10 years ago I was living alone in a 150-square foot micro-apartment, with a balcony, which was pretty sweet. I had a 13-inch box TV with rabbit ears that only received three channels. One of which was PBS (KCTS to be exact) and I loved everything on PBS. But one of my favorite guilty pleasures was Curious George on PBSkids. It’s hard to explain (without incriminating myself), but after I got home from my administrative job, in an underwriting office, which I hated, I would turn on Curious George and giggle like a four-year-old. There was something about the shameless curiosity of this silly monkey that brought me great joy. My boyfriend at the time knew my secret pleasure and very shortly after the Curious George movie was released in theaters, he committed a felony and downloaded it onto his computer for me. Oh, the strange romantic gestures of young love.
So now it’s been 10 years and I am married (not to said felon) with an actual real life four-year-old. I’m the adult. It’s a little strange. My daughter, Lila, doesn’t like Curious George on PBSkids. Yes, she is already disappointing me. Lila can become very emotionally involved when she watches TV, feeling what the characters feel and she can’t seem to relate to George. She feels so painfully embarrassed by his cluelessness. She thinks he should know better and constantly tells me, “This show makes me uncomfortable. I’m so embarrassed.” So we don’t watch it. However for this retrospective I’m going to sit her down and do my best to keep her attention on the movie, without causing any emotional scars.
She was very excited to help. “I’m an excellent helper. Is the movie scary?” she asked before the movie started. I told her it wasn’t. But apparently I was wrong, because she got very scared at points. There were lots of tears. But lets not jump ahead.
Here it goes.
The movie opens with some sweet Jack Johnson music; he wrote all the songs for the movie. They are mostly winners, although Lila did not enjoy “Wrong Turn” which is pretty legit; it is the dud of the soundtrack. We meet a very curious George, playing with bubbles and finger painting and doing all the things a kid would do, if the kid were a monkey living in a jungle in Africa. The other young animals play along, until the mother animals break up the fun and drag their children away, leaving George all alone.
“What’s so sad about him? Their mom’s got mad at him, but why?” So the whole parents-just-don’t-understand thing is not yet a reality for my four-year-old. It is a little unrealistic that wild animals don’t like their children to play, I mean it’s not like they’re painting on the walls of a penthouse; they’re in the wild.
Next we are introduced to the Man in the Yellow Hat, his name is Ted (voiced by Will Ferrell), and he does not yet have a yellow hat. Ted works in a museum and arranges dry lectures for young children, while their teacher, Ms. Maggie (Drew Barrymore), tries to woo him. This romantic story line really adds nothing to the plot. Lila also finds it very uncomfortable and gross.
Lila observes, “The kids don’t like the museum because they want to play at the museum and see animals, like at our museum.” We do have a fabulous museum down the street with great interactive exhibits. Strangely, Lila is spot on about one theme of the story, and we’re only 10 minutes into the film.
Next we meet Mr. Bloomsberry (Dick Van Dyke) and his son, Junior (David Cross), who own the low attended financially failing museum. Junior wants to turn the museum into a parking lot (“That guy is the bad guy!!”) while Mr. Bloomsberry wishes there was someway to save his beloved museum. Ted bumbles his way into volunteering to go on an expedition to find a lost 40-foot idol in the jungles of Africa and bring it back for an exhibit that will save the museum. Junior really wants that parking garage, so he sabotages Ted’s efforts by tearing and doctoring the map to only lead Ted halfway. Another point for Lila, this is the bad guy!
While preparing for the expedition Ted is duped into buying a yellow suit and hat. Yellow is the new khaki. Only it’s not. It’s just another signifier that Ted is clueless about the world around him and only interested in knowledge that is fed to him rather than learned through personal experience or exploration. While walking the jungles of Africa, Ted has his nose in a book and misses all the wonders around him and attempts to teach the locals about their own culture. Now I feel like Lila: “This is so embarrassing.” Then George stumbles on to his yellow hat.
This was my favorite part 10 years ago; I loved the peek-a-boo and the animation. George is so much cuter in the movie than in the cartoon. Lila liked this part too because after whining about how “I don’t like this. I don’t want to watch this. I don’t want to do this!!” she turned to me with a big smile and gave me a huge hug during this part. Meanwhile I’m like, “Ya, kid, this is good stuff. Shut your face!” No, I didn’t actually say that! Just thought it.
Due to the sabotaged map and a plot hole, Ted does not find the 40-foot idol but a three-inch idol. He takes a picture of it to show Mr. Bloomsberry, without realizing the three-inch idol looks much larger in the picture. Seriously, how else is the plot going to be driven forward? So while Ted travels home to NYC sad and dejected, Mr. Bloomsberry is planning on the arrival of the 40-foot idol and the salvation of the museum.
Lila was thrilled to see George follow Ted from Africa to NYC. However, once in NYC George gets himself into a lot of trouble. Which is when the protests really ramp up from Lila.
George unrolls all the toilet paper in the bathroom. “Mom I don’t want to watch it!”
George discovers open paint cans in various colors in an all white room. “I won’t watch! It’s too scary! I don’t know what he’s going to do!” Oh, you know what he’s going to do, the same thing he did in the jungle: finger paint!
George finds the owner of the previous white room relaxing in a bubble bath with cucumbers over her eyes; he discovers if he adds paint to the bath the bubbles change colors, so he does. “This is not my favorite!”
Ted gets evicted from his apartment, and takes George to the museum, where Ted laments loudly in his office about the miscommunication over the size of the idol. Junior overhears and gleefully plans Ted’s demise. This is where Lila completely loses her cool. “I don’t want to watch it. The Man in the Yellow Hat is going to be in big trouble!” Real tears are being shed. “Can we watch this next week and watch one of my movies now? Like The Wiz. Can we watch The Wiz?!?” My four-year-old wants to watch The Wiz. I can’t say no.
So the next day I tried again. We talked about how maybe Ted wouldn’t be in trouble and she expressed how scared she was for him. I told her I would keep her safe and give her lots of hugs and cuddles if she got scared again. She groaned a “FINE!” like she was 14 not four and we started the movie again
The very next scene is a press conference set up by Junior to expose Ted’s “lie.” Meanwhile, George gets out of the office and begins to climb a dinosaur fossil. Classic Curious George. Lila screams, “HOLD ME! I’m scared,” while burying her face in a blanket. Writing this, I feel like a pretty bad parent, but my child is very dramatic and healthy so I’m mostly sure this isn’t scaring her. Watching movies, shows, theater, or any art is when we as an audience get to experience things from a point of view we may never experience in real life. It helps us grow our understanding of others and exercise our compassion and empathy. While some of the emotions my four-year-old expresses while watching the movie are raw and messy, I can think of no safer place for her to explore them then in her mother’s arms. But how are we, as parents, ever really sure? I’ll slip an extra $20 into the therapy fund just in case.
After the inevitable crash of the fossil, in a private meeting the size of the idol is revealed to Mr. Bloomsberry and Junior. Mr. Bloomsberry is disappointed and worried about the museum, but not mad at Ted (as Lila had feared). However, Junior uses this as an excuse to kick Ted and George out of the museum. They have nowhere to go and end up sleeping in the park, discovering fireflies and stars. (Later, Lila told me this was her favorite part.) The next morning George runs off to play with children at the zoo and gets swept up by a buddle of balloons. Ted is forced to save him, by defying physics and flying after George with nothing but more balloons and a kite. George almost falls to his death, but Ted saves him. Lila exclaims “Wow that was a close one! I never fly with lots of balloons!” She’s pretty proud of herself for being smarter than a cartoon monkey.
Ted finds a way to make the three-inch idol look 40 feet with a projector and takes the idea to the museum. Everyone thinks it will work (even though it never would), but then Junior sabotages the plan by spilling his latte on the projector and handing the cup to George. Lila starts asking questions about Juniors motivations for framing George, so I pause the movie, only for her to ask me to start it again, so she’s finally officially invested.
After George is blamed for the failed plan, Ted completely rejects George and has animal control send him back to Africa. Ted is pretty heartless in this scene and Lila begins to cry. “I’m starting to cry, give me a hug. He’s going awaaaaay!” She’s sobbing. Slowly, while wandering NYC, Ted realizes everything reminds him of George and he decides to go after him.
“What is he doing?” Lila sniffles.
I told her, “He’s going to get George.”
“Because he loves him?”
Her lip begins to quiver. As Ted and George are reunited and hugging it out Lila smiles and wails “I’m crying more!” So I hug her harder. And maybe feel some feelings, too.
As a jaded adult I think it is funny, almost silly, that the entire scene is set up and played as the cliché boy-gets-girl-back scene, but replace girl with monkey… monkey is a euphemism. It is funny! However for my four-year-old (who is completely grossed out and annoyed with the love story between Ted and Ms. Maggie), the man-gets-monkey-back scene works as a cathartic moment. It was remarkable to experience it from her eyes.
In the end, George and Ted discover the three-inch idol contains a clue that leads them to the 40-foot idol, which they bring back from Africa and put on display in the museum.
“They saved the day!” Lila cheers. I have to hold myself back from saying, “But, Lila, they are stealing a culture’s history and heritage and putting it on display for profit. They might as well build a parking lot.” We may have to come back to this conversation in a few years.
With the unveiling of the idol, Ted also unveils exhibits that the patrons can interact with, using their curiosity to practice and discover knowledge through play. Lila called it.
I enjoyed the movie, more than Lila, although she was into it by the end. We both agreed the music was the best part. The voice cast is all-star and well performed, but is there for the adults, as the kids have no reference for these actors. And while Lila called the problem/solution 10 minutes into the movie, the larger theme and moral of the story is over the average four-year-olds head. Letting children, or monkeys, or even adults, explore and make mistakes and get messy will enhance their life and knowledge acquisition more than following the rules and only gaining knowledge through books and notes. Also, relationships are rewarding even when they are difficult. However, I don’t know if most parents take a cartoon movie all that seriously. So the movie suffers from “Who is the intended audience?” However if you have a kid in your life, or you smoke a lot of pot, it’s well worth the 90 minutes.