- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Nostalgic adults looking to initiate their children into the wondrous world of Curious George might not get what they’re expecting from Universal’s animated feature. Where subtlety and simplicity once let children’s imaginations play in print, the movie indelibly inks in a predictable plot and characters. Ultimately, it’s a sweet story that children will enjoy — but not the one we fell in love with.

The film takes inspiration from Margret and H.A. Rey’s classic children’s book series about a mischievous but lovable monkey, George, who debuted in 1941. Filmmakers preserved a bit of the story’s innocence by choosing 2-D animation over the ubiquitous computer generated imagery, and the G-rated script omits the adult-friendly humor now semistandard in animated flicks.

The animation itself is quite beautiful: Warm sunlight sends fingers of light through windows; lush jungle scenes feel misty and cool. Mix in surfer-cum-musician Jack Johnson’s laid-back tunes, and the result is a refreshingly pleasant cocktail.

In this reinvented “Curious George,” the Man with the Yellow Hat has a “real” name: Ted (Will Ferrell). He’s boring, bookish and bumbling, and he works at a museum. A doting schoolteacher named Maggie (Drew Barrymore) is his lone admirer.

Ted discovers from his boss, Mr. Bloomsberry (Dick Van Dyke), that the museum will close due to falling attendance and resolves to save it by harvesting a monumental hidden treasure from Africa: the lost shrine of Zagawa.

In Africa, Ted meets adorable George (Frank Welker), but finds only an embarrassingly small 3-inch model of the shrine; he’s been sabotaged unknowingly by greedy Bloomsberry Jr. (David Cross). George slinks undetected onto Ted’s ship home (thus eliminating the animal trafficking element of the original tale).

Stateside, George’s antics get Ted fired, then evicted; yet, their friendship blossoms. In one especially charming scene, they fill and illuminate their mouths with green-glowing fireflies.

Ted visits mad professor Clovis (Eugene Levy), and they devise a way for Ted’s minishrine to appear massive and help win his job back. However, Bloomsberry Jr. interferes again, this time framing George in the process. The now-desperate Ted has had enough, and sics animal control on George, who is sent back to Africa. Maggie convinces Ted to retrieve his buddy, and once reunited, Ted and George discover the tiny shrine is actually a key to where the real one is stashed.

You probably know what happens next.

“Curious George” boasts enough star-power to light a small galaxy, but the Reys’ time-tested stories possessed a glitter all their own. Before Ted, for example, the Man with the Yellow Hat’s anonymity made him a blank slate upon which children could inscribe the qualities they wished. That he smoked a pipe and went on safari hinted at what kind of person he was, suggesting a level of sophistication incongruous with Mr. Ferrell’s over-the-top physical comedy and trademark rants.

Largely, “Curious George” is a lovely film visually and thematically, filled with youthful adventures and positive lessons. To George’s purist fans, however, it just doesn’t feel the same; sometimes, it’s better to let sleeping monkeys lie.


TITLE: “Curious George”


CREDITS: Directed by Matthew O’Callaghan. Written by Ken Kaufman and Mike Werb.

RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes

WEB SITE: www.curiousgeorgemovie.com


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