Judge Dan Mancini wrote a coarse blurb about poo-flinging monkeys, but we deleted it.
"You never do know what's around the bend,
Produced for broadcast on PBS, Curious George straddles the divide between the 2006 animated feature starring Will Ferrell and the seven classic children's books written and illustrated by Margret and H.A. Ray. The series borrows the movie's more detailed and expressive character designs, but returns George to his rightful place at the center of the action while making The Man with the Yellow Hat (inexplicably named Ted in the movie) the monkey's foil, as he is in the Rays' books. To the books' thin cast, the show adds a variety of new characters with whom George interacts, including Hundley, a fussy and fastidious dachshund belonging to the doorman at The Man with the Yellow Hat's building; Compass the "almost-homing" pigeon who always loses his way; a rotund Italian chef named Pisghetti; and Pisghetti's pet cat Gnocchi.
As entertaining as it is for kids to watch the antics of a mischievous but well-intentioned monkey, the show's underlying purpose is to teach them some basic lessons in science and math. In "The Magic Garden," for instance, George's accidental destruction of Pisghetti's rooftop vegetable garden provides the context for the little monkey (and the children who watch him) to learn about planting and nurturing seeds so that they grow into vegetables. George's hot air balloon adventures in "Up, Up, and Away" provide lessons in how air and wind can be used as a source of energy and power. In "Creatures of the Night" George's quest to reunite a lost possum leads to lessons about nocturnal animals. "George Sinks the Pirates"—an episode in which Hundley dreams of sea battles against Yellow Hat the pirate—is all about buoyancy. Despite the producers' ulterior motives, the show never feels pedantic. Curious George is a perfect blend of educational and entertainment television.
Each animated story in the series is around 12 minutes in length, followed by a brief live-action segment of children responding to the concepts presented in the episode. This proves ideal in capturing the spirit of the original books, though the show's stories are new. Storybook-style narration by William H. Macy and Rino Romano also adds to the episodes' literary feel.
Curious George Sails with the Pirates and Other Curious Capers! is a scattershot collection of eight episodes, mostly from the show's second season:
• "Curious George Sinks the Pirates"
Curious George is produced in high definition, so it looks excellent on DVD. Colors are vivid and fully saturated. Detail is excellent. Digital artifacts are almost non-existent. The animation itself is smooth and well designed for a television production. Unfortunately, the transfer is cropped to the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, matching its presentation on PBS. The framing is the only disappointment in an otherwise excellent transfer.
The stereo audio track is vanilla, but it gets the job done.
Supplements are slim. "George's Boat Game" is an onscreen game that very young children might enjoy. Any child old enough to have played a real video game will be bored. A DVD-ROM option contains printable connect-the-dots and coloring pages.
Curious George is superlative children's entertainment. DVDs that offered the episodes in their original broadcast order and framed at 1.78:1 would be ideal, but none of that changes the fact that preschool and early elementary school kids are bound to enjoy and learn a few things from the eight episodes in this collection.
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