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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Movie review: Curious George ***

Curious about Curious George?

A few facts: Its authors were Margret and H.A. Rey. They were German Jews. In 1940, they cobbled together a pair of bicycles from spare parts and pedaled out of Germany. Of the few possessions they managed to carry, one was the manuscript for Curious George. The Reys reached New York and their children's classic was published the following year; they wrote six sequels, and those simple, charming books, 65 years old and each about an adventurous monkey and his Man in the Yellow Hat, have sold 25 million copies.

At last there's a movie.

And the good news for Curious George, the primate, is that Hollywood has not broken hisgentle kneecaps in the translation. He is still all clean cartoony lines and solid colors and surrounded by a lot of yellow, cute as a baby monkey who swings from kites and splashes paint around without consideration for its lead content. (George is the embodiment of childhood wish fulfillment.)

This is no freak-show adaptation; he's not played by a famous comic unrecognizable under a soulless mountain of prosthetics and digital effects. And there are no hip references: The picture's tagline, "Show Me the Monkey," didn't bode well, but it turns out, that's just marketing. If the live-action Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas pumped childhood favorites into a shrill, steroid-laced ugliness, Universal (responsible for those monstrosities) learned a few lessons here.

Directed by old Disney pro Matthew O'Callaghan (he made the home-video hit Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas), Curious George is an old-fashioned 2-D act of colorful, breezy hand-drawn animation, and a relatively faithful facsimile of the Rey's candy-colored universe, paced with the laid-back, mellow-yellow rhythms of children's books:

You turn the page.

Linger on the image.

Turn the next page. Linger.

Sigh.

Curious George's crimes are more like misdemeanors: As refreshingly innocent as it feels, the screenplay has that bad movie adaptation tendency of overexplaining and filling in gaps a tiny book left to imaginations.

Do we need to know how the Man in the Yellow Hat finds his hat? I could personally care less about Curious George's fragile ecosystem. And since George doesn't talk, Will Ferrell's motormouth vocalization of the Man throws things off-balance.

Still, how many movies are pointed squarely at an audience younger than Lindsay Lohan's shoe closet? Four to 6-year olds will do fine. But there is a caveat:

Adults, you will suffer.

Variety said Curious George feels "dangerously close to a hostage situation."

Perhaps, but I'd say it's more like Stockholm Syndrome.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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