The 2000s were a difficult time for 2D animated films, with many studios having to swallow the bitter pill that general audiences just weren’t interested in the animation style anymore. The writing was especially on the wall for DreamWorks Animation in 2003. Their 3D film Shrek was a gigantic hit, but their 2D films The Road to El Dorado, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas were one box office disappointment after another.
As such, Sinbad was the company’s last movie to use traditional animation, and the rest of the 2000s and 2010s would see Dreamworks focusing on ones using computer animation like Over the Hedge, Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon.
Of course, considering this in 2023 is a little ironic when movies like Strange World and Elemental have been box office disappointments, and movies like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse have been big hits. While the latter two films aren’t completely 2D, they’re a stylized mix of 2D and 3D, an animation style clearly only in the beginning stages of its popularity as it’s also present in the likes of Klaus, Nimona, and Wish.
It’s an exciting time for animation again, which is why it’s also time to look back and reconsider the unfairly neglected 2D films of the 2000s, especially the one that ended DreamWorks doing 2D films for a long time — Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.
The story of a pirate who travels to the end of the world with his crew in order to retrieve the Book of Peace from Eris, the goddess of discord, and save the life of his friend Proteus, Sinbad is far too epic of a spectacle to be forgotten so widely. It didn’t do well at the box office and got mixed reviews, but Sinbad’s strength never came from its characters or story.
The movie is pure visual prowess, with several set pieces downright breathtaking to watch. I rewatched this on a pretty big TV screen and I still felt like I was robbed — if I could rewatch this on the big screen, I would.
The beautiful backdrops and landscapes, the sweeping cinematography and camera work especially during action sequences, and the way these characters and the world around them feel alive through animation alone really showcase what 2D animation is capable of. There’s a certain charm and wonder here that just isn’t present in any other animation style. With how vivacious the action is, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sinbad helped inspire current animated titles like Arcane and Nimona.
Sinbad is also a great example of the difference between story and screenplay. Sure, Sinbad’s story may be by-the-numbers, and if you were to summarize it to someone who didn’t know anything about it, they probably wouldn’t understand what makes the movie so great.
The magic, however, is in the storytelling. Film is, first and foremost, a visual medium, and a screenwriter’s job is to take a story and turn it into scenes that add up to a cinematic experience.
Cinematic is exactly the word you use to describe Sinbad. This is an action-adventure film in every sense of the word, and the screenplay feels designed to make this adventure as grand a visual experience as possible.
The opening alone is enough to drop anyone’s jaw, but there’s even far more to be impressed by as we’re shown set piece after gorgeous set piece, all beautifully paired with a fantastic score. Everything about this marriage feels so confident, and during its best moments, Sinbad often feels like a more rugged version of The Wizard of Oz.
An especially noteworthy scene is when Sinbad and his crew are being hypnotized by sirens, and Marina, the only woman on the ship, has to steer the ship to safety herself. Watching the scene feels hypnotizing itself, as the luring music, luscious blue colors of the sea and sky, whispery angelic singing voices of the sirens, and fluid way the sirens move all culminate into such a mesmerizing experience, one that’s impossible to look away from even just for a second.
It’s nice to see more animated movies nowadays be more visually stylistic and, well, animated, instead of just fighting to see who can look the most realistic with its environments. Had Sinbad been released now, it might’ve been a bigger hit.
However, DreamWorks Animation seems rather disinterested in celebrating its 2D era, as the new animated DreamWorks logo doesn’t have a single title from this era in it. In a way, I get it. These films nearly bankrupted DreamWorks, but they’re also an important part of the company’s history, and many of them are a cut above what people give them credit for.
Sinbad, especially, is an absolute marvel, one more people should be introduced to as time has seen it be largely forgotten by the masses. If you do decide to watch or rewatch this, try to do so in the highest quality and on the biggest screen possible, as it’s well worth the effort. Most of all, be prepared to end the experience with one particularly strong thought: This film doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
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