Judge Jim Thomas believes even James Franciscus as an astronaut would have made this movie better.
Follow that Monkey!
2006's Curious George was a hallmark film in a number of respects. That good little monkey finally made it to the big screen after years of failed attempts and wrangling over film rights. The movie, which featured traditional animation, made about $70 million dollars on a budget of $50 million, making it a modest success. On top of that, it was a good movie. In the wake of that success, a sequel was inevitable, and Universal Home Entertainment and Imagine Studios approached the sequel with a clear vision: reduce costs at the expense of all else.
They got rid of almost everything that made the first movie work, including the production team and voice talent. Gone are Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, Dick Van Dyke, Joan Plowright, and even David Cross. The only holdover is Frank Welker as George. The result, not unsurprisingly, is a cut-rate direct-to-DVD sequel—wait, no, scratch that. Universal made a concerted effort to avoid the dreaded "Direct to DVD" moniker, so they gave the film a limited theatrical release. In Denmark.
As the movie opens, George has pretty much settled into life in the big city. Ted, The Man with the Yellow Hat (Jeff Bennett), on the other hand, is all excited; museum curator Mr. Bloomsbury (Fred Tatasciore) is retiring, and has recommended that Ted succeed him. Ted is obsessing over his impending interview with the board, and has become oblivious to those around him, including girlfriend Maggie (Nickie Bryar) and George. The finally manage to drag him to the circus, where famed magician The Great Piccadilly (Tim Curry, Clue) is performing. One of the highlights of the act is his work with Kayla, a baby elephant. Kayla misses her older brother and sister, and before you can say "banana brains," she has befriended George. Together with a bewildered Ted, they find themselves on a cross-country quest to reunite the family. Hot on their trail is theater detective Danno Wolfe (Jaime Kennedy, Scream), who is as incompetent as he is intractable (kind of a cross between Inspectors Javert and Clouseau), while TV newscaster Hank Hanson (Matt Lauer) turns the situation into a media and ratings frenzy.
The overall result? Boring. Stock situations and telegraphed jokes. The media frenzy bit is buoyed by Matt Lauer's surprisingly self-deprecating turn as a pompous newsman, but that entire aspect is lost on the movie's target audience, and only serves to break what little momentum the main story can muster. My four year-old lost interest after about 20 minutes, and he's generally an easy sell.
Now, I (and my four-year-old) love the first movie; it got a lot of play in the house until it got too scratched to play (the eventual fate of most of my children's discs). The movie combined the innocence and sweetness of George with some fun set pieces and a strong visual style, combining the drawing style of the books with bright, vibrant colors. Even setting the story aside, the sequel clearly cuts corners on the animation, and the overall look is generic. The voice talent for the most part does a decent enough job; Jeff Bennett tries, but can't quite muster the underlying charm that Ferrell brought to the table. On the other end of the spectrum, Jaime Kennedy's Danno Wolfe becomes quickly tiresome, bordering on "homicidal rage inducing." The legendary Jerry Lewis has a brief turn as a stationmaster, but is pretty much wasted.
Video is clean and clear; the 5.1 surround track is surprisingly good, providing a good showcase for the soundtrack, which features "California Sun," performed by Brian Wilson, as well as songs by Carbon Leaf. The songs are a bright spot in an otherwise dreary movie. The disc has some extras, including two episodes from the upcoming season, a DVD game, and some coloring sheets (always a big hit in my house).
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