Dir: Matthew OCallaghan. US. 2005. 77mins.
Curious George, the mischievous monkey known togenerations of kids from the classic picture books by Margretand H A Rey, finally makes it to the big screen inthis slight but sweet animated tale from Imagine and Universal.
Aimed firmly at youngerchildren (probably in the three- to eight-year-old range), with few concessionsto a broader family audience, the traditionally animated George isn't likely toperform at the same level as Imagine/Universal's live-action Dr Seussadaptations or recent computer animated blockbusters.
But name recognition andnostalgia value should still be enough to produce a mid-level theatrical performancefollowed by strong DVD sales.
Opening in the US nextweekend, George will attractattention from kids and from baby boomer parents who grew up with the books.But it will have some competition for the tot audience - from holdovers includingNanny McPhee,and, a couple of weeks down the line, from Doogal (the re-titled Magic Roundabout movie).
In the international arena,performance may depend on how well known the character is in a given territory.Though they had settled in the US by the time the first Curious George story was published in 1941, the Reyswere originally from Germany. And all told, the books have sold 30m copies andbeen translated into 17 languages.
The books were a series ofself-contained episodes, with George exploring different aspects of the humanworld. For the film, screenwriter Ken Kaufman (Muppets From Space) turns George's human guardian The Man in theYellow Hat into Ted (voiced by Will Ferrell), a clumsy scientist who works at arun down museum owned by the kindly Mr Bloomsberry(Van Dyke).
The film tells how Georgemeets Ted in the jungle and follows him back to the city, eventually helpinghim save the museum.
The human story alsoinvolves Ted's potential love interest (Barrymore) and some other characters,but it's pretty flimsy and really serves only to string George's misadventurestogether. Since George doesn't talk, his episodes consist mostly of acrobaticaction and gentle slapstick comedy, usually accompanied by a soundtrack song.
Except for one King Kong sight gag, there's almost noneof the wisecracking pop-culture comedy sometimes inserted into kids films tokeep the adults amused. And while the story does have its morals - 'Letyour curiosity lead you,' being the most explicit - they're not over-emphasised.
Under the direction ofMatthew O'Callaghan (a former Disney animator who previously directed CGproject Mickey's Twice UponA Christmas), the 2D animation is warm and colourful with a slightlyretro feel.
During more than five yearsof development, Imagine considered making CuriousGeorge as a live-action and computer animated feature, eventually - andprobably wisely - deciding that traditional animation techniques would be truerto the feel of the books. The animators certainly make George himself veryappealing, though his Teletubby-style cooing perhapstakes the cuteness a bit too far.
Among the film's otherassets are Ferrell, who gets a lot of voice time and adds considerably to theenergy level, and the songs, composed and performed by laidback folk-poptroubadour Jack Johnson. Though they're not particularly memorable, the tunes -just released on a new Johnson CD - add a pleasant feel to the film'sdialogue-free sequences. And the CD, of course, together with some new bookspin-offs, also gives Universal a handy cross-promotion opportunity.
Main cast (voices)
Dick Van Dyke