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A better zoom/whoosh adaptation coming to theaters this weekend is Stephen Chow's Journey to the West
; adventurous kids might even prefer it, too. It comes from a purportedly more obscure source for US audiences: a 16th-century Chinese novel, which I assume contains less slapstick or mugging than Chow's film. I couldn't quite suss out whether I saw in Journey
the seams of awkward and loose adaptation or just evidence of major cultural disconnect, and I found its eventual turn into semiserious territory more than a little baffling. But for much of its running time, Journey to the West
is an amusing series of wacked out encounters between earnest if goofy demon-hunters and goofy if grotesque demons; structurally, it's not too dissimilar from Mr. Peabody and Sherman
, though it substitutes some aimless wandering in place of the merciless DreamWorks Story Engine. With just Chow behind the camera this time, Journey
ultimately flags compared to his magnum opus Kung Fu Hustle
, even as it matches energy levels for a few set pieces at a time.
But a certain type of kid might get a real kick out of Journey to the West instead of attentively tolerating Peabody and Sherman (an adorable little kid at my screening, probably around three, pretty much summed it up. When it was over, she exclaimed: "Mr. Peabody!" If nothing else, the movie brands its lead character well, given how often Sherman says his name). Really, it feels a bit like all-cartoons this weekend at the movies: 300: Rise of an Empire looks, like its predecessor, to push live action about as far as you can go before it tips over into full-on animation, a Saturday morning cartoon for bros; The Grand Budapest Hotel may not be another stop-motion cartoon from Wes Anderson but aesthetically Anderson makes human-scale stop-motion (or maybe Drawn & Quarterly comics) for nerds of a certain sensibility (that is to say: mine). If everything is animation, the excited whooshing and zooming of Peabody and Sherman may mean even less than meets the eye.