6 out of 10
Hand-drawn Classic Children's Tale
Curious George does not talk. This came as a great relief to me, who remembered reading several of the classic Margret & H.A. Rey books about the mischievous monkey named George and his friend The Man in the Yellow Hat. I arrived with my nine-year old niece Fiona in tow half-expecting a smart-alec computer-generated monkey and found instead of movie which had captured the look and most of the feel of the original stories. The film was animated in 2-D by numerous animators from 10 different countries in a soft pastel style which mirrors the original illustrations and George the monkey is as cute as you can imagine.
The main change from the books was the character of The Man in the Yellow Hat, who has become a young scholarly geek working at a museum instead of the self-confident and competent scientist-explorer fans of the books may remember. Will Ferrell provides the voice of The Man and fits the character pretty well (think of his character in 'Elf'). He also provides a bit of the facial features, as all the adult characters have the vague look of the stars who provide their voices. You can see Eugene Levy, Dick Van Dyke and Joan Plowright among others. Drew Barrymore provides the voice of the obligatory uncritical love interest, but Hailey Noelle as the voice of the Little Girl gets as much time as Drew does in the film (and Hailey doesn't get much time). The storyline revolves around the relationship of the odd couple of The Man and Curious George, and how they become friends, and all other relationships are definitely secondary.
Curious George the movie is wholesome family entertainment, with an apparent target audience of three to nine year olds and no bad language or violence is in evidence. Parents will be able to watch without wincing but there are no Shrek-like adult references for them to enjoy. The few villains are almost too non-threatening, and even the few sad parts of the movie avoid harsh reality. Several of the better books have been pillaged for amusing incidents, such as a trip to the zoo and painting a penthouse apartment.
The soundtrack is provided by Jack Johnson. This the 'laid-back rocker' (surely an oxymoron like 'military intelligence'). The songs are too laid back : they complemented the movie the way salt does a meal, rather than the pepper that tends to make a great soundtrack. Imagine Entertainment, an offshoot of Universal Studios, deserves some credit for making an old-fashioned kid's movie but the pace is slow compared to that of most other children's films being made today. The other thing that struck me as annoying was the tagline of 'Show me the monkey '. I couldn't decide whether this was a poor parody of the tagline from 'Jerry Maguire' or a reference to the Chinese expression, but it does not fit the tone of the movie at all. What is it about PR people?
I suspect Universal is quite unsure how well Curious George will do at the Box Office. There are some toys and product placements coming out and there is a very tentative series of TV or DVD cartoons slated to go if the audience response is big enough (narrated by William H. Macy of all people). There is even a product placement drawn into the film for you mommies and daddies to spot. Like me, Universal may have felt in the end that Curious George was quite a good film, but it doesn't have that extra something that makes people buy the merchandise and the DVD after they see it in the theatres. In the words of my niece Fiona 'it was quite good, but '. Maybe Curious George is a little too quiet.
Film Critic: D.A. Gunter