I seem to recall enjoying reading the various adventures of the ever-inquisitive monkey Curious George as a very young child, but I don’t recall ever sitting around and wishing that someone would transform them into a full-length feature. Nevertheless, people having been trying bring the beloved Margaret & H.A. Rey creation to the big screen for years, though after getting a load of “Curious George,” the result of those labors, you’ll be hard-pressed to understand why.The film follows the broad basic outlines of the original stories by introducing us to an adorable and mischievous monkey who enjoys wreaking mild havoc in the jungle. One day, he spots what he thinks is a giant banana, only to discover that it is a man in a yellow suit, one that seems to have been purchased from Morris Day’s yard sale, and immediately latches on to him. When the man returns to America, George sneaks into his luggage and follows him home to New York. Now in the urban jungle, he gets into new forms of mischief in which he first messes things up and then somehow figures out a way to make everything right once again. (The man in the yellow suit, on the other hand, is stuck with a smelly apartment and countless citations for violating leash laws, but never mind.)
These stories were nice enough in their own way but they weren’t designed to support a feature-length screenplay–maybe a 30-minute TV special at the most. This film is hampered by a screenplay that desperately tries to stretch the one basic idea into 90 minutes with any number of pointless digressions (such as the origins of the yellow suit, a museum in danger of closing and a giant monkey idol that can save the museum from ruin), a stridently unfunny performance from Will Ferrell as Yellow Suit (whose jokes and asides are too juvenile for the adults in the audience and too self-consciously ironic for the kiddies to grasp), sleep-inducing songs from Jack Johnson and a visual style that tries to ape the look of the original illustrations but does it so poorly that it makes “Hoodwinked” look like Miyazaki by comparison. While I suppose that I am happy that the long-discussed plan of shooting the film in live-action with a CGI monkey (along the lines of “Garfield”) fell by the wayside, the cheap-looking visuals on display here aren’t much of an improvement and they render the film at time virtually unwatchable.Because it is based on a character that is so beloved, both by current children and adults who read his adventures when they were children, there will no doubt be a ready audience for “Curious George” but I can’t imagine that very many will be happy with the results. Granted, I am not exactly the target audience for such a film but I must report that even the kids at the screening I attended seemed restless and bored by the whole thing. If you have little kids, you would be much better served by taking the ticket money and spending it on a couple of the original books instead.