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Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Wednesday, November 22, 2006  

Curiouser and Curiouser

M. Small's a big Curious George fan lately. He's enjoyed the books for a while, but then he saw a few episodes of the current animated series (narrated by William H. Macy!) when we were in New Mexico, and he was hooked. I even kind of dig it myself. "What's Curious George doin'?" he'll ask. "Something you should never, ever do," is usually the answer.

Trash ordered a couple of used videos off the Internet, but they were kind of a disappointment. For one thing, they aren't the Bill Macy-narrated episodes he likes. When the first tape arrived, it turned out to be little more than a semi-animated filmstrip from the sixties. In each little painfully formulaic and static vignette, the Man with the Yellow Hat takes George somewhere you have no business taking a monkey and leaves him alone. "George was curious," the narrator narrates, and then George gets into trouble and pisses off several dozen people. "George was scared," the narrator narrates, and then there's a big chase until somebody points out how George's most recent act of vandalism was all for the best. The nice thing about them is that they're about two minutes long. The bad thing about them is that there are about five hundred of them on the tape.

But it's still vastly preferable to the other Curious George video that showed up last week, which I think might be actively damaging. I think it represents the state of the art in stop-motion animation. In 1982, when it came out.

It also somehow prefigured the present-day vogue for origin stories, because it tells the story of when the Man in the Yellow Hat first met George in the jungle. There's this cheap framing device where the two primates are looking through old photos together and find the first picture of George ever taken. This triggers a flashback to their first encounter, where MYH observes George from hiding and his first reaction is to stage a kidnapping. Sure, just says, "I'd like to take him home with me" in his creepy, soft-spoken child-molester voice, but then he uses George's trademark curiosity to get him stuffed in a sack with nothing but his head sticking out. The better to see George's panic and misery, you understand, of which there is plenty.

At least until he's on the ship, where quickly cheers up and has a great time falling overboard and nearly drowning while trying to imitate seagulls. It's a laff riot, I'm telling you.

I'm told that Curious George resonates particularly with adopted children, in the sense that it's about being welcomed into another home and family. That's why I try not to be too creeped out by MYH's insistence on treating George as a small human once he gets him home. He tries to get him to eat soup using silverware, dresses him in MYH-sized pajamas, and makes him sleep in a bed. It would be a lot less weird if the internal logic were consistent, but instead MYH constantly keeps talking about how he plans to put George in a zoo. Make up your mind, you colonialist prick.

Then there's the weird interlude where MYH sits down to smoke his pipe. He gets up, leaving it behind, and George of course picks it up and starts puffing away. "What's Curious George doin'?" M. Small asks. What, indeed. Curious George learns his lesson, though, becoming so sick from the pipe smoke that he has a literal out-of-body experience. Then MYH catches him and throws the pipe away. Pick up the "smoking is bad" message? It's not that I'm pro-smoking or anything; I just don't want my pre-schooler introduced to the concept by a pre-school video.

The next day, George watches MYH call the zoo, but instead of being upset at having been uprooted and then rejected for no reason at all, George plays with the phone himself. Naturally he reaches the fire department, who come tearing across town in full force in what is admittedly a very technically impressive (at least for that time) sequence. When the Keystone Kop-like firefighters arrive at Casa Man with the Yellow Hat, they're so pissed at the false alarm that they have George thrown in a medieval dungeon.

There then follows a long, long, long, depressing sequence wherein George sits in his dark, filthy cell and cries. I'm not making any of this up. I fast-forwarded that part.

Eventually, George escapes and ends up flying over the city hanging onto a bunch of helium balloons. "Fortunately," the Man in the Yellow Hat spots him, and is there to catch him when he comes down. And how does MYH express his relief at getting him back after thinking him lost for good? Well, he sticks him in the zoo like he always planned to, of course.

We see George looking all happy in the zoo, sitting high atop a tree surrounded by all the other animals, just so we know it's a happy ending. Except we still have the framing device to get back to, so then we're back at Casa Man with the Yellow Hat, and he closes the photo album, and then he's chasing George around because it's bedtime, and now I'm creeped the hell out all over again.

Again, the animation is pretty decent for the early eighties, even though the picture looks like it was shot through a dirty fish tank and the soundtrack seems to have been recorded in a pillow. I just don't know how, with its script-it-as-we-shoot-it storyline, it ever got the approval of the Rey estate. Or how they got the thing narrated by June Foray of all people, who really should have known better.

I do know, however, that taping a few of those Bill Macy episodes off of TV for M. Small just became a higher priority.

posted by M. Giant 8:21 PM 6 comments


That's actually the plot of the first Curious George book. Kidnapping, jail, pipe, near drowning, the whole nine yards. It's actually incredibly depressing.
Happy Thanksgiving!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 23, 2006 at 7:07 AM  

Yep, it sure is the exact plot of the first book, which I unwittingly purchased for a quarter at our local library's annual used book sale. (My 3.5 year old kiddo loves CG so much that she insisted on being CG for Halloween...)

We got home from the library and of course she wanted to hear the new CG book. I wound up revising/editing on the fly, skipping over certain parts altogether (goodbye pipe) and since the jail part is several pages long, wound up saying that George was taken to the "Time Out Room" which the kiddo understands from having lived through more than a few Time Outs herself. As soon as the story was finished, I distracted her with a different book we'd bought and quickly removed CG from her room. Fortunately she has enough other CG books that she forgot about the horrible original completely. When I was telling my husband about it later, he was all "Why didn't you screen it first before you bought it?" Who knew one would have to screen a classic so closely?! He wants me to donate it back to the library for their sale next year, but I'm really not keen on the idea of foisting this dreck upon another unsuspecting preschooler's parents.

(BTW, our kiddo is adopted as well, though I don't think that's what attracts her to George at this point. Like M. Small, she too loves the PBS show. She even does her best Dr. John impression while singing along to the theme song!)

By Blogger Heather, at November 23, 2006 at 8:48 AM  

Have you checked out the new Curious George movie? I haven't seen it (I can't get past how the monkey looks nothing like he did in the books I enjoyed as a kid), but I've heard good things. It's out on DVD now. http://www.curiousgeorgemovie.com/

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 23, 2006 at 5:09 PM  

I don't know your political views, but you might like this:


Here's hoping the link goes through! If not, google "Clueless George Goes to War."

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 24, 2006 at 2:02 PM  

Our two year old loves CG, but I am referring to the movie. He watches the PBS show if we happen to catch it, but the movie really keeps his attention. He even started to immitate certain scenes while the movie is playing.

Also, he was CG for Halloween, except I don't think he realized he was the curious monkey. My husband is tall, so he dressed up as the MYH.

Our son asks for George, which is the first distinct thing he ever asked for that wasn't "juice" or "eat."

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 25, 2006 at 4:15 AM  

"I'll take 'Things Velcrometer Has in Common with Ken Jennings' for 2000, Alex."


By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 26, 2006 at 1:13 AM  

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