Curious George is one those children’s lit characters that’s so prominent it’s easy to think of him as having always existed. But George’s history is actually quite brief. The husband-wife writer and illustrator team of Margret and H.A. Rey fled Paris in 1940, reportedly on bicycles they made and carrying with them the manuscript of Curious George, which would be published a year later.
If you haven’t seen or heard of him, Curious George is a monkey rescued in Africa by The Man with the Yellow Hat, who takes him to live at his house in the city. Like his creators, he found a new life after being “saved” and relocated. But curiously, the couple produced only six other books in the series: Curious George Takes a Job(1947), Curious George Rides a Bike (1952), Curious George Gets a Medal (1957), Curious George Flies a Kite (1958), Curious George Learns the Alphabet (1963), and Curious George Goes to the Hospital (1966).
But his life was extended and expanded through a “New Adventures” series penned by various uncredited authors and artists and brought most prominently to life in a 2006 animated film, “Curious George,” starring Will Ferrell as the voice of The Man with the Yellow Hat. That same year the same voice talents and artists and animators began producing a TV series that aired on PBS Kids, and a 2010 direct-to-video movie sequel, “Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey!” followed—though it wasn’t nearly as successful.
“Curious George Swings into Spring” is a much stronger film. Though it too is strictly for preschoolers, parents and siblings who’ve read aloud their share of Curious George books will judge that is well done. Executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and company get back to basics with this one, following the overly long Curious George 2 and its Man with the Yellow Hat-less plot.
The screenplay comes from Joe Fallon, whose writing credits include “Arthur” and the “Curious George” TV series, As with that TV show, it’s based on the popular picture books by Margret & H.A. Rey, who took the first Curious George manuscript with them when they fled Paris in 1940.
Featured here are the same cartoon voices, animation and background styles as in the TV series. In fact, the movie aired on PBS Kids. Cartoon voice legend Frank Welker (“Scooby-Do!”) returns to provide the monkey noises that George makes, along with other minor characters, while Jeff Bennett gives voice to The Man with the Yellow Hat and others. Grey Delisle (“Scooby-Do!”) and “Winnie the Pooh” voice talents Jim Cummings and Kath Soucie also turn up on the end credits.
Like the TV show, this cartoon world is all about bright colors. Even the buildings are pink and dark purple and anything but grey or brown. As always, it’s about Curious George’s unbridled enthusiasm and the innocent ways in which he finds himself getting into trouble. Hot air balloon floats get loose? We know who’s responsible. There’s plenty of action here, as George ends up canoeing (bad idea, right?), skateboarding, and running into all sorts of animals.
But it’s not only about the mischief. This film tries to teach youngsters about spring, first with the doorman’s explanation to George that it’s one of the four seasons, and next with an outing George takes with The Man with the Yellow Hat, who shows him birds hatching, caterpillars turning into butterflies, trees leafing out, flowering plants budding, and so on.
Even though “Curious George Swings into Spring” is episodic, it builds nicely to a climax, and there’s a positive message embedded in a character arc. At the beginning of the film Hundley, the doorman’s dachshund, is an Eeyore character who sees every glass as being half empty. To him, fall means leaves tracked into the lobby, for example, and he views George as nothing more than a nuisance. By the end, he’s come around to being more of a positive individual.
The DVD’s in this series from Universal look clean and bright and full of the kind of primary color POP that preschoolers crave. The level of detail is quite good for standard definition, and good thing . . . this isn’t available as a Blu-ray. It’s presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The featured audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH. It’s a decent but not dynamic soundtrack.
There are no bonus features—just the 57-minute film.
“Curious George Swings into Spring” is a richly textured addition to the mischievous monkey franchise. Preschoolers who love George ought to love this film.