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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Curious George

I’ll be honest. I have never been a fan of children. There is something inherently loud and fidgety in their being that I find very disturbing, so the idea of spending an afternoon at the Essex Cinemas with a swarm of them watching Curious George was almost as ghastly as volunteering to take them home with me for a weekend.

What do I know about
Curious George anyway? I once met a man online who told me he was “bi-curious”, his name was George and he wanted to “monkey around”, but I am pretty sure that this movie had nothing in common with that proposal, and boy was I right. Fortunately, for me and the many, many children in the audience this Curious George was nothing like that.

Instead this G-rated
Curious George is an adventurous monkey who finds fun in almost anything. In Africa, he meets up with an explorer, The Man in the Yellow Hat, a k a, Ted, who has been tricked into wearing a silly costume by a couple of unscrupulous shop-owners before he left on his mission. He is looking for a forty-foot tall ancient idol, the Lost Shrine of Zagawa, as a last hope of keeping the museum from closing because of financial difficulties. What Ted doesn’t know is that the museum owner’s son has sabotaged the map because he secretly wants to tear down the museum and replace it with a more profitable parking garage. Naturally, because of the worthless map, Ted fails in his quest, but he does become the fixation of this mischievous monkey, who stows away on board the ship taking Ted back to America.

As soon as the ship docks, our snoopy simian delights in the oddities of civilization, from automobiles to flagpoles, as he bounces from one skyscraper to the next with the nimble agility of Spiderman. Once he reconnects with his Man with the Yellow Hat it is inevitable that Ted will eventually work his way back to Africa, find the desperately needed idol, and solve all of his problems thanks to his accepting the friendship that the adorable ape has to offer.

Naturally, many of George’s “cuter” activities would earn him a spanking or being sent to his room without dinner if he was a human child, but since he is a monkey his painting an opera star’s living
room by slopping buckets of multi-colored hues everywhere or his crashing the reconstructed skeleton of a tyrannosaurus into rubble are presented as sweet interludes during the larger story. My favorite though was homage to King Kong during which George uses an image projector in the back of a truck to make himself look like he is fifty feet tall. As the Man with the Yellow Hat innocently drives through the streets of Manhattan he can not understand why traffic around him seems so out of control. We, of course, can see what he doesn’t, the vision of Curious George jumping up and down on what looks like the cars behind Ted’s vehicle.

To my surprise, the film kept me entertained almost as much as it did the theater full of children. My concerns about it not holding their attention was unwarranted. They remained riveted to the entire 90 minutes, in part I am certain, to the fast pace, the bright colors, and the Jack Johnson score, which includes several songs that could be released as singles on their own they are just that good.

The animation is similar in intent to that found in the original books from the 1940s by H.A. Rey, Clare Sera, and Joe Stillman, and Will Farrell, voicing Ted, and Drew Barrymore, as his girlfriend Maggie are good choices as they sound energetic and distinctive each in their own way. Of course, best of all is the uncredited “voice” of
Curious George himself, Frank Welker, who also provided the monkey mania for Aladdin’s sidekick Abu in the 1992 Disney hit.

I have to admit it. I left the
Essex Cinemas a bit ashamed. I put off seeing Curious George for the last of the four new movies opening this week because I just knew it was going to be a torture, but I was wrong. It’s not often I’ll admit it, but I was. Curious George was a cute diversion, a bit of fluff to be sure, but nothing that will hurt an adult to see along with their kids. Heck, I’m even looking forward to Curious George 2.

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