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Curious George

A (Platonic) Love Story About a Man and His Monkey

Based on the series of children's books by Margret and H.A. Rey first published in the early 1940s (seven in all before Houghton Mifflin revived the profitable series in the early 1990s), Curious George has had a remarkable longevity, with more than 30 million copies sold worldwide (and translated into 17 languages). The Curious George books were simple picture books about a mischievous, inquisitive monkey, making his way in a big city.

Combined with an innocent, adventurous streak, George got into multiple scrapes, often with disapproving adults looking on. George was (and is) a pre-verbal child, eager to discover the world around him, heedless, or more likely, unaware of the consequences that result from his actions.

Curious George opens with a prologue set in Africa that follows an orphaned, but nonetheless happy, George (he isn't given a name until late in the film) as he playfully engages in pranks on the other animals. Post-prologue, Curious George jumps across continents to introduce Ted (voiced by Will Farrell), an anthropologist who works at a natural history museum. Unless a new, exciting exhibit can be found, however, the museum faces bankruptcy. The museum's owner, Mr. Bloomsberry (Dick Van Dyke), wants to keep the museum open, of course, but his ambitious, greedy son, Junior (David Cross), hopes to replace the museum with a profitable parking lot. Ted eventually suggests an idea to save the museum's fortunes: if they could find and bring back the lost shrine of Zagawa from Africa, they could, hopefully, also bring back paying crowds.

Once in Africa, Ted encounters George, who becomes immediately taken in by the yellow hat and starts playing peek-a-boo with Ted. Ted returns with what he thinks is the lost shrine of Zagawa (it's slightly less imposing than expected), with an ever-curious George in tow. George stows away in Ted's ship (contrary to the original storyline back in 1941, where the Man in the Yellow Hat kidnapped George from his African home). Ted and George are eventually reunited in America, setting the stage for Ted to become a surrogate father for George, with Maggie (Drew Barrymore), a schoolteacher with a crush on Ted, as George's surrogate mother.

Misadventures, of course, follow, including one plot turn that might be too downbeat for small children, due the undertow of rejection, abandonment, and separation that colors the scene. Adults with small children and adults with fond memories of reading the Curious George books (or more accurately) having the books read to them by their parents or other adults, will find a great deal to enjoy in the colorful, warm, and detailed animation (the animators favor lighting effects on and through trees and windows), plus several inventive set pieces, including one that duly pays homage to King Kong.

Ted is presented as the son that Mr. Bloomsberry wishes he had. The villain, the height-challenged, bespectacled, balding, pony-tailed, mustachioed Junior, is presented as singularly unattractive, ugly on the outside and on the inside. Why make the villain a disaffected, unhappy son, when a bureaucrat, investor, or even a board member would have served just as well? Junior's villainy seems to suggest that adult children are either bound to disappoint their parents or that adult children who don't listen to their parents' advice regarding life decisions are automatically disqualified from receiving parental approval.

Still, Junior's villainy is just one minor quibble with an otherwise light-hearted, well-intentioned, family-oriented, animated film. Curious George has all the hallmarks of a Disney film, e.g., family-first life lessons, and uplifting, if innocuous, songs written by songwriter/singer, Jack Johnson. It's not a Disney film, though. Universal Studios and Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's production company) financed and developed Curious George into a feature film. With Disney abandoning 2-D animation, hopefully other Hollywood studios will take advantage of the opportunity (assuming the market for 2-D still exists). For fans of 2-D animation, Curious George is a step in the right direction.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars