Take the personality of an inquisitive toddler, put it in the body of a limber, good-natured little monkey, and then let him run loose. That’s the simple secret to the delightful, innocent monkey business and timeless appeal of the title character in Margaret and H.A. Rey’s CURIOUS GEORGE books, and it works just as well in the movie.
All kids can relate to George because at some point in their young lives, all kids are George. The movie’s plot is admittedly a little challenging for the youngest of preschoolers to follow: the genial Man with the Yellow Hat (a pleasant and for him, somewhat restrained Will Ferrell) is sent on an expedition for an artifact by a natural history museum owner (genial Dick Van Dyke), while the museum owner’s greedy son (snarky David Cross) hopes to sell the museum and turn it into a parking lot. If you’re watching with your kids the first time around, you can stop and explain briefly, as needed. Happily, that plot doesn’t matter as much to most preschoolers as the eye-catching, funny visual gags, and because George lives up to his name, those just keep coming.
The opening sequence, set to a ridiculously catchy song by laid-back pop singer/songwriter Jack Johnson,
is typical of the rest of the film’s easy-going pace, flat but kid-friendly look, and gentle comedy. It shows George being playfully mischievous in his jungle home surroundings, doing the kinds of things a toddler would do if he or she could (e.g., when his hands get covered with fruit juice, he uses the juice to decorate the jungle with handprints, culminating with a smiley face on the rear of an elephant). In the course of the movie, an easily digestible 86 minutes that doesn’t suffer by being broken up into multiple viewing sessions, George travels from the jungle to a New York-like city, explores his new universe with wide-eyed wonder, and continually gets into all sorts of minor, comedic/never scary trouble before things get sorted out. Naturally, there’s a requisite happy ending, as he helps the man with the Yellow Hat save the museum.
The animation is simple, brightly colored, and almost flat-looking, likely a deliberately art-directed choice made to tie its look in with that of the books. That works in your favor, parents, because it gives you an easy opening to read the books aloud to your kids at bedtime, and the CURIOUS GEORGE book habit is a good one to start. Though there are a bunch of wonderful original books from when I was a kid, parents may want to start out with the newer books in the series,which are a bit easier to understand and shorter to read (shorter being a virtue at bedtime). Like the movie, they’re entertaining to boys and girls. A movie that encourages reading with your kids – and instills in your kids a love of books – is always a good thing. There’s also a solidly entertaining and educational-without-seeming-to-be PBS series that launched after the movie, so once your kid’s hooked on George, you can keep going back to this well.
Adults Should Know: An entire movie in one sitting is likely too long for preschoolers to sit through, so I recommend breaking a movie down into several sessions. Initially it may be difficult for preschoolers when you turn it off, but as with any other rules, they’ll soon get used to the idea.
Say & Do: Ask kids how they are like Curious George. Talk about why monkeys don’t make good pets in the real world, and go visit some at the zoo. Read or listen to read-along versions of the original and more recent Curious George books together. Grab a globe or map or go online to explore where monkeys live in the wild. Visit a natural history museum like the one where Ted works. Watch the CURIOUS GEORGE PBS TV series.
CURIOUS GEORGE (2006) – Story by Ken Kaufman and Mike Werb, screenplay by Ken Kaufman, based on the books by Margret Rey & H.A. Rey. With Will Ferrell, Dick Van Dyke, David Cross.