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Why You Should Give Sinbad – the One Starring Brad Pitt & Michelle Pfeiffer – Another Watch

Looking for an animated movie you definitely forgot about? Check out DreamWorks' oft-forgotten pirate tale.

By Caitlin Busch
Sinbad (Brad Pitt) faces a giant Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Sinbad (2003).

The most recent animated movies have one thing in common: A-list actors lending their voice talents to get butts in theater seats. And while that wasn’t always the case, the creators of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas knew that attaching established names to animated characters was a sure-fire plan. (At least, that’s what they’d hoped.)

Released 20 years ago in 2003 and now streaming on Peacock (and available digitally), DreamWorks' Sinbad is the final entry in an oft-overlooked period of animation history. Boasting the kind of A-list voice cast that’s bound to prompt plenty of double-takes, the film is inspired by the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, a fictional mariner whose tales first appeared in One Thousand and One Nights.

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While the Sinbad movie’s origins aren’t as storied as those of its namesake, the film owes its underrated lifeblood to the drama of the Hollywood animation landscape of the ‘90s and early 2000s. But before we delve into the real-life theatrics that mark Sinbad as the final entry in such an era, let us set the scene:

What is Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas about and why should you care?

Sinbad (Brad Pitt) wears red in Sinbad (2003).

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas follows pirate captain Sinbad (voiced by Brad Pitt) (yes, that Brad Pitt) and his ragtag crew in their attempts to retire to Fiji. Their retirement plan hinges on one final job: stealing the magical, glowing “Book of Peace” and holding it for ransom until the people of Syracuse cough up the cash.

When Sinbad and his crew board the ship transporting the book, he finds that the man charged with protecting it is an old friend: the noble Crown Prince of Syracuse, Proteus (voiced by Joseph Fiennes) (yes, that Joseph Fiennes).

Proteus explains that the book’s magic “protects” Syracuse and its allies, so it’d be a real dick move on Sinbad’s part to steal it. Just as the pair cross swords and prepare to do battle, their ships are attacked by a giant, mystical sea monster.

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But it’s not just the Book of Peace that’s packing some power; Sinbad’s is a world occupied by gods and monsters, and Eris, the beautiful Goddess of Discord (voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer) (yes, that Michelle Pfeiffer), has a personal stake in the Book of Peace — and Sinbad.

Eris is a fan of Sinbad’s work, so she makes a deal with him: Deliver the Book of Peace to her and she’ll reward Sinbad handsomely enough that he can retire 10 times over.

But when Sinbad has a change of heart upon seeing how happy his buddy Proteus is with his fiancé, Princess Marina (voiced by Catherine Zeta-Jones) (yes, that Catherine Zeta-Jones), he can’t bring himself to ruin their lives. He leaves Syracuse without the book, much to his crew’s concern, and that should be the end of it.

If only breaking a deal with a goddess were so simple. Bemused by Sinbad’s change of heart, Eris steals that glowing, magical book and frames her new favorite boy toy, Sinbad. Our hero is arrested by the people of Syracuse and put on trial, only for noble Prince Proteus to do his noble prince thing: He believes in his old friend’s innocence and offers his life up as collateral until Sinbad goes to Eris’ realm, Tartarus, retrieves the book, and brings it back.

If Sinbad fails to return, Proteus will be put to death in his place.

And thus, our adventure begins.

So… it’s a pirate movie?

Sure! But it’s more than that. Marina — who’s always dreamed of sailing the Seven Seas — doesn’t trust Sinbad, so she joins him and his crew; Eris’ mythical horde of monsters regularly gets in the way; Sirens do their damnedest to seduce and drown the men on board; Tartarus lies beyond the very literal “end of the world.” 

Family-friendly movies taking on darker themes is the norm, but Sinbad’s dilemmas go darker than most. If Sinbad can’t retrieve the book from a vicious goddess who sees mortals as playthings, his oldest friend will die. Period. And amongst the playful riffs from composer Harry Gregson-Williams (perhaps most memorable for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia films) as Sinbad and Marina sled down a snowy mountain while barely escaping the clutches of yet another monster, the soundtrack takes a swooping turn into longing, heartbreak, and lingering melancholy.

It’s the kind of movie that’s right at home with its DreamWorks Animation contemporaries, including The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Road to El Dorado (2000), and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), all of which boast more mature themes than many other animated features of the time. 

Sinbad, also like those aforementioned films, is a result of a failed Disney venture.

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As Disney exited its well-beloved “Renaissance” period, DreamWorks Animation — co-founded by former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and music executive David Geffen in 1994 — had solidified itself as one hell of a contender in the battle for animation supremacy, largely due to its early adoption of 3D animation. And, perhaps just as importantly, snatching up the diamonds in the ruff Disney left languishing in production limbo, including a script that would eventually become Sinbad.

These early DreamWorks films boasted a mixture of classic 2D animation and new-age 3D animation, the kind that’s now become the norm. Antz, the company’s first feature film and the first in a long line to rely upon 3D rendering technology, cleared the path. Sinbad was the last of these to combine 2D and 3D animation in this form.

By the time Sinbad hit theaters, DreamWorks had already struck gold with the 2001 3D hit Shrek. Shrek 2 hit theaters a year after Sinbad, and our salty sailor was all but relegated to the depths of the bargain barrel at your local video store.

But it’s time to put some respect on Sinbad’s name. Because ultimately, Sinbad is a story about choosing one’s destiny. You can go where you want, love who you want, and be who you want as long as you’re willing to strike out on your own and battle a few monsters along the way. 

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is now available to stream on Peacock and rent or purchase digitally.