There's good news and there's bad news about Curious George (rated G), the film adaptation of H.A. Rey's beloved children's books about a monkey who's always in trouble and his very patient, monochromatic owner. Thankfully, though, there's more good than bad, and the monkey's latest adventure, "George Goes to Hollywood," does not end in disaster.
H.A. Rey's simple, whimsical illustrations are ingrained on the minds of generations of children, and the first astute decision made by producer Ron Howard and director Matthew O'Callaghan was to rely on now quaint-seeming traditional animation. George's look has been updated-he's rounder, cuddlier, and more child-like than before-but the simplicity of 2D, hand-drawn animation immediately sets the right tone.
The story itself is kept very sweet and very simple, although the film features expanded characters and a more detailed plot than any of George's previous adventures. The Man in the Yellow Hat (voiced by Will Ferrell) is given a name (Ted), a background (he's a museum curator), and even a love interest (schoolteacher Maggie, voiced by Drew Barrymore).
With his museum threatened by a much more profitable parking garage, Ted sets off for Africa to retrieve the Lost Shrine of Zagawa as a last-ditch attempt to bring in bigger crowds. There he meets the little ever-curious monkey, who hitches a ride on the steamer back to America. Naturally, George gets into no end of trouble, as several adventures from the books-the balloon flight, the apartment-painting episode-are presented as little capsules in the film.
Curious George is delightfully age-appropriate and free from strained stabs at hipness. George exists in its own, simplified world, which may not appeal much to parents in the audience but should be just fine with the intended demographic. The mellow soundtrack from Jack Johnson should help cross age boundaries.
Where George stumbles, though, is in falling prey to the seemingly unavoidable temptation of modern children's films to smarten-up adolescent protagonists while dumbing-down the adults. In the books, George's curiosity, just like a child's natural wonder at the world, often gets him into trouble. His owner steps in to save George from the mess he's created, and George learns an important (if short-lived) lesson. But in the film the balance is shifted, and it's Ted who needs to learn the lessons, and George who helps him to do it.