Some of the best-looking people in Hollywood have another attribute that’s often overlooked: their voices. In the astonishingly animated “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” A-list stars like Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer help create a sure classic, destined to be hauled out by generations of exhausted parents seeking relief on cold, rainy Saturdays.
Those same adults are in for a surprise: In no time they’ll be plopping down next to their progeny, giggling at the dead-on comic timing of Pitt and Zeta-Jones, cheering as the plucky pirates battle a 100-foot sea monster and swooning at the roller-coaster action scenes.
Gosh darn it, there’s even a morality tale tucked inside the screenplay by John Logan, who also penned the Oscar-winning “Gladiator” — “to thine own friend be true.”
Pitt’s rascally Sinbad is a Robin Hood of the seas, “liberating” treasures from royalty to keep his motley crew employed and further their dreams of retiring in Fiji. No bloodlust here, not even greed or malice or revenge, just a lazy working man seeking a life of ease as the king of thieves.
If the animation under the direction of Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore wasn’t so compelling, you could just close your eyes and listen.
But whoops, this time Sinbad’s prey is none other than his old friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), the prince of Syracuse. (For the classically challenged, we are talking about the ancient city in Sicily, not the basketball powerhouse.) Proteus is sailing home with the Book of Peace, a treasure that will allow his kingdom to enter a new era of prosperity.
Sinbad’s plan to nab the sacred text is interrupted by Eris, goddess of chaos (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose swirling, morphing jet-black hair is practically a character unto itself.
Pitt the pirate
The book disappears and Sinbad is sentenced to die. As noble princes will do, Proteus takes his place. Sinbad has 10 days to find the book and return it before his friend is executed.
To make sure he doesn’t welch on the deal, Proteus’s fiancee Marina (Zeta-Jones) sneaks onto Sinbad’s boat — and ends up charming his crew and saving his life.
Think any pirate voiced by Pitt could be grateful? Not a chance.
“Sinbad” succeeds by finding new delight in a traditional tale. The script has it all — slapstick, love, moral choices, thrilling adventure scenes, a chiseled leading man and a mischievous but not completely evil villain.
There’s no resisting Spike the sea dog, sailors who gobble up food at a fancy banquet or the witty banter between Sinbad and Marina — give-and-take that will remind old salts of Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
By mixing 2D (hand-drawn) and 3D (computer) animation, the filmmakers managed to evoke both individual emotions and rollicking action without showing any seams. Pitt was more fun out of sight than in several of his on-screen capers (“The Mexican” comes to mind), and Zeta-Jones hammed up the spunky Marina. Dennis Haysbert — better known as President David Palmer on the Fox TV series “24” — turned the limited role of Kale, Sinbad’s right-hand man, into a star vehicle for wry wit and common sense.
Fiennes, however, was trapped in a good-boy role, so Proteus was a bore. And Harry Gregson-Williams’ sweeping score notwithstanding, my soul cried out for a song or two. Didn’t those pirates have sea chanteys? Long after the thin plot of The Little Mermaid has faded, its irrepressible songs live on.
Small complaints, all, compared with the delight of a flawed, lazy, egotistical Pitt — I mean Sinbad.