Margret and H.A. Rey’s beloved character George the young monkey is faithfully brought to the big screen by director Matthew O’Callaghan and screenwriterKen Kaufman. Bucking the computer generated trend, their flat animation with its bright colors is also faithful to the book illustrations. We are not given the background of how the little monkey came to be alone (unlike Disney’s Bambi), but as the movie begins with little George using a red fruit paints stripes and such on other baby animals (and even a smiley face on the rear end of a mother elephant), and then the parents leading their offspring away, George is conspiculously alone. Alone, until the arrival of the Man in the Yellow Suit. Given the name of Ted, Yellow Suit and George play what is perhaps the first game that babies learn, Peekaboo. The monkey, stealing Ted’s hat, places it over him, and as he raises it to peek out at its owner, the two engage in the game. It is easy to see why the innocent George (who never talks) appeals to children, bouncy as they and eagerly exploring the world around with wonder and joy.
Ted has come to Africa in search of the shrine of Zagawa in the hope of bringing its huge statue back to New York and install it in his employer’s museum, thus saving the troubled institution. However, the statue turns out to be just a few inches high, but when Ted sends back a cellphone photo of it, his boss thinks it is indeed huge. What happens when George accompanies his new friend (who at first would rather be rid of the pesky creature) back to New York makes for delightful viewing.
The film uses well the voice talents of Will Ferrell as Ted, the Man in the Yellow Hat; Drew Barrymore as Maggie, the teacher who admires Ted; Joan Plowright, the snooty society lady Miss Plushbottom; Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Bloomsberry, the beleagured museum owner; and David Cross as Junior Bloomsberry, the jealous son. The filmmakers eschew the usual hip references to other movies—with one exception—and the funny remarks that only adults understand. This film really is a children’s film with virtually nothing in it that a four year old can understand. That they do “get it” was evident by all the giggles and delighted comments that I heard from the three to five year-olds among whom I sat in the theater. Oh, that one exception, well that movie also involves a simian, though a bit larger than Curious George, and I suspect that many of the children understood the reference.