February 16, 2006

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FILM: Curious George (G)
by Amy Diaz

The tales of an adventurous monkey from the books by H.A. Rey are brought to the big screen in the prettily animated Curious George.

Blessedly, George stays as quiet a monkey as he was in the book, letting his playfully mischievous actions speak for him. In the jungle he befriends the animal children by painting stripes and spots on them, to the dismay of the animal adults. His curiosity keeps him busy, scampering all over the African landscape. When he sees what he thinks is a giant banana walking through the jungle he follows it and meets the Man in the Yellow Hat (Will Ferrell). After some rounds of peekaboo, Mr. Yellow Hat continues his search for the statue that he hopes will make his museum famous and save it from being turned into a parking lot. The monkey likes the man and decides to follow him, all the way to New York. George at first makes life a little harder for the Man in the Yellow Hat (his building is supposed to be pet-free — leading the two to spend a night sleeping in Central Park). But eventually George proves to be not just a pet but a buddy for the Man with the Yellow Hat.

Curious George is light as a feather — from its vanilla soft-serve story to its vibrant but watercolory visuals there is not a single pushy thing about the movie. Even Ferrell tones down the clownishness of his live-action characters for a voice that’s in constant distress over George, but not serious distress. Sort of an “oh-I’ve-spilled-a-few-of-my-jellybeans” distress. Even the requisite sad part of the movie is not terribly sad nor does it last very long. All this mildness is faintly charming but not enough so that I’d ever want to see it again or recommend it to somebody who could drive.

However, while I appreciate movies, like The Incredibles or Shrek, that offer the possibility of whole-family entertainment, I also understand the importance of having kids’ movies that are truly, completely entertaining to kids. At too many kids’ movies — even good kids’ movies — the children in the audience, especially those younger than 7 years old, seem bored. They squirm, they talk, they ask their parents if the movie is over yet. At the recently released Nanny McPhee, a charming kids’ fairy tale, my 5-year-old stepson asked me skeptically if this movie was really for kids (British accents are not yet his bag) and didn’t really warm to the movie until the cake-throwing sequence at the end.

At the screening of Curious George I attended, even the smaller kids seemed transfixed (contrary to conventional wisdom, I think slowing down slightly — rather than speeding up — the pace of the film helped to make it more enjoyable to younger viewers). I saw no squirming and heard no mid-movie requests for popcorn or soda or leaving. The movie seemed to genuinely engage and delight them, which shouldn’t surprise me, really. Curious George has long been the hit of storytimes. By keeping that same pace and same sense of silly adventure, it’s no wonder that this adaptation should be the choice for the first-grade-and-younger filmgoer. C (for the adult) / B (for the kids).

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