Curious George: The Movie Versus the Books

I took two of my young sons to see the Curious George movie. We’ve read all the Curious George stories, and the kids do enjoy them. But the truth is, the books are a little weird. The syntax of the writing is frequently odd and the stories are riddled with politically incorrect themes.

For instance, there’s the uncomfortable relationship between George the monkey and his friend/owner, The Man In The Yellow Hat. In the first Curious George story, we learn that The Man – a white, apparently well-to-do, American who smokes – has traveled to Africa, where he captures George and hauls him on a cargo ship back to America, where he sticks him in a zoo. Can you say colonialism, tobacco and slave trade?

In other stories, George escapes from his zoo captivity, commits the crime of theft of services by riding on a bus without paying any fare, steals food, commits various peeping-tom offenses against white victims before vandalizing a white woman’s apartment, makes a false report of a fire, overdoses on stolen ether, is jailed, commits a possible assault upon a law enforcement officer during his escape from the jail, and immediately upon his escape commits another theft . . . of balloons. Fortunately, before George has the chance to get high from huffing the helium in the stolen balloons, The Man comes to his rescue. Can you say racial stereotyping?

Okay, so I’m probably reading too much into on the Curious George stories. But all of that politically incorrect imagery is in those books. And frankly, I was a little, um, curious to find out how the movie would handle it. So as I sat there in the theater, with a six-year-old munching M&Ms to my left and a four-year-old chewing Skittles to my right and my very own Kids Pack on my lap (Public Service Announcement: Get the Kids Pack the next time you go to a movie – it’s the best deal, with a lower price and more reasonable portions of popcorn and soda than typical movie concession fare!), I noticed three major differences between the Curious George books and the movie.

First of all, the movie totally changes the story of how George ends up in America. Rather than The Man ripping him from his idyllic African garden and transporting him against his will across the ocean, the movie George, who is apparently orphaned, voluntarily follows The Man because he really, really likes him and sees the chance for some semblance of a family with him. Plus, he wants to return The Man’s yellow hat to him. Aaahhh, cute little orphan monkey. Can you say slavery bad, friendship and family good?

Second, the movie really alters the character of The Man In the Yellow Hat. If I recall the books correctly, and I’m not about to go back and read them all again just to confirm this, I don’t believe The Man is ever given a name. Rather, he is simply called The Man – a paternalistic, all-knowing, all-powerful, impersonal being who, like some deus ex machina, always swoops in at the end of the story to save George from a disaster of his own making.

But in the movie The Man is given a mundane name and reduced from divine status to being merely a man. He is named Ted, not exactly god-like, and is thus personalized and made more accessible. Consistent with his underwhelming name, the movie character of Ted is not omniscient and potent like The Man of the books. This Ted is no adventure-seeking master, and is instead portrayed as a shy, boring, bumbling, museum nerd. Can you say nice, non-threatening man in funny yellow suit who looks like a banana that George could eat?

Finally, movie George is much less of a troublemaker than book George. In the books, George is really a pain in the butt. His antics are anything but harmless and invariably cause serious trouble for himself and others. Property damage, physical injury and emotional distress are the hallmarks of book George’s misdeeds, and he is frequently scolded and punished for them.

In contrast, movie George isn’t such a bad monkey. He is more impish and cute than bothersome, and for the most part his curiosity doesn’t cause serious problems. And other than the plot point where Ted mistakenly decides George should be returned to Africa, no one angrily reprimands George. It’s a much kinder, gentler world for movie George. Can you say nurturing environment to help nourish little Georgie’s self-esteem?

So was the politically correct Curious George movie any good? Yeah, I thought it was very sweet and that the gentler tone is more suitable for young kids than the tone of the books. I especially enjoyed the absence of any drug overdosing by, or prison time for, George. But don’t take my word for it. The two little monkeys I saw the movie with give it two big, albeit sticky, opposable thumbs up.

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