By Pete Vonder Haar | February 11, 2006

The age of conventional hand-drawn animation may never truly be over, but with the increasing preponderance of CG cartoons, it’s safe to say that “traditional” cartoons have fallen out of favor. Of course, this doesn’t stop studios from occasionally dropping one or two ‘toons of the old school variety on audiences every year to feel out the response.

Hence, “Curious George:” the more or less faithful 2-D adaptation of H.A. Rey’s books about a mischievous monkey and his caretaker, the Man in the Yellow Hat. I say “faithful” when in fact I don’t really have much recollection of Rey’s work. From what I remember, George’s curiosity always seemed to get him into hilarious and semi-lethal predicaments, from which the Man in the Yellow Hat would eventually extricate him. Sounds like a precursor to the relationship Fox Mulder had with Mr. X, but maybe I’m reading too much into this.

In the film, The Man with the Yellow Hat is given a name, and that name is Ted. Ted, voiced by Will Ferrell, is an anthropologist at the Bloomsberry museum. In a plot that’s obviously a devilishly cunning attack on the current Administration’s attack on science (and one which took no less than eight writers to come up with), the museum is going to be razed to put up a parking garage unless Ted can retrieve a fabled ape monument from Darkest Africa. Lacking much field experience, Ted nevertheless sets off for the jungle. His mission isn’t entirely successful, to put it mildly, but he does return with an inadvertent stowaway: a monkey he christens “George.”

George loses little time in letting his legendary curiosity get him into mischief, the likes of which include dabbling in paints, soaring high above the petty trouble of mankind with the help of a bunch of balloons, and flinging steaming monkey feces at Derek Jeter (a man can dream). Ted, who has his hands full trying to keep tabs on the monkey he illegally smuggled into the country from Africa, has also lost his job and been kicked out of his apartment. Somehow, in spite of this chain of events that would drive a lesser man into a booze and heroin fueled spiral of despair, we know things will eventually end up all right.

“Curious George” will play well with the very young, thanks to its unusually bright color scheme and refreshing lack of pop culture gags (those of you who can’t live without jokes that are dated one month after a movie’s release shouldn’t have long to wait, “Shrek 3” comes out next year). It’s a simple and sweet-natured movie, and one that seems appropriate even for the very young (though really, how scary can your movie villain be when he’s voiced by David Cross?). Ferrell, for his part, does a capable job playing the straight man here. His understated voice characterization of the Man in the Yellow Hat is a refreshing change of pace, and shouldn’t do anything to desecrate your fond memories of Ray’s characters.

Could’ve used a little feces flinging, however.

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