Everyone's favorite "good little monkey" brings his insatiable inquisitiveness to the big screen in the good little animated adventure Curious George.
Faithful to the color palette and gentle tone of the beloved children's books by H.A. and Margaret Rey, the movie's whimsical plot focuses more on George's human — and in the books, nameless — play pal, "the man in the yellow hat," here a bungling museum curator named Ted (voiced by Will Ferrell).
With admissions down, Ted is dispatched by the museum's aging owner, Mr. Bloomsberry (voiced by Dick Van Dyke), to deepest Africa to find a legendary artifact whose wow-factor will hopefully jump-start attendance and save the museum from closing.
David Cross provides the voice for Bloomsberry's profit-scheming son, who wants to turn the museum into a parking garage.
While bumbling his way through the jungle, Ted befriends the playful primate, but Ted's quest ultimately proves a bust when he discovers that the idol is a trinket-sized statuette rather than the towering monolith of lore.
Deflated, he returns to New York, not knowing that the mischievous chimp has stowed away in the ship's hold. Needless to say, much monkey business ensues.
Also lending their voices are Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright and Drew Barrymore.
Having already botched two children's classics with their crass live-action versions of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, producers Ron Howard and Brian Glazer finally get one right.
Many sequences are lovingly lifted from the pages of the book, originally published in 1941. (George still gets into trouble with paint and takes a wild balloon ride over Manhattan.) The movie's storybook simplicity is further enhanced by several lullabylike songs performed by Jack Johnson.
It is refreshing to see a children's movie that doesn't feel the need to bombard viewers with pop-culture references and double entendres to keep parents engaged. (It is definitely geared toward youngsters, but adults will find it difficult not to smile.)
Director Matthew O'Callaghan couldn't resist one King Kong sight gag — and a rather shameless plug for Dole fruit — but those can be forgiven given the film's otherwise obvious affection for the material, disarming charm and warmhearted theme of friendship.
Oddly, Kong and George have something in common: Both deal with monkeys who leave their jungle homes, bond with humans and eventually cause havoc in New York. In every other way, they couldn't be more different. Long and loud Kong is a showcase for cutting-edge techno-wizardry. Short and sweet, George takes a decidedly throwback approach, its "traditional" — but visually vibrant — two-dimensional artwork bucking the current trend of 3-D, computer-animated fare.
And while it doesn't have any rampaging dinosaurs, when it comes to family entertainment, Curious George comes out the top banana.
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.
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