The new animated film "Beowulf" is not the same critter high school English classes read. The film is almost jaw-dropping beautiful, especially in digital 3-D, and also violent, bloody, sexy and very funny.

The director, Robert Zemeckis, who directed 2004's "The Polar Express," again uses the technology of "performance capture," which translates the movements of human actors into vivid and lifelike animation. The effect is striking and the overall look of the film is stunning. Again, it's worth the cost to see this film in digital 3-D and if possible in an IMAX theater. But even in regular two dimensional projection, "Beowulf" will deliver.

Writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary stay with the basic storyline from the oldest surviving epic poem in English literature - Good Danish King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) has a party to dedicate his new mead hall and the racket from the party disturbs perhaps the ugliest creature on earth and certainly in modern film, Grendel (Crispin Glover), who promptly bursts through the doors of the great hall and kills the revelers, thus ending the party.

You can see how a king can't let that continue, so Hrothgar calls for a hero and Beowulf (Ray Winstone) answers. He's everything anyone could want in a hero and more, and he tells everyone as much. His fight with Grendel shows the film has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. (On second thought, it's planted before that. Beowulf's muscle-filled body looks nothing like the pudgy Winstone's), as Beowulf strips naked to fight the gruesome fiend. The hero exposes much, but not everything. The film employs solid use of "Austinpowerism" to place objects in the foreground to hide, well, what needs to be hidden.

Of course, the real evil isn't the horrid wretch Grendel, but his mother, whom Angelina Jolie portrays, mostly naked, though a skin-tight sheen of gold covers her at important parts (not that it matters much). From here, Beowulf becomes king, lives many years and eventually has a fantastic fight with a dragon.

The plot is thicker than that, and the stuff filling it out won't be found in the original source material. "Beowulf" explores what it means to be good and what it means to be a hero, and if outward appearances matter more than inner darkness. The film also is thrilling and action-filled throughout, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Grendel's mom has spike-heeled feet, Beowulf could pay himself to be his own PR man and the film packs several good double entendres in its 114-minute running time.

The film's rating may be as laughable as its jokes. The Motion Picture Association of America somehow found its way to rate this film with a mere PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity."

Some of those sequences include a man being torn in half and another being eaten. Yes, "Beowulf" is animated, but parents shouldn't make the same mistake the MPAA did: If this were a live action film, the MPAA would have labeled "Beowulf" with an R rating, which is what it deserves.

And it still would have been as much fun to see.

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