This pastel-colored animated picture–the effect isn’t unlike that of Disney’s long-running “Winnie the Poo” series–is adapted from the popular series of children’s books by H.A. and Margaret Rey about a young monkey whose curiosity is always getting him into trouble and occasioning surprise and frustration on the part of his reluctant human friend, Ted (a.k.a The Man in the Yellow Hat). (The episodes–which include the monkey’s messing with paint, using a projector to become, naturally enough, a King Kong-sized figure terrorizing the city and causing a massive traffic jam, getting loose in a zoo, being borne aloft by a clutch of balloons, etc.– are strung together by a plot in which Ted, a bumbling museum employee, tries to save the place he works for, which is threatened with closure, by finding an African idol and bringing it back to the U.S. for exhibition. The monkey tags along on the return trip and has to be rescued over and over again by the guy, presumably learning something in the process.)
There’s a generalized sweetness to the bland, gentle picture that may appeal to parents searching for inoffensive entertainment for their very young offspring, but anyone beyond an age in the single digits–and probably any kid over the half-way point of that decade–will find it a sappy bore. “Curious George” is harmless fluff that should keep toddlers entranced and maybe even be engaging enough for tykes up to five or so, but older children will probably consider it unendurable, and adults are likely to doze off before it gets too far along. (No hint of the more advanced humor usually inserted in kiddie flicks nowadays for the grownup crowd in this case.)
But there’s a further problem with the movie in that its pleasant, if somewhat monotonous quality is constantly shattered by the frenetic, irritating delivery of the guy who voices Ted, George’s human pal. It’s none other than Will Ferrell, in full-bore frantic form. Though not as creepy as he ordinarily is when actually appearing on screen, Ferrell proves he can be almost as annoying when unseen and merely heard. As he prattles on endlessly in that shrill, exaggerated, browbeating fashion for which he’s become obnoxiously famous, Ferrell makes it impossible even to enjoy “Curious George” as the cinematic equivalent of a fluffy pillow. Drew Barrymore lends her voice to the enterprise too, playing Maggie, a sweet-tempered teacher whose obvious interest Ted is blithely oblivious to, but she goes in the opposite direction from Ferrell, underplaying so strenuously that she barely registers. Also on hand are Dick Van Dyke, as museum owner Bloomsberry, and David Cross as his son, a manipulative sort who tries to undermine Ted’s effort in order to have the building torn down and replaced with a profit-making parking garage. Their delivery comes closer to Ferrell’s intensity than Barrymore’s reticence, but the effort to make them a bumbling comic duo falls pretty flat. So do the tunes by Jack Johnson, which sound utterly prefabricated, with that gelatinously soothing feel that insures you won’t remember a note of them and lyrics that are even less remarkable.
George, by the way, is “voiced” by Frank Welker, who burbles and coos in a way that any squealing infants in the auditorium might identify with. They might, in fact, be the best audience for the movie, though they’d probably enjoy it more resting on a couch or a rug at home than on a parent’s lap in a theatre. And anybody old enough to read this would have a better chance of avoiding it there, too–which should give you the idea that this is one of those cases when it would definitely would be better to wait for the DVD.