Judge Joel Pearce is happy to report that Will Ferrell keeps his clothes on during all 88 minutes of this kiddie flick.
Show me the monkey!
Whatever else it may accomplish along the way, Curious George is the kind of film I haven't seen from Hollywood in a long time. It is a pure children's film. That doesn't make it a great film, but it is a major animated feature that you can put your kids in front of with no worries that they will be corrupted.
Facts of the Case
Ted/The Man in Yellow (Will Ferrell, Anchorman) is a nerdy museum worker who subjects children to very boring lectures. When he discovers that the museum is losing money and he's about to be out of a job, he agrees to journey to Africa to find an ancient and gigantic idol. When he arrives, he does find the idol (which is not quite as large as he had hoped). He also finds a curious little monkey that follows him back to the big city. Now, Ted needs to save the museum, come clean about the idol, and figure out what to do with George. It's going to be a long week.
Almost all family movies have larger lessons, hidden jokes, and other material designed to make family entertainment more palatable for parents. This practice has resulted in some delightful family films that truly can be enjoyed by people of all ages (Iron Giant comes to mind). Others, like Shrek, contain humor that would be completely inappropriate for kids if they had any chance of getting it.
It's been a while since I've seen a film aimed squarely at kids. Curious George is just such a film: Ted is a likable loser who stumbles into tough situations; George is curious and gets into things; nobody gets hurt—including the innocence of our children. This is all well and good, but it will seriously dampen the fun for parents who like to watch movies with their kids. Curious George isn't the most dreadful piece of children's programming I've ever seen, but its lack of thematic depth or subtext certainly leaves it on the lean side. The plot meanders aimlessly, clearly more interested in comic antics than a coherent story. It's really impossible to ignore that this is a 30-minute story stretched out to feature length. To compensate, Will Ferrell fills the running time with amiable banter, but it only serves to take the attention away from George, who is often pushed into the background. The genesis of a love story is squeezed in as well, though I see little point. It's all just padding for the flimsy plot.
There's not much else to say about the film itself. It's so simple, straightforward, and cute that it's actually a difficult film to review. Kids will like it. Parents will be bored, but won't mind that the kids are watching. As a fun side note, bored parents can use this opportunity to play the product placements drinking game. Every time you see a familiar product logo (like Dole or Volkswagen), take a shot of something strong. You might enjoy Curious George just as much as your kids after all.
I should also mention the animation. It perfectly captures the look of the book series, and generally succeeds in hiding its use of CGI. It's an attractive and colorful film, and has been technically well crafted.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The transfer of Curious George is one of the best I've seen from Universal. It is vivid and clear, perfectly capturing the bright color palette of the film. There's a lot of motion in the film, with bright contrasting colors, but I saw no examples of bleeding or other visual artifacts. The sound transfer is strong as well. The score, which features Jack Johnson, is particularly well mixed. The surrounds don't leap into action as much as they could, but the front sound stage is bold and broad.
There's a wide range of special features on the disc. Kids can sing along with Jack Johnson's music video, or play games with even more obvious product placement. For parents, there is also some additional product placement, in the form of an advertisement from Shea Homes and a thinly veiled Volkswagen commercial. There's also a featurette on drawing George. Unfortunately, it is presented in the wrong aspect ratio. Finally, there are about fifteen roughly drawn deleted sequences.
If you have young kids, Curious George is worth adding to the home video collection. Even though it has nothing to say and will bore you to tears, its colorful appeal should enchant the little ones. It delivers exactly what it promises, and I guess that's a good thing. Still, your time would be better spent reading the books to your kids.
I'm releasing George back into the wild. He's free, so long as I don't have to see him again.
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