The Sinbad Trilogy

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The Sinbad trilogy of films, comprised of A Flying Princess and a Secret Island, The Magic Lamp and the Moving Islands, and Night at High Noon and the Wonder Gate, date to 2015-2016, and are loosely based on the tale cycle of Sinbad the Sailor, a seven-story narrative (plus frame story) largely associated with The Arabian Nights despite not being extant in the earliest surviving editions. As a character, Sinbad has gotten perhaps more than his fair share of attention in film and anime both (you may remember him as a character in Magi who later got his own spin-off series), but few are as family-friendly as this. That's not meant as an insult; the Sinbad trilogy is a magical, beautiful story about exploration and finding where you belong that's well-worth watching no matter how old you are.

The story unfolds organically across all three films, with each picking up the narrative where the previous movie left off. The first introduces our main cast – Sinbad, Princess Sana, and the crew of the sailing vessel Behr, with Captain Razzak, cabin boy Ali, and first mate Najib being the most important, i. e. the only ones with names. Sinbad lives with his mother Latifa on the outskirts of a seaside city in the Middle East, his father having been lost at sea several years ago. Despite this, Sinbad dreams of going to sea himself, yearning for adventure and exploration. While he does sign on with Captain Razzak, his adventures actually start well before they set sail when he witnesses a girl riding a flying horse above the city. She's being pursued by men on flying carpets, none of which is remotely normal in Sinbad's world. He helps the girl when she's unhorsed, and she leaves again, but later Sinbad and the crew of the Behr save her at sea, where she's floating in the waves. The girl reveals that she's Sana, the last princess of the Sorcerers, and she's desperate to reach the land where the Sorcerers originated after a hostile takeover of her country. Razzak promises to take her where she needs to go, and from that point each film has Sana, Ali, and Sinbad (and pet monkey Mimi) exploring a different fantastical island as we learn more about what villain Daal and archvillain Galip are truly after.

While none of the islands explored strictly follow the stories laid out in the original Sinbad narrative, plenty of homages are paid to that source material. Perhaps the most striking in this sense is the second film in the sequence, The Magic Lamp and the Moving Islands. After stopping at a fog-hidden island lost to civilization in the first movie (the eponymous Secret Island) where Sana discovers a clue to the next point in her journey, the Behr drops anchor in a cluster of smaller islands, where Sana hopes to find a magic lamp once belonging to the Sorcerers. While she does find it eventually (and the film acknowledges that the magic lamp is an Aladdin thing by having Ali know that story), it turns out that the islands themselves are not solid land masses, but growths on the backs of giant fish. These are creatures from the first voyage of the original Sinbad, called bahamut in Arabian mythology, although in folklore it is singular rather than having multiples as we see in the film. This island also has the children meet up with a cyclops, who has not escaped from The Odyssey but instead originates in the third voyage of Sinbad on a different island adventure. (The water horses in the second film, however, appear to owe a bit to Scottish kelpie legends.) The rocs from both the second and fifth voyages make an appearance in the first film, while the third is perhaps the most original from a folkloric standpoint.

That does not, however, mean that it is any less interesting than the previous two. In the final film, Sana and Sinbad have successfully followed the directions on the magic lamp to find the gateway to the home of the Sorcerers, and just as they arrive, the villains also show up, making the third film the most action-oriented of the three. It also has the most familiar message – Sana reveals that her parents created a fusion of magic and technology that they had intended to be used for the betterment of mankind, but a member of their court, Galip, felt it should be used for increasing their power and waging war. This debate is at the heart of Sana's attempt to reach the homeland of the Sorcerers (where she and her mother sent the rest of their people before Galip and Daal attacked prior to the first film's plot), because if she can get there, all of the magical mechanics will stop working, thwarting Galip's ambitions. The implication is that the world cannot be trusted with such power just yet, making it better for the Sorcerers to live in a place where they can't be taken advantage of.

While the story is good in its own right, part of what really makes this trilogy is the background art and creature designs. The character designs are also solid in a fairly simple way (and it's worth mentioning that when in public, women are all fully covered, head to toe, with the exception of Sana, who lost her coat and scarf), the animation is beautifully consistent, the backgrounds are lush and imaginative, and the creatures equally so. The water horses, for example, have webbing around their hooves and neck gills, while flying horses have extra long tails. The island fish are speckled with color and have huge, sleepy eyes, while the scenery is clearly inspired by places such as Petra and Ancient Greece. The ship is also impressive, and if the dub flubs up and calls the cabins “rooms,” it's excusable because the sailing itself looks pretty good.

The ending of Night at High Noon and the Wonder Gate is bittersweet, more so than most American family films. But it doesn't feel like a waste of time, even after the voyages have ended and everyone has found the place they're meant to be. The Sinbad trilogy is a solid story suitable to watch with younger viewers or just to unwind by yourself. It draws from world literature, and does it well, but in the end it's its own story – one that's worth your time.

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