I wonder if Sinbad has ever sinned so badly it felt good? If so, he should consider changing his name to Singood.
In the past I’ve written how I’m not the biggest fan of high fantasy. I don’t want to reiterate those points here, but suffice it to say it has much more to do with the vocabulary than the setting. However, a modern setting for fantasy intrigues me to no end. That’s not to say I find fantasy series that place their story in familiar settings superior because fantasy series such as Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers or Blade and Soul caught my attention for their unique settings—even if the latter focused on sex appeal rather than narrative. This is why I’ve found Nippon Animation and Shirogumi’s retelling of Sinbad the Sailor appealing. True, I had some issues with the first installment of the three-part film series, but those issues were less prevalent in the second installment, Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima (シンドバッド 魔法のランプと動く島). I say this because the three-act structure was far more defined in the film and though the pacing lagged a bit in the second act, this added to the adventurous nature of the film. There were also some wonderful visuals interspersed throughout the film and it felt far livelier than the previous installment. I should also mention the Sinbad film series is less a family film than it is a children’s film. So, while some story elements felt odd the underlying plot developments were rather charming.
I wrote fairly in depth about the source material of the Sinbad film series in my article “Returning to a Classic with Sinbad.” But, for those who may have forgotten it’s based on Scheherazade’s The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor and the One-Thousand and One Nights. As such I felt we had to treat the individual installments of the Sinbad film series in the same vein as the source works: drawing us in but never fully completing the story so we would come back for another tale. These elements were prevalent in Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima but to a lesser degree. What I mean by this is we are looking at the middle installment of a three-part film series—although with the current trend of films based on young adult novels, the last installment of this series may be broken into two parts. As such, the overarching narrative brought us closer to the narrative center of the series while still providing us with a unique story. Yet, when placed next to the first installment of the Sinbad film series this installment flowed much better and never felt as though we were being rushed through any of the plot points. Thus, while it felt as if there were only two acts in the first film, here there were three well-defined acts.
The use of the three-act structure in Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima added more depth to the story than one might expect. I don’t want to compare this film to the first film in the series, Sinbad: Sora Tobu Hime to Himitsu no Shima, all that often because the emotional weight was lacking in that film since we were quickly pushed through many of the plot points. However, because Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima used the three-act structure to present the story, as an audience we were able to take in the interpersonal moments presented throughout the film. For example, there was a short scene near the end of the second act when the principle characters, Sinbad, Sana, and Ali, were pondering the situation they were in. During their conversation some great character background regarding Ali was presented and the scene also expanded on why Sinbad wanted to become a sailor. Mind you, this wasn’t exposition or a scene to fill out time in the film, but rather a genuine moment to understand the characters’ relationships as well as what motivated them. I wouldn’t, however, go so far as to call the scene touching. Yet, small moments like these in a film or TV series can add depth to the content presented to us.
There was one drawback to the three-act structure and interpersonal scenes, though, and that was how the film became languid. This was more of an issue during the second act of the film. While we were presented with remarkable visuals, it seemed as though the production team focused too heavily on the scenery rather than advancing the narrative of the film and the series as a whole. Some may understand this simile, but think of this installment in terms of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign module where instead of fighting monsters, solving mysteries, or dungeon crawling, you spent the majority of the campaign having the Game Master or Dungeon Master describe the minute details of the surroundings. It’s fine in small doses and great for establishing the mood, but not if the entire campaign is centered on it. This was close to how the second act in Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima felt. To be honest, though, it wasn’t mind numbing per se, but rather felt as though some of it could have been cut. A fine example was when Sinbad and Sana were walking through a forest and a low hanging branch blocked their path. This wasn’t a poor scene as it was comical in nature, but it felt as if it was less important than some of the other shorter scenes later in the film.
That being said, had the second act not been so languid we would have missed the beauty inherent in this film. Granted, this contradicts the statement above, but since film is a visual medium we often need something to stimulate our visual senses. Here it was the use of the vibrant greens and blues of the forest and water as well as the vivacious colors used to accentuate the flowers and fruits growing in the forest. However, of all the scenery none compared to the glade that appeared about half way into the film. What made the glade so stunning wasn’t just the dazzling blues, but also the inclusion of a band of horses. To be clear, it wasn’t as if a great deal of effort was placed into the animation of the horses, but their designs and the fact they filled out a portion of the film that was lacking in terms of objects for Sinbad and Sana interact with was delightful. This may seem like a very small point to focus on, but the moment Sinbad and Sana entered the glade it felt as though we were on an adventure with the two characters and there was a sense of awe in seeing something spectacular and new.
It’s the adventurous spirit that was the overarching theme of the Sinbad film series. Adults may actually find this tedious, but we have to keep in mind the target audience of these films aren’t necessarily adults or families, but children. Thus, it’s only reasonable there was a sense of awe when Sinbad was exploring the island the film took place on with Sana. What’s more, the narrative had to reflect the sensibilities of what young children would enjoy more so than what adults would find engrossing. In all honesty, there were many directorial choices that were laughable at best when it came to foreshadowing. For instance, as an adult it was patently clear a giant creature inhabited the island when there was a wide-angle shot of a large footprint. Yet, somebody on the production team, most likely the director, chose to shade in the edges of the screen so that we would focus on the footprint. It’s a very small qualm, but when stepping back and remembering children may not catch on to this as quickly as adults it was understandable. So, while this was an odd directorial choice, the reason it was used made sense.
In turn, though, the story elements were far more charming and added a great deal to the narrative of the film as well as the series. I stated above there were a few interpersonal moments in the film, but the underlying theme came from a budding, albeit simple, romance between Sinbad and Sana. This drove the climatic confrontation in the third act of Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima and, though it was predictable, progressed the story in a way that was pleasant in its own right. Even the overarching narrative benefited from this installment as we received more information regarding Sana’s people, the Magic Kingdom, and the nefarious plot of the antagonists. To use a directorial term and theory coined by J.J. Abrams, this is what the mystery box is about. We weren’t given the full extent of the agendas of the various characters in long-winded expositions, but it was just enough to keep us curious and wanting to find out more. As such, the few expository scenes scattered throughout the film never went into great detail, left enough to our imagination, and made us curious about what we were missing.
In terms of composition Sinbad: Mahō no Lamp to Ugoku Shima was a far better film than the previous installment. Yes, there were bits that lagged in the film, but it was more than made up for by the wonderful visual elements. Although the fantasy elements were missing for a large portion of the film, this installment still felt like an adventure, especially in the final act. The use of a three-act structure improved the pacing of the film as well and all the plot points felt as though they weren’t rushed. This gave us small interpersonal moments that made the characters more memorable as well as adding new layers and dimensions to the characters and the story. Of course, some of the plot elements were tiresome, but this was more of an issue because I am an adult and not a child. I have to bring up the languid moments again if only because some children may find those portions of the film uninteresting. However, they were short enough that children shouldn’t fidget in their seats too much. As such, while I felt adults would find the film unappealing, children and those who have an adventurous spirit will enjoy it.