Opening 25 May 2006
In recent times, when Hollywood wastes no extra investment in finding fresh material, they just fall back on remaking old movies, much to the dismay of most. Is it playing on nostalgia to lure moviegoers back to the cinema (perhaps the appeal of Bewitched was a warm fuzzy feeling from a childhood fascination with twitching noses and magic?...Don't start me on the arrogance of producers who think they can beat Peter Sellars' Inspector Clouseau....) Remakes run rampant, so the other route is to dig up old children's books and adapt just about any material into a feature film. With a ho and a hum, I pulled my kids to see the preview of Curious George, not expecting much after seeing Ron Howard massacre The Grinch live-action adaptation from the Dr. Seuss book and holiday cartoon.
From the opening credits of George playing with his jungle friends, your feet start tapping to the Hawaiian beat tunes of Jack Johnson. You smile, because you know from the first scene that this is a sweet and charming transition from book to screen. George, the curious chimpanzee (not an actual monkey as he has no tail) looks like he did in the book first published in 1941 from H.A. Rey and wife Margret Rey, perhaps with a slightly rounder and more "animated" face, but it suits him well. The other main character is Ted, a.k.a.The Man in the Yellow Hat (voiced exceptionally well by comedian Will Ferrell),whose jump from illustration to animation is not just accurate in sketching and shading, but he now has a name, and a love interest Maggie (voice of Drew Barrymore, which is too distinctive to believe as any character other than Drew Barrymore). Additionally, he acquires more dimension in the form of a Ross-like (Friends) academic personality, which is more malleable and less parent-like than the Man in the book series.
In the pre-politically correct days, George was captured because of his curiosity of the yellow hat, but now he follows Ted from a tropical expedition in Africa to a ship bound for New York of his own free will. There is a plot, albeit a humble, simple one, but a nice frame to build for the monkey-in-the-big-city antics we know are coming. Especially cute is the story of how Ted got his distinctive yellow suit and why he has it on all the time.
As a self-proclaimed stickler for keeping movies JUST LIKE THE BOOK, I tried to be skeptical, critical and harsh while evaluating Curious George, but I couldn't help but love it despite the cell phones that get a net in Africa and take digital pictures. In my eyes, Ron Howard redeemed himself with George, Jack Johnson and Will Ferrell. This is what family entertainment should be, so enjoy, but be prepared to spend another 15 Euros for a Jack Johnson CD because you will be singing that theme song all day long, happily. (Kirstan Böttger)