—2. Cast and Crew
—3. Photo Pages
—4. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—6. Production Notes (pdf)
—7. Spiritual Connections
—8. Presentation Downloads
We live in a culture that doesn’t allow kids to remain in childhood very long. Mothers pierce their infants’ ears. Children are the targets of intense marketing efforts even before they speak. A violent and sexually charged mass media deprives children of their innocence and robs them of the ability to see their world as a safe place.
The seven Curious George books by Margaret and H.A. Rey portrayed our world as one of adventure limited only by a child’s curiosity. The captivating pictures told the story and, no matter the trouble, the gentle message reassured children that everything is going to come out all right in the end.
The new Curious George film produced by Ron Howard and directed by Matthew O’Callaghan successfully translates the spirit of the beloved books and their visual feel to the screen. Combined with an outstanding and original acoustic soundtrack performed (and mostly written) by Grammy-nominated Hawaiian guitarist Jack Johnson, Curious George is destined to become a classic among primary-grade and pre-school-aged children and their families.
Borrowing visual high points from a number of the books, originally published between 1941 and 1966, Curious George tells the story of “Ted” (voiced by comic actor Will Ferrell), a museum educator who ventures for West Africa to save a failing museum by finding an ancient archeological wonder. In the process, he becomes the Man with the Yellow Hat. As he ventures into a clothing store, Ted is outfitted by two salesmen desperate to unload what they see as a doomed clothing line. “Yellow is the new khaki,” they tell him.
The Man with the Yellow Hat is in search of the Lost Shrine of Zagawa, a towering ape-like statue that aging owner Mr. Bloomsberry (Dick Van Dyke) believes will reverse his failing museum’s fortunes. Yet his son (David Cross) wants to turn the museum into a more financially lucrative parking garage and feels threatened by Ted, whom his father describes as “the son I never had.”
While on his journey, the novice explorer happens upon George, and a never-ending game of peek-a-boo ensues. The man departs without his yellow hat. George, seeking to return the hat, finds himself trapped in the hull of a ship bound for America. A ship full of bananas, of course. Cue Dole product placement.
Although there are many G-rated films produced for small children each year, Curious George is one of the first in a long time that is sweet without being saccharine, cute without being cutesy and adventurous without being frightening. It truly is an awww-filled movie. I heard more “awwws” from children and parents at the early evening screening I attended in the opening few minutes of this film than I’ve heard for the sum of all the other family movies I’ve seen in several years.
Like the books, the visuals dominate this film. Ferrell does a nice job of carrying large portions in, essentially, a monologue with occasional monkey sounds by Frank Welker. The 86-minute film also features a budding romantic interest with Maggie (Drew Barrymore), a grade-school teacher who faithfully attends Ted’s presentations each week, and some curious antics with an inventor (Eugene Levy).
The two-dimensional animation remains faithful to H.A. Rey’s watercolor images. Although there are certainly many more compelling animated films with better visuals and better storylines, there’s enough here to interest adults: visual references to King Kong, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades and a car stunt preceded by Ferrell’s winning line: “Luckily, movies have taught me exactly what to do in this situation.”
Some may criticize Curious George for lacking the depth of some of the most acclaimed animated films or fairy tales, in which the dark side of human nature comes to the fore. But the strength of this film is that it doesn’t try to graft a mature storyline onto something that was developed for small children. It simply tries to allow young children to approach their world with joy, wonder and awe. Or, as the Man with the Yellow Hat says, “The real way to learn anything is to go out and experience it, and let your curiosity lead you.”