Director – Matthew O’Callaghan, Screenplay – Ken Kaufman, Story – Ken Kaufman & Mike Werb, Based on the Books by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, Producers – Ron Howard, David Kirschner & Jan Shapiro, Music – Heitor Pereira, Songs – Jack Johnson, Production Design – Yarrow Cheney. Production Company – Universal/Imagine Entertainment
Will Ferrell (Ted), Frank Welker (George), Dick Van Dyke (Mr Bloomsberry), David Cross (Junior Bloomsberry), Eugene Levy (Clovis), Drew Barrymore (Maggie Dunlop), Ed O’Ross (Ivan), Joan Plowright (Miss Plushbottom), Michael Chinyamurindi (Edu), Michael Sorich (Seen It Cab Driver)
Ted works as a museum guide but then the museum’s owner Mr Bloomsberry announces that they are going to have to close the museum because of lack of money. Bloomsberry’s son Junior is eager to demolish the building to construct a carpark. Trying to find a way to save the museum, Ted comes up with the idea of a quest to Africa to find the Lost Shrine of Zagawa, which is supposed to contain the 40-foot statue of an ape. However, the scheming Junior tears half of the map off, placing an X on the remaining half, which leads to the middle of nowhere. In the jungle, Ted befriends a mischievous monkey that steals his yellow hat. Where the X is on the map, Ted only finds a tiny statuette of an ape 2 inches tall. He is shocked upon returning to the US to find that Bloomsberry has advertised everywhere that he is unveiling a 40-foot statue. Discovering that Ted only has a miniature, Junior intends to exploit this to humiliate him. Meanwhile, the monkey has followed Ted back to the US and causes mischief everywhere it goes.
Curious George is a popular children’s book character. The mischievous monkey first appeared in print in the self-titled Curious George (1941), created by the illustrating and writing team of expatriate German husband and wife Hans Augusto (H.A.) Rey and Margret Rey. The pair produced seven Curious George books between 1941 and 1966. These were followed by a further 31 Curious George books by various other authors and illustrators. Curious George enjoys a vast popularity today in merchandising from various soft toys, lunchboxes, T-shirts and colouring-in books and so forth. In the media, the little monkey has been adapted into an animated tv series Curious George (1980) and The Adventures of Curious George (1982), a 30 minute stop-motion animated film that was based on the two of the Rey books.
This animated Curious George feature film comes from Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and director Matthew O’Callaghan, a former visual effects supervisor and Disney animator and writer. The film does change the essence of Curious George somewhat. In the original children’s books, the character of Ted was only ever known as The Man in the Yellow Hat and never named. Here the focus is more on Ted/The Man in the Yellow Hat’s problems retaining his job and even having a romance than on the character of George and his innocent mischief as was always the case in the books. The other human characters in the film have no equivalent in the books, for instance. The film does adapt some aspects of the stories closely – most notably replicating the scenes where George and The Man in the Yellow Hat meet in the first book, although the filmmakers clean this up somewhat. The Curious George books have attracted some retrospective criticism of engendering European colonialist attitudes towards Africa, with the scene where The Man in the Yellow Hat originally abducts a compliant George being seen as one notable example. In the film, this is changed to have George merely following The Man in the Yellow Hat on board the ship and back to America.
Curious George is an amiable film, although really requires one to be of pre-school age to truly enjoy it. Indeed, one suddenly realises partway through that the goo-goo faces and noises that Ted keeps making to George are exactly the sort of play that one usually makes to pre-verbal infants. As long as one can see it as a film that requires nothing in the way of any mental faculties beyond that age, one can enjoy Curious George for exactly what it is. The monkey is an endearing little character and comes with a child-like innocence. That said, Curious George never consists of anything more than various slapstick set-pieces with the monkey causing mischief due to his curiosity.
The animation is a mixture of simple hand-drawn methods and modern CGI animation. There are some impressive 3D animated scenes tracking George across rooftops and through the streets of New York. The film is certainly not above making more of the odious plugs for brand name products that are starting to overtake modern children’s films, with George notably eating an entire hold full of Dole fruit.
There were several dvd-released sequels Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey (2009), Curious George Swings Into Spring (2013) and Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle (2015). A live-action version is planned by Andrew Adamson for some time in the 2020s.