Curious George

  Curious George
The newest "Trading Spaces" designer brings a primal sensibility to his work.

© 2006, Universal Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Working diligently in a failing museum, Ted, also known as The Man in the Yellow Hat (voiced by Will Ferrell), is sent to Africa to find an ancient statue that will generate some serious revenue. Once there, he comes across a curious little monkey who takes an immediate shine to him. Returning back home with a treasure that isn't nearly what he imagined, Ted finds the monkey, newly named George, stowed away on his ship. Forming a friendship, they embark on several big city adventures trying to find a way to keep the museum open.

I'll admit it: I'm a huge fan of the monkey. The "Curious George" (IMDb listing) books were a vital part of my childhood experience, and I poured over every single detail of those stories with a frightening attention to detail that was unrivaled until I discovered "Playboy" in my early teens. The brainchild of authors Margret and H.A. Rey, George finally unpacks his suitcase in Hollywood, albeit during one of the worst periods for family films in cinema history. It's a pleasure to report that the "George" feature film is a constant delight and, if it doesn't completely replicate the amiable book experience, it understands what makes George such an enduring and lovable character.

Director Matthew O'Callaghan ("Life with Louie") immediately introduces "George" with a playful sense of humor. Opening with the character's monkey business around his native jungle, O'Callaghan keeps the action simple, humorous, and silent. By turning George into a little furry Chaplinesque figure, the picture retains the character's innocence, while also providing the endearing slapstick he's known for, nicely arranged by the screenplay. Handing George paints, balloons, and bananas, the film has no trouble finding entertaining mischief for the monkey.

Playing off of George is Will Ferrell, handing in a vocal performance that is best described as absolutely breathless. Continually commenting on every move he makes, Ferrell tears through the movie throwing jokes and doubt everywhere, turning The Man with the Yellow Hat into a neurotic pile of jelly. I was less enthused about the script's self-conscious attempts to make fun of the Yellow Hat costume of the character, but Ferrell succeeds in the laughs and the heart department, sweetly voicing the friendship between this odd couple.

Sure to be criticized for its design, "Curious George" has been animated in the newly endangered "hand" drawn animation style, with major emphasis placed on simplicity and primary color schemes. This isn't a slick Pixar production, but a primitive one, keeping in line with the book's basic backgrounds and undemanding character designs. O'Callaghan doesn't have every technological tool at his expense, but he creates a colorful world for George, and animates the character's fluid tracking style of inquisitiveness wonderfully.

Ending rather bizarrely, "Curious George" remains a treat of small ambitions. It should tickle fans of the books, and hopefully encourage a new generation of viewers to continue their adventures with the curious monkey in the literary realm.

Filmfodder Grade: B+

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