Curious George, the Margret and H.A. Rey never-out-of-print 1941 children's classic upon which so many of us cut our reading teeth, has been transformed into a bright and cheery animated film with a definite appeal for different age groups. Here, the adorable, mischief-making little simian is discovered in Africa by Ted (the voice of Will Ferrell), a timid tour guide for the Bloomsberry Museum. George follows Ted back to the Big City (read New York), where Ted must try to save his museum from being demolished and turned into a parking lot through the greedy machinations of its founder's son, Junior (David Cross). George continues to wreak havoc in the asphalt jungle, just as he did back home, but it is through his antics and the unspoken infatuation of schoolteacher Maggie (Drew Barrymore) that Ted breaks out of his shell and embraces life to the full.
The filmmakers have given Curious George a supernally bright look that will appeal to its target audience of seven-and-unders. New York is a sparkling Gotham, filled with yellow cabs driven, not by foreigners who natter endlessly on cell-phones, but "regular Joes" you'd be more likely to encounter on a construction site these days. The preview audience of very tiny tots with whom I saw this were completely rapt over the onscreen shenanigans, and certainly enjoyed the capers of the titular character more than this viewer did. George's character has been intensely cutesified here, with little of the subversive edge which remains the secret of his lasting appeal. In the books, a single drawing of him making mayhem is sufficient, but on film, he is made to inevitably follow up his actions with a series of "adorable" quizzical monkey faces which become tiresome indeed.
Happily, the other characters have a definite appeal, with Ted, drawn like the very young James Stewart, and Maggie making a sweetly clueless pair of nerdy lovebirds. Always welcome Eugene Levy provides the voice of Clovis, the museum's resident mad inventor, and there's Ivan (Ed O'Ross), Ted's animal-hating Russian doorman, as well as his snooty socialite neighbor, Miss Plushbottom (Joan Plowright). George splatters paint all over her apartment while she soaks in her tub, listening to Verdi's La Traviata, and this healthy dose of opera may open young minds to the grandest art. It's certainly preferable to the soundtrack music (by Jack Johnson "and Friends"), a mixed bag which is mostly aural treacle, meant to send toddlers (and, definitely, some older folk) straight to slumberland.