Gwen barely remembered the Curious George movie. She remembered that she had seen it back in 2006, certainly. She had seen the two sequels, both direct-to-DVD fare that Hazel had enjoyed. She was tangentially aware of the TV show the film had spawned, and did recall the brief resurgence in bookstores of the original H.A. and Margaret Rey books, following the high-profile adaptation.
It was unexpected, then, that her adoration for the film would suddenly come flooding back into her when she rewatched it with Eleanor and Dania. The film –– a hypersaturated romp through the kindest iteration of New York imaginable –– never concerned itself with the ludicrous nature of its own plot, instead making the smart choice to focus energy on the titular monkey, and his friend Ted (the books’ “Man In The Yellow Hat”).
“I’m still thinking about that scene with the Dole banana boxes,” Dania recalled, as the film concluded.
Well, maybe the film wasn’t wholly free of product placement (though the aforementioned cameo from the Dole logo was, at least, isolated to under 15 seconds of an 86-minute movie). Still, as Gwen prepared to discuss the film, she felt a warm sensation of childhood fill her heart.
“It’s okay,” Eleanor began.
“Okay?” asked Gwen.
Eleanor shrugged. “It’s a little toothless.”
“It’s the Curious George movie.”
“I know it’s the Curious George movie, Gwen.” Eleanor leaned back into the couch. “I wasn’t expecting it to be a gripping drama. But it’s hard to rip on a movie that’s so baseline. I like the colors. The voice acting is strong. I have questions about––”
“That was Dick Van Dyke as the museum owner, right?” Dania asked. “I was like 99% sure but couldn’t completely pin it down.”
“That’s definitely him,” Gwen said. She picked up the DVD case, running across the names on the back cover.
“I have questions about the colonialism mirrored in the plot,” Eleanor continued. “Like, the entire conflict centers on going to a non-western country and stealing their artifacts.”
Dania considered this, sighing. “You’re not wrong,” she admitted. “What are we teaching the children?”
More than a few names caught Gwen’s glance on the DVD case. “It’s got a pretty stacked cast for a 2006 children’s film. Especially one from a studio that hadn’t done anything animated before.”
“Curious George has strong branding,” suggested Eleanor, before her expression changed to hesitation. “Wait, what studio made this?”
“Universal Animation,” Gwen read. “Or Imagine Entertainment. It’s Universal Animation’s first movie to get a theatrical release. They did all the Land Before Time sequels in the 90s.”
“I guess if they knew it wasn’t going straight to DVD,” Dania said. “That’s how you get Drew Barrymore and Will Ferrell in your movie.”
Eleanor perked up. “Was Will Ferrell in this movie?”
“Ted. Yellow hat.”
“That was Will Ferrell?”
“Could you honestly not tell it was him?”
“Well, now that I think about it!” Eleanor recollected the voice in her mind: the man’s bumbling ad-hoc dialogue responding to George did certainly have the twang associated with the comedian.
“That’s wild,” she finally sighed. “I mean, his voice was so obvious in The LEGO Movie and other stuff. But for some reason he just fades into the background here.”
“The typical method of record voice acting for children’s movies affords the actors some room to improvise and make up lines,” Gwen explained. “You can hear that a little bit in Ferrell’s performance, but they certainly cut him down. It’s a fairly tight film, considering how the plot meanders.”
“Although I will say,” Eleanor added. “The editors did not afford the same scrutiny to David Cross as the museum owner’s son.”
Dania rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he gets a little annoying after a while.”
Her eyebrows leapt up, however, remembering the final moment for the character. “Hug me, father!” she quoted. The image of the animated Cross embracing, pitifully, an animated Dick Van Dyke had certainly given the character an appropriate send-off. “Hug your son, father!”
“Does that make it a Will Ferrell movie?” asked Eleanor.
“What do you mean?”
“In the way that, you know, Elf or Anchorman are Will Ferrell movies.” She strained to remember the comedian’s mid-2000s output. “There’s a soccer one, too, right?”
“I would argue that, for it to be called a ‘Will Ferrell’ movie, he has to be the central character unquestionably,” Gwen stated. “You have to consider the idea that the movie was written around him. Blades of Glory would fit the bill.”
“I entirely forgot Blades of Glory existed.”
“Okay, then consider this,” Dania said. “Is Megamind a Will Ferrell movie?”
“No, I think that’s a Dreamworks movie,” Eleanor answered, almost instinctively.
“Hold on, then,” Gwen said. “So the studio takes ownership over the actor?”
“Sort of?” Eleanor suggested.
“I mean, you could go all ways with it, right?” Dania said. “Curious George is a Will Ferrell movie, it’s a Universal Animation movie, it’s a Curious George movie, it’s a…what actor plays George?”
“That’s it, I suppose.” Eleanor grabbed at the DVD cover. “We really should be calling it a Frank Welker movie. He does voice the lead character.”
Gwen –– out of whatever sense of formality she had –– raised a hand. “May I make a wild suggestion?”
Raising an eyebrow, Eleanor glanced at Gwen. “I suppose we could allow it.”
“I’d argue that it’s a Jack Johnson film.”
Gwen could recall very little about Curious George before rewatching it, but that didn’t mean the film had no emotional resonance for her. What she remembered most strongly were the many rides in the car, listening to the Jack Johnson soundtrack to the film –– one of those CDs that gets left in the car out of habit more than out of interest.
“Who is Jack Johnson?”
“He did the songs,” Eleanor said with a grin. “Okay, let’s hear this argument.”
“It’s obvious why, right?” Gwen began. “His songs are all through the movie, and mostly show up during scenes where George is the focus. Not to mention that the instrumental composer, Heitor Pereira, has worked with Johnson before, and you can hear acoustic guitar through most of the movie, even when Johnson isn’t singing.”
“Well, maybe,” Dania said. “I don’t know if that entirely makes sense. Would you say that…Jaws is a John Williams movie?”
“No,” said Eleanor, as Gwen responded “yes.” They looked at each other, comparatively.
“Jaws is a Steven Spielberg movie,” Eleanor responded. “That’s how I’d classify it.”
“John Williams isn’t a great example, since he works with Spielberg so much.” Gwen furrowed her brow, struggling to find another composer who had the same impact that Johnson had on Curious George. “Maybe Hans Zimmer, but again, you don’t really call his movies…”
“What about Flash Gordon?” Dania asked.
“You mean the one that Queen did the –– well, I think I’ve proved the point,” Eleanor said, slumping down.
“Perfect example,” Gwen said. “I would consider Jack Johnson’s contributions to the Curious George movie to be significant enough to warrant referring to him as the author. At least in order to identify it.”
“Are there other Curious George movies, though?” Dania asked. “Like, if you say ‘the Curious George movie,’ people aren’t going to get confused.”
“There are a few short animated segments from the 1970s,” Gwen said. “But nothing like this one. The Jack Johnson film can certainly be considered the definitive Curious George adaptation.”
“That’s fair,” Eleanor agreed. “Besides, it’s not a bad movie anyway.”
“It was much better than I remember it being,” Gwen said. “Especially for a non-Disney, non-Pixar movie in the mid-2000s, it flies over the standards for the time.”
“I’d like to see the version that Dreamworks would have made,” Dania chuckled. “Not because it would be good, but because they would have made George twerk, or…whatever was popular in 2006. Soulja Boy?”
“Oh, I can hear the cringey early YouTube references now,” Eleanor said, gritting her teeth.
“It’s a spectacular example of a story for the family, and not just children,” Gwen praised. “You don’t see that very often: a truly timeless modern fable. Characters have cell phones and contemporary vernacular, but the focus of the conflict is still human interaction, rather than just setpieces.”
Eleanor considered this. “There’s still a little bit of filler,” she argued. “George has a few too many ‘cutesy’ moments for me. Climbing around the city as a massive hologram –– okay, how does that even work?”
“It’s film logic, Eleanor, it doens’t have to work for real!” Dania chided.
“Or most of the other adventures he gets into during the story,” Eleanor said. “George feels like more of an obstacle than the protagonist.”
“I don’t know if he is the protagonist,” Gwen said. “I think it’s Ted. He’s the one that goes through the arc during the story.”
“For sure,” Dania agreed. “George is important, but the focus is definitely on Ted. But there’s so little else, as far as plot threads go, that maybe a little…”
She paused before giving additional emphasis to: “… a little monkey business is allowable.”
“Well,” Eleanor considered. “They do try to get something going with the Drew Barrymore character, although she’s barely in this.”
Gwen nodded. “I can’t say I’m a big fan of forced love interests.”
“I didn’t actually hate her that much,” Dania countered. “If anything, I thought she was almost a parody of the role. That he goes to her halfway through the movie and she just straight-up says ‘this is your fault, you have to fix it yourself.’ And he’s immediately like, ‘yeah! It’s my fault!'”
“And then he learns to be a better father to his son-monkey,” Eleanor added. “A timeless story for the ages.”
“If Pixar has taught us anything,” Gwen commented, “making your protagonist a parent figure is a solid formula for a great family movie.”
Dania considered the movie once again. “Also,” she finally piped up, “making the movie bouncy and very colorful doesn’t hurt.”
Image Credit: Jacobs Media Strategies