Generations have grown up devouring H.A. Rey's stories of a mysterious and peculiarly outfitted man and the lighthearted antics of his simian friend. And more than a few of us who grew up within TV signal range of Canada also watched the simple yet memorable 6-minute Curious George shorts on CBC, which made up a balanced part of our daily diet of children's television.
For George to come to the big screen in any way that's not as appropriately sweet and low-key would be a shame. It's bad enough what Jim Carrey and Mike Myers did to Dr. Seuss, and who wouldn't put it past Hollywood to take a sweet little monkey and transform him into a farting, burping CGI primate who participates in extreme sports, drives a Jeep and guzzles Mountain Dew?
Mercifully, there's none of that forced sense of cool in director Matthew O'Callaghan's long-awaited big screen version of Curious George, despite the movie's "Show me the monkey!" cheeseball marketing slogan. O'Callaghan and a team of writers that include Monsters, Inc. scribes Robert L. Baird and Dan Gerson have loyally adapted several of George's stories into a movie that's as suitable for toddlers as it is for their older sibs.
The vibrant, simple animation is hardly lavish; some scenes closely mirror H.A. Rey's black-and-white pages with just splashes of primary colors and spare backgrounds. A lot is left to the imagination, which suits George perfectly.
The story follows the Man with a Yellow Hat (whose name is Ted; who knew?) on an architectural hunt to find a lost idol that he hopes will bring in crowds needed to save his beloved museum from becoming a parking lot. Instead, he comes back with George. The monkey's playfulness helps stuffy Ted break out of his shell and ultimately save the museum.
The filmmakers give us a lot of Ted's backstory their device for stretching George into a feature. Did we need to know that the Man in the Yellow Hat had job stress and a love life? File under too much information.
And yet, the filmmakers have captured what it is about George that makes him so beloved. He resists no impulse. If he sees a bucket of paint, he goes to town. If there's a button, he pushes it. If there's something to climb, he'll leap right up. Does he fret about what happens next? Heck no.
The monkey is so insanely cute, he even upstages Will Ferrell, whose voice work as Ted shows uncharacteristic restraint. He plays Ted so straight, in fact, that it'd be easy to mistake him for a Greg Kinnear-type if you didn't know any better.
It's George's adventurous, childlike exuberance whether floating off with balloons, flying to the moon or just playing peek-a-boo that made H.A. Rey's books so endearing. Likewise, O'Callaghan and company bring the silly, silent, slapstick chimp to the screen with just the right spirit of mischief and mirth.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.