Movie Review: Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad (1962)

Review: Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad

Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad (1962) is Toei Doga's fifth animated feature film, and second of three films to include the collaboration of the great Osamu Tezuka, the "God of Japanese Manga Comics." It's a rollicking spectacle that includes legendary treasures, heaving seas, great whales, and a cast of characters who will be familiar to anyone who's a fan of The Thief of Baghdad or Disney's Aladdin.

While I wouldn't rate this movie as highly as the aforementioned others, The Adventures of Sinbad is a very entertaining ride. There is an impressive amount of effects animation, a couple of very nice song numbers, and a third act that is exciting to watch. The Toei Doga films often excel in their third acts. Being a movie set largely at sea, there is a lot of terrific water animation, and I'm impressed at how the animators drew upon Asian art, and their own intuitive sense of timing, to create their art.

I also enjoy how these Toei Doga animators continued to innovate and push their limits with each film. They weren't content to recycle the same formula again and again. There's a clear distinction between Hakujaden, Sosuke Shonen Sarutobe, Saiyuki, Anju to Zushiomaru, and Sinbad. That's because, to a great extent, these people are making up the rules as they go. They're learning and experimenting and developing animation theory on their own. Eventually, all of the little experiments lead to major breakthroughs, seen in Saiyuki and Eight Headed Dragon, and finally leading to the complete paradigm break/shift in Horus, Prince of the Sun.

Why do these Toei Doga movies remain so completely unknown to animation lovers? It's true that many of these movies were translated and adapted to US theatrical releases in the 1960s, but most of those are extremely obscure, and many titles such as "Panda and the Magic Serpent" and "Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon" appear to have drifted onto the public domain.  Fan translations have, once again, delivered the goods, making it possible for this "lost era" in animation history to be discovered.

As always, we are deeply indebted to the fan translators and fansub community, for opening the door to needlessly obscure animated features. I would hope that a fan community emerges around the classic Toei Doga movies. They're uniquely Japanese, not yet "anime," strongly influenced by the West, but seeking their own identity.

A quick note about the Sinbad poster. I'm a big fan of Toei Doga's movie posters, that uniquely Japanese approach to poster designs. Finding an image of this one was harder than usual; finding a physical poster will be especially difficult. Toei really ought to sell poster prints online. I'd buy up everything I could get my hands on...wouldn't you do the same? Of course you would.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jerry Beck's book "Animation Art" had an interesting section on the time period that Toei wanted to be the Walt Disney of Asia. Great book with an ugly cover. Too bad its oop now.

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