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An Ambitious, Action-Packed ‘Odyssey’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Magic spells, enchantresses, wars, storms at sea, raging gods and helpful goddesses, fearsome death and destruction--there’s action aplenty in the Homerian epic about King Odysseus of Ithaca and his 20-year struggle to return home to his faithful wife.

HBO’s ambitious four-part cartoon series “The Animated Odyssey,” based on the Greek classic, doesn’t stint on the action, and it contains notable elements, including an effective dramatic musical score, performed by the Latvian Symphony Orchestra; an unusually extensive palette, executed in delicate washes and bold jewel tones; and lavish background paintings.

Unfortunately, and surprisingly, despite sailor-chomping giants and monsters, elaborate battles, stormy seas, men turned into swine, gods hurling lightning bolts and spell-casting galore, excitement is in short supply because of stilted movement and declaimed dialogue.

While the stylized characters have interesting planed faces and musculature resembling classical Greek sculpture and painting, they move with the choppiness of action figures cranked out for endless low-budget Saturday morning cartoons. They talk the same way, puppet-like mouth movements out of sync with voice-overs.

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Considering the time--three years--and attention to detail that went into this epic of traditional cel animation, that’s a shame.

The series was supervised by original “Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz, and made at the Vilanima Studios of Lithuania under the direction of Valentas Ashkins; music is by Martino Tirimo. It was illustrated by Roger Payne and the scripts were written by Jack Pitman, Frixos Constantine, Ashkins and Helen Sava.

The network has given it a general audiences rating. No sexy stuff--Odysseus’ encounters with nymphs, princesses and goddesses are G-rated here--but lots of bloody bits as men die in droves.

* “The Animated Odyssey,” HBO: “The Trojan Horse” (today, 4 p.m.; Thursday, 6:30 a.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.; Feb. 9, 6 a.m.). “The Cyclops” (next Monday, 4 p.m.; Jan. 20, 6:30 a.m.; Jan. 23, 8 a.m.). “Circe, Hades and the Sirens” (Jan. 24, 4 p.m.; Jan. 27, 6:30 a.m.; Jan. 30, 8 a.m.). “Odysseus Returns” (Jan. 31, 4 p.m.; Feb. 3, 6:30 a.m.; Feb. 6, 8 a.m.). The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).


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