Weekly DVD/Video Picks

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

Arabian folk lore meets Greek mythology in Dream-Works’ rousing animated swashbuckler, which pits Sinbad (Brad Pitt), thief of Baghdad, against Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer), Olympian goddess of discord.

With its swashbuckling action and blend of traditional and computer animation, Sinbad recalls Disney's Treasure Planet — yet, for once, DreamWorks handily outdoes its archrival, with bravura action set pieces, a surprisingly complex romantic triangle and a remarkably thoughtful exploration of moral issues and character.

The film opens with Sinbad and his pirates out to steal a magic book that brings prosperity and security. Even when he discovers the book guarded by his childhood friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), Sinbad won't relent — but when the book is stolen by Eris, not Sinbad, Proteus stakes his life to give Sinbad a chance to prove himself a hero, not a thief. Even then, Sinbad's lower impulses dictate his actions until Proteus's fiancée, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), gives Sinbad a selfish reason to do the right thing.

Content advisory: Mild innuendo and sensuality; a sight gag involving a tear in the seat of a man's pants; animated swashbuckling action. Possibly a bit much for sensitive kids.

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

More homage than remake of the classic silent original starring Douglas Fairbanks, this British-made color version of The Thief of Bagdad is a beloved family adventure standard, though not quite as charming or magical as the original.

In this version, the romantic lead who falls in love with the princess is not the titular thief, but a beggar named Ahmad (John Justin) who is actually the rightful king of Bagdad, but has been deposed by his treacherous Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). The thief, on the other hand, is a mischievous, resourceful lad named Abu (Sabu).

Content advisory: A few menacing and scary scenes; fictionalized Islamic setting. Possibly a bit much for sensitive kids.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

With its blend of Arabian Nights magic, story-book romance, mythopoeic fantasy travel-ogue and sense of wonder and fun, Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad ranks as the very height of silent-era spectacle.

Taking as its theme the edifying precept “Happiness must be earned,” The Thief of Bagdad introduces Fairbanks as a carefree street thief, a cheerful infidel who believes only in taking what he wants — until his path to redemption begins when he falls in love with the caliph's royal daughter (Julanne Johnston).

Impersonating a prince to win her hand, the thief winds up scourged and humbled, ultimately seeking the advice of the “holy man” he earlier mocked, who advises him that to win a princess, he must “become a prince.”

The ensuing pilgrimage takes the thief on a storybook odyssey ranging from the depths of the sea, haunted by sirens and giant spiders, to the world above the clouds, where he finds the abode of the winged horse and the citadel of the moon.

With unprecedented special effects and colossal sets, The Thief of Bagdad is the first great achievement of cinematic fantasy mythopoeia and the forerunner to the likes of The Lord of the Rings.

DVD note: Make sure you get the Kino or Image DVD; others are inferior.

Content advisory: Fantasy depiction of divination; fictionalized Islamic setting; mild menace. Fine for kids.