The Bloomsberry Museum has been a fixture for years. It's a place where schoolchildren go to learn about archeology and natural history. And it's where the museum's founder, Professor Bloomsberry, lives out his passion for those topics, a passion shared by one of the museum's docents, Ted. But passion does not necessarily pay the bills, and the museum is on shaky financial ground. It doesn't help that the professor's estranged son, Junior, is just waiting for the museum to fail so he can tear it down to build a much more lucrative enterprise: a parking garage.
There's one way to save the museum: Put on a massive exhibition of the Lost Shrine of Zagawa, a gigantic ape sculpture that would surely bring in paying customers. Equipped with the professor's journals and maps, Ted heads to Africa to bring the archeological treasure to the museum. (A quick visit to a wilderness outfitters store yields the yellow hat and suit that we get to know him by.) Once in Africa, Ted (aka The Man in the Yellow Hat) finds more—and less—than he bargained for. More in the form of a mischievous monkey, and less when it appears that the supposedly colossal Lost Shrine of Zagawa is little more than a keychain-size trinket.
Both monkey (nicknamed George) and trinket wind up back at the Bloomsberry Museum, where hijinks, misunderstandings and "little white lies" further threaten the museum's future and Ted's home and livelihood.
Ted shows loyalty to both Prof. Bloomsberry and to George, and he is willing to make great sacrifices for both. He takes life's pains and insults in stride and never lashes out at others, even when he might have cause to. He is totally selfless in his efforts to help the professor save the museum. Ted says it's important to save the museum because "the world needs a place where kids' brains can grow." Later, Ted steps forward and accepts blame for his own mistakes.
Maggie sees the good in everyone, especially Ted. One man insists on telling the truth, saying, "Do you just want me to tell you what you want to hear?" The professor learns a negative lesson that it's important not to promise more than you can deliver.
The story revolves around finding the Lost Shrine of Zagawa, which is described as a giant, granite ape "idol." Later, it's explained that "Zagawa" means "enlightenment," and a journalist asks if it's true that the idol has "magical powers." A museum display set up to accommodate the shrine features mock-ups of African natives bowing in prayer to the idol.
Ted and Maggie make goo-goo eyes at each other and talk about going out on a date.
Most of the violence is cartoonish and played for laughs, with plenty of slips, falls and various bops to the head. In one such instance a falling machete narrowly misses hitting a man and lodges in a bookcase next to his head.
A bit more intense, both George and Ted face various ill-tempered animals, such as snapping crocodiles and roaring lions. George finds himself in the middle of a busy street with cars zooming by and a truck running right over the top of him. (The little monkey is spared by the truck's high ground clearance.) Also, George falls from a great height but is saved by Ted. Ted drives a speeding car off the end of a pier.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
A man is knocked out by a tranquilizer dart intended for an animal.
Other Negative Elements
One of Ted's lessons to schoolchildren seems to uncritically accept the theory of evolution.
Based on the original children's series by H.A. Rey, Curious George is true to the spirit of those books about a mischievous monkey letting his insatiable curiosity and playful nature get him into all sorts of trouble. Even the animation style hints at the illustrations in those classic books.
There are plenty of laughs for young children and a few inside jokes for adults, too. (You'll see the King Kong sight gag coming a mile away.) Overall, the story is one of innocent fun—remember, George is an animal, not a disobedient child—and slapstick shenanigans.
Spoilers revolve around the ape idol and, more significantly because of its prominence, Ted's willingness to engage in little—and not so little—fibs to get out of tight spots. He and the professor are willing to resort to outright deception when setting up the Zagawa display in the museum, and it's up to the story's antagonist to point it out: "Are we so desperate that we'll lie to our public?" Even after having this ethical corner-cutting pointed out to them, Ted and the professor call off the scheme only after a mishap makes it impossible anyway. Ted also lies implicitly and explicitly to his building's doorman when he's accused of harboring an animal in his apartment in violation of the no-pets policy.
Interestingly, Rey's books, the first of which was published in 1941, had their own problems, just different ones. In those pages, The Man in the Yellow Hat (he's never called Ted) is not an archeologist or a naturalist; he's a gun-toting poacher. And George does not stow away on the Man's ship, as in the movie. The Man tricks him using his yellow hat as a lure, and as George investigates, the Man sneaks up from behind, pops him into a bag and takes him home, where he teaches the monkey how to—do you remember this?—drink booze and smoke a pipe.
So, at least parents of youngsters desperately yelling "Show me the monkey!" won't have to deal with poaching, whiskey and tobacco. But they will definitely want to discuss the flick's cavalier attitude toward lying lest kids absorb a bit of ethical monkey business along with this otherwise silly simian story.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Will Ferrell as The Man in the Yellow Hat; Drew Barrymore as Maggie; Dick Van Dyke as Professor Bloomsberry; David Cross as Junior
Matthew O'Callaghan ( )