When Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger talks about his naughty little monkey, he usually gets slapped.
"There are some things a dog just can't explain to a monkey."—Narrator
When the animated version of H.A. Rey's eternal children's book character hit the big screen, parents and children's librarians the world over held their collective breath. But Universal and Matthew O'Callaghan delivered a sensitive, funny, non-annoying take on the beloved character. Could a television program be far behind?
Curious George, The Man in the Yellow Hat, Gnocchi the cat, and Hundley the dog pal around in eight animated tales loosely based on the works of Margaret and H.A. Rey. George usually wanders off, has an adventure, and finds his way back before anyone is the wiser. Whether he's performing scientific experiments in space or battling beavers for supremacy of a creek, George is always up to his ears in mischief. The stories on Curious George: Rocket Ride and Other Adventures include:
• "Rocket Ride"
Like the movie before it, Curious George the show is a liberal adaptation of the source material. Curious George devotees might be disappointed by such latitude. While I'm typically a vocal proponent of strict interpretation, in this case it's great that the series creators used the core characters and not much else. For as fondly as people recall them, the books are wretched. They are imperialistic, awkwardly written, dull slogs through plots that read like a series of random stepping stones. Side plots and potential conflict are ignored, and all that is left is to marvel at George's preposterous, somnolent "adventures." To be fair, my kids love the books, and I did too. So I grit my teeth and suffer through the 45 minutes it takes to read each story.
That is why Curious George the TV show is a breath of fresh air. George isn't the problem; it's the ponderous prose that bogs him down. Unfettered, George is a purer, more approachable character.
These eight stories are as uncomplicated as their predecessors, but distilled to their essence and peppered with funny moments. My 18-month-old busts a gasket when George cocks his head and says "hmm?" My 4-year-old convulses in extended peals of laughter when a lost George and Hundley reunite after running in circles around a large tree. And my wife and I even get in a laugh or two, such as when The Man with the Yellow Hat puts on a T-shaped space helmet custom-made to accommodate the wide brim of his eponymous hat. Few animated shows reach our whole family the way that Curious George: Rocket Ride and Other Adventures has.
The show makes full use of the previous investments in the film. High-caliber theme music and character models are recycled from the movie while new backgrounds and characters (some of which appear to be based on other Rey characters such as Pretzel) complete the scene. William H. Macy heads up a cast of competent voice actors. These touches create a rich, immersive environment that doesn't cut corners.
Each animated segment is matched with a live-action featurette where children perform thematically related activities. After "The Dam Builders" kids will make a river with a garden hose and find ways to dam it up, for example. These segments are not as interesting or polished as the main features, but aren't objectionable either. At least there are no moral lessons being crammed down your kid's throat in the guise of children's programming.
The disc has two extras that don't get much play time in our house and a coloring activity. There's also a spyware-ish menu that pops up every time you put the disc in your computer.
It hasn't taken long for Curious George: Rocket Ride and Other Adventures to wrest the top spot on the kidsÂ' shelf (a position formerly held by The Busy Little Engine). Time will tell whether George is a passing fad or a lasting favorite. One thing's for sure: the laughter is as genuine after the tenth viewing as it was during the first.
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