Parents who wisely decided against bringing their youngest to see Peter Jackson’s ape epic King Kong will be pleased to learn that the animated adventure Curious George follows the exact same storyline to deliver a kiddie Kong that’s accessible to all ages. Plus, at 87 minutes, it’s half as long and nearly twice as entertaining.
The two movies are distributed by Universal Studios, hardly a coincidence. In fact, their plots share so many similarities one might want to investigate preliminary plagiarism charges. Both movies involve men facing financial devastation who traipse into uncharted territories in search of a valuable treasure that will put them back on their feet. Fortune eludes these guys, but they do discover a monkey – Kong in one, George in another – that follows them back to the mainland and proceeds to create havoc. Article continues below
The protagonist in George is lanky goof Ted (Will Ferrell), the infamous Man in the Yellow Hat from the cherished series of children’s books by Margaret and H.A. Rey. He gives tours at the local museum that’s threatening to close unless eccentric owner Bloomberry (Dick Van Dyke) can secure a mysterious African idol and lure larger crowds through the door. Ted’s willingness to assist sends him on the aforementioned jungle hunt. He returns with a tiny trophy, a curious companion, and enough problems to fill out the rest of the truncated cartoon.
Director Matthew O’Callaghan relies on traditional 2-D animation that lends George a cozy sophistication. He backlights his characters to create a warming, playful glow, a technique lifted from Rey’s original George cartoon books (the author receives a subtle nod in the film – the boat that takes Ted to Africa bears Rey’s name).
Despite the title, the movie focuses almost entirely on Ted as he fights to keep his job, win the heart of doe-eyed school teacher Maggie (Drew Barrymore) and contain his troublemaking pet. The plot structure creates a ton of space for Ferrell, who pumps Ted full of overplayed New York neurosis that wears thin before his boat leaves for the Dark Continent.
When the comedian pauses to catch his breath, Jack Johnson’s original soundtrack picks up the slack. The songwriter pens a memorable buffet sampling of jazz, Cajun Zydeco, and lullaby pop. Kids may leave laughing at George’s hijinks, but parents will leave humming the movie’s multiple tunes.
The Oscar-winning tandem of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer produced this animated adventure under the Imagine Entertainment umbrella. Far be it from me to tell these men how to run their shop – clearly they know a thing or two about the movies – but I watched George and felt they missed a golden opportunity. How much would you have paid to see seasoned comics Ferrell and Barrymore dive into a live-action George with an actual monkey? Would that version have produced larger laughs? I will remain forever curious.