The much-ballyhooed death of the conventional animated film has imparted an added importance to the few cel-animated films still trickling down the pipeline. Every non-CGI cartoon becomes nothing less than a referendum on the commercial future of 2D features, which is an awful lot of baggage for an endearing little trifle like Curious George to bear.
Seemingly among the last of a dying breed, Curious George is an anachronism in other ways as well. Matthew O'Callaghan's affable adaptation of H.A. Rey's beloved children books is defiantly unhip, and the welcome absence of strained cleverness qualifies as one of its biggest virtues. Curious George doesn't breakdance, participate in extreme sports, reference hit movies, or mug his way through montages set to the music of Smash Mouth. Instead, he mostly acts as an affable surrogate for the sleepy little souls in the audience, endlessly playful yet amazed by the splendor and majesty of the adult world.
In the tradition of so many would-be franchise-starters, Curious George offers a creation story for its lovable simian. Ever wonder why Curious George's hapless handler, the Man In The Yellow Hat (Will Ferrell), sports such a bold preference for yellow? It turns out he was duped by a disreputable jungle-goods salesman en route to Africa, where he meets George while searching for the giant shrine that will save his beloved museum from being turned into a parking lot by villainous David Cross. Curious George bonds with Ferrell's hapless sad-sack and stows away to the United States to be with him. Mild shenanigans ensue.
What makes Curious George such an enduring figure is that he embodies much of what's wonderful about childhood. He possesses all of childhood's boundless capacity for wonder and amazement, with none of its cruelty or selfishness. Generations of children have giddily seen themselves in Curious George's trademark brand of mischief-without-malice, and it's doubtful that the film's quaint animation will do anything to break the powerful bond between the film's hero and his legion of pint-sized admirers.