Drawn That Way
By Daniel Pellegrino
March 3, 2010
They say curiosity killed the cat. If you're a monkey, curiosity makes you lovable and mischievous. The Curious George movie came and went with little explosion on the box office in 2006 (over $58 million domestically), but it still made back its production budget and re-launched a character that has been popular for decades. Now his presence includes a Saturday morning cartoon on PBS and promotional ties on everything from bananas to VW cars. This Tuesday, a direct-to-video sequel will enter stores under the title, Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey. This last weekend, I checked out the original and fell in love.
Curious George is an exercise in restraint. So many elements of the production are held back and it makes the film better as a whole. The target audience is quite obviously young children. What separates Curious George from the Shreks of the world? You won't find any innuendos in the script. No one attempted to make a film for adults. Filmmakers restrained at every opportunity to go over the child's head and make a tongue-in-cheek reference for the perverted adults in the audience. It is refreshing to see a company other than Pixar make pure and wholesome entertainment.
Speaking of restraint, someone must have shot the vocal talents with a tranquilizer before they entered the recording studio. The legendary Frank Weller voices George. Weller has voiced a character in just about every animated piece for the last 20 or so years, including another famous monkey, Abu from Aladdin. Here, he is called on to make a few monkey noises while most of the vocal responsibility falls on superstar Will Ferrell. Ferrell is known for his loud characters and outrageous acting style. In Curious George, he disappears into the role of Ted (AKA Man with the Yellow Hat). He plays the straight man to George's loose-cannon role. Drew Barrymore plays Ted's love interest. If you've ever seen Barrymore's CoverGirl commercial, you would know that she has a bit of trouble with her ‘S' sounds. Oddly, she's hawking a product called "Lash-Blast Mascara" in a commercial that has more S's than a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. In Curious George, she sounds like a shy young woman. Her usual vocal acrobatics are toned down and masked by a beautifully drawn character. Other performers who ditched their polarizing acting styles for the film? Eugene Levy and David Cross. They got the memo that they were in a movie for children and not an opportunity to promote their own material. Again, refreshing.
The animation in Curious George is beautiful - simple hand-drawn animation mixed with various three-dimensional environments. I've said this before and I'll say it again, there is no reason anyone should consider ditching two-dimensional animation. There is something so pure about the art form. For a film like this, it works. A Curious George movie had been in development for years. Walt Disney even considered making the film in the early 1940s. In the 1990s, it was conceived as a live-action movie. I'm happy that creators decided to go traditional when they made the film. The character isn't meant to live in our world. The colors are some of the brightest you will see on screen. Character design is simple and adorable. There hasn't been a more squeezable character since Stitch hit the screen in Lilo and Stitch.
Special note must be made of the music. The soundtrack has sold a ridiculous amount of copies since its release for good reason. All of the music was composed and performed by Jack Johnson, best known for his laid-back beach anthems. He created a soundtrack that is perfect for a rainy day, songs that parents will love just as much as their kids.
The George character has been popular for so many years because of the message that he stands for. He represents adventure, interest and a thirst for knowledge. These universal themes are the reason that the original Curious George stories have been popular throughout so many decades and various languages. The film captures this spirit and message perfectly. The Man with the Yellow Hat says, "The real way to learn anything is to go out and experience it and let your curiosity lead you." This is the lesson that people of all ages need to take from the film.
If you're looking for a laugh-out-loud romp with explosions and popular comedians animating their own material, look elsewhere. Curious George is a simple movie for children. It teaches children to be curious. In a world where we are bombarded with sex scandals and celebrity overdose, it's nice to see something that could have been made in the 1950s and enjoyed in the same way.
My very first nephew arrives in a month and I can't wait to show him this film. It is the perfect movie to introduce to toddlers. Without even having knowledge of the English language, children will be enthralled by the colors and rounded shapes presented on screen. I look forward to a quiet day in the near future that I will spend holding my nephew and showing him Curious George as he falls in and out of sleep in my arms. One of the greatest things about cinema is sharing an experience with another human, whether it be sitting in a dark theater with a date as you share scares from a slasher flick, or laughing with friends as Vince Vaughn spits out words faster than the viewer can digest them. Share Curious George with a child in your life. It's less than an hour and a half of quality time you can spend that will bring a smile to your face. At the very least, pick up one of the original books and read it to your child.