? Anyway, she’s able. She can sail a ship, she’s knowledgeable and is very resourceful. Although she occasionally falls into the trope of damsel-in-distress, she is not shown to be this completely helpless woman who always needs a man to save her.
Only in certain situations does Sinbad have to save Marina but, when you watch this film, you have to acknowledge the film is ultimately about Sinbad so he will come across as the most heroic, but Sinbad and Marina save each other an equal amount of times, with Marina even saving the whole crew at one point. Marina is by no means just the woman for Sinbad to chase after; she is a fully formed character in her own right.
Eris is just as feministic in her own way. While her art style and actions give hints to a more sexualised aspect to Eris, it’s not done so overtly to suggest that most irksome of tropes that shows women to be the cause of all bad things in the world. Rather she is capable adversary which is actually a good thing because, aside from the Aardman-made, DreamWorks distributed Chicken Run; Eris was the only primary female antagonist in DreamWorks Animation until Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, nearly eleven years later.
Eris is sublime and, while not necessarily hateable like other villains, she brings that certain amount of conniving and intelligence that makes her evil enough to be taken seriously. Oh, but don’t think she’s an underwhelming villain by any means because, when the chips are down, she shows she can a bombastic villain, even if that is a bit short-lived.
There is a minor bit of controversy in this film seeing how Sinbad, originally a Middle Eastern character, was put into a Greek setting. It has been argued quite reasonably that a Greek setting would be less controversial than a Middle Eastern setting, particularly after the fact that Sinbad was released nearly two years after 9/11 and was not long after the invasion of Iraq. However, despite this Hellenisation of an Arab character, it somehow seems to work.
Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that DreamWorks failed to incorporate some Arabic themes with an Arabic character is irksome but the Hellenisation of Sinbad and the world they live in almost makes it seem like an alternate universe rather than the world of ancient Greek mythology. That’s how the film should be seen, because when Greeks know about Fiji and how to get there, rather than all mystical stuff that goes on, it somehow made more sense to me that this was a different universe and therefore a different Sinbad. But still, DreamWorks should have been braver with Sinbad’s roots.
One other thing that irritated me a bit was the Book of Peace. What it does is pretty self-explanatory, but what the effect of it being stolen by Eris has is not really seen. Eris does explain her plain on stealing the Book of Peace and how it can lead to chaos, but stealing the book which supposedly keeps peace in the world doesn’t seem to bring any chaos upon being taken away. There’s no fighting amongst the peoples, no corruption of the land, no descent in darker acts, nothing.
So for a book that supposedly keeps peace doesn’t really cause any chaos when it is taken away. The only bad things that happen are the world going a few shades darker, due to a large cloud, and some buildings begin to crack. That’s it. I would have really shown the terror of what losing the Book of Peace does and then Eris’ plan compounding the issue would have made the loss of the Book of Peace even worse.
But despite those niggles, there’s really not that much to complain about the film. It’s a bit short at nearly an hour and fifteen minutes without the credits, but it’s still very enjoyable. The characters are varied, fun and likable, the humour is very good and the film gives you a feeling of a new bit of adventure just waiting around the corner. The music also adds quite well to this as, while there is no songs, the instrumentals and occasional vocal, are good enough to heighten the urgency to the more exciting scenes. But neither is the film afraid to take its time in the slower scenes as, despite the short length of the film, we get a decent amount of character building and the growth of Sinbad’s and Marina’s relationship that is believable, which is quite impressive.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable film somehow best summed up by Brad Pitt himself. Pitt had tried out for the narration for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, but lost out to Matt Damon. Then, after Russell Crowe pulled out of production for Sinbad, which if we’re all honest would probably not have worked, Brad Pitt stepped in. He wanted to make a film his kids could see, because they couldn’t see his other films as, in his own words, “People’s heads getting cut off, and all that.”
Fair reasoning, but that sums up this entire film. It’s a film you can watch with your kids and not feel it is too dumb for you. It’s pleasant, well-paced and fun, with the occasional slightly subtle adult joke thrown in for good measure. It’s not top class cinema, but it’s till enjoyable in the same way The Road to El Dorado was. Although there more of a moral lesson to Sinbad, it’s still focuses on adventure and a bit of romance which makes it fun to watch.
However the film had to compete with Finding Nemo, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Hulk and, although only Finding Nemo would go on to be a memorable classic, Sinbad lost out in at the box office, resulting in $125 million in losses for DreamWorks Animation and, what with Disney’s financial flop Treasure Planet, Jeffrey Katzenberg called time on DreamWorks’ traditional animation films, seeing computer animation as the way forward.
It’s such a shame as traditionally animated films still live beyond DreamWorks and the ever more computer animation based Disney, such as Studio Ghibli, and they
continue to make profits. What’s worse is that DreamWorks still clearly have traditional animation talent as the section in Kung Fu Panda 2 were perhaps more beautiful than the rest of the film itself. Sinbad may have been the last traditionally animated film, but it did not go out with a not whimper, but sailed off into the sunset in a way we hope most films do.
Thank you for reading this series of traditional animated DreamWorks films and I hope you go and see them for the enjoyable films they are (apart from Joseph: King of Dream). I hope you enjoyed these reviews as much I enjoyed writing about them. If you want to see more from me please don’t forget to follow my blog, as well as liking my Facebook page and following me on Twitter!