Curious George is one curiously mixed-bag movie.
Visually, it’s a treat. It’s gorgeously illustrated in old-fashioned 2-D animation, faithful to the lovely drawings in the 1940s books on which the movie is based. If looks were the only critical consideration, I’d give George an A+.
Curious George is a cute and inquisitive monkey (a chimpanzee, really) whose innocent mischief gets him into nonstop adventures. George doesn’t talk, but he does coo, laugh, giggle and make goofy faces — in other words, he’s a lovable little kid. The Man in the Yellow Hat (here called Ted and voiced by Will Ferrell) gives boring lectures at the local science museum but has charmed school teacher Maggie (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Museum owner Mr. Bloomsberry (voiced by Dick Van Dyke) makes Ted his honored protege while he pointedly disregards his son, Bloomsberry Jr. (voiced by David Cross), who wants to turn the cash-strapped museum into a parking lot.
Off to the African jungle goes Ted (outfitted in head-to-toe banana-hued gear) to find the long-lost giant monkey idol of Zagawa and bring it back to the museum. Peek-a-boo games bond Curious George to Ted, and he stows away on an ocean freighter to follow Ted to New York.
The little primate’s mischief wreaks chaos everywhere, giving him wildly colorful, sometimes lyrical, adventures such as flying over Manhattan attached to balloons, painting jungle scenes in the penthouse of diva Miss Plushbottom (voiced by Joan Plowright), crashing a dinosaur skeleton, and most enjoyably, being magnified by a lighting device so he looks like King Kong walking through Manhattan.
The main story, about the relationship between Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat, is a simple, cuddly tale that kids love and parents can embrace. It’s the secondary stories that give me the willies.
Ted goes into the depths of the African jungle, where he meets not one dark-skinned African, and blithely removes an ancient artifact (it turns out to be tiny, not huge) without so much as a pause to consider the ethics (and racism) of stealing it — not to mention breaking every international anti-looting law on the books.
The other troublesome story line is so mean-spirited it’s creepy. Throughout the movie, Mr. Bloomsberry favors handsome and professorial Ted over his own son, who’s balding and concerned with financial security. Despite incessantly pleading for attention, the son is ignored by his father to the bitter end. It’s pathetic. I’m very curious — what on Earth were the adult filmmakers thinking, to have such an unpleasant theme in a kids movie?
Because Curious George is so visually appealing, don’t deny toddlers the experience of seeing it on the big screen. But when it comes home and is played repeatedly on the small screen, be prepared to interject parental guidance. Rated G.
— reviewed by Marcianne Miller