That evergreen property, the adventures of Homer’s seafaring hero Odysseus (“a man of twists and turns”), gets a new toon treatment on HBO this month. It’s a testament to the timeless appeal of the Greek poet’s epic classic that despite Vilanima studios’ clunky animation, “The Animated Odyssey” is still able to deliver a few lessons to the younger students of history and mythology.
The first installment of the series takes viewers back to the year 2500 B.C. for another look at the familiar Trojan Horse episode. Amazingly enough, toon supervisor Gary Kurtz and company manage to squeeze the whole Trojan war and Odysseus’ visit to the Island of the Lotus Eaters in less than 30 minutes.
A crudely drawn, rather goofy version of Polyphemus the Cyclops awaits our hero in the second part of the series. Odysseus and his band of foolish warriors, who almost never listen to the warnings of the gods or their leader, also get to meet the giant, man-eating Laestrygonians in this half-hour. Once they survive that bunch, they get to match wits with the dangerous Circe, the seductive Sirens and the rock-dwelling monsters Scylla and Charybdis.
After spending several years with the beautiful Goddess Calypso, Odysseus finally returns home in the fourth and final episode, only to have to compete in an archery contest to win back his wife Penelope, who’s become quite popular during his long absence.
Roger Payne’s illustrations are aptly inspired by early Greek drawings, and the production utilizes some impressively designed backgrounds. Martino Tirimo’s subtle score is effective. The series’ Achilles’ heel is its awkward character movements and laughable action sequences. The fact the actors sound like they’re auditioning for a Monty Python spoof doesn’t help matters either.
Younger auds, however, may gladly overlook budgetary shortcomings and fall under the spell of the ancient storyline, which has worked its magic for more than 2,750 years. Kids may even want to rent Robert Halmi’s lavish Hallmark miniseries or Henson Creature Shop’s “The Storyteller: Greek Myths” for better visual treatments of the story.