I did not grow up with Curious George, but parenthood, thankfully, has given me a chance to right that wrong. The incorrigible monkey, introduced in the 1940s through Margret and H.A. Rey's beloved children's books, makes an appealing and durable stand-in for preschoolers. Like the youngest tykes, George is inquisitive (hence the nickname -- duh), generally well-meaning and prone to mischief.
Given his lasting popularity, it's surprising that the little guy had to wait so long to break into movies and television. Curious George, released theatrically in 2006, helped introduce the animated primate to a new generation of fans, which, in turn, prompted an equally welcome animated television series on PBS Kids.
Curious George Leads the Band and Other Musical Mayhem! offers pleasant viewing for children and parents alike. Despite its title, there isn't much of a musical theme linking the eight episodes collected -- but who cares? With its sweet-natured charm and breezy pace, the show goes down much easier than most children's programming.
Moreover, the TV show is arguably (note to diehard fans: I said arguably) an improvement on the well-regarded book series. The program is slyly educational without leaving that icky aftertaste. Whether George (voiced by Frank Welker) is conducting the local symphony or helping out in the restaurant of the cleverly named Chef Pisghetti, his adventures usually involve helpful and rudimentary tips about mathematics, measurements and the like. Live-action vignettes at the end of each episode allow kids to apply some of the lessons learned.
Additionally, and perhaps more important, the show exudes a playfulness and wry humor less evident in the George of yesteryear. A light, jazzy music score and William H. Macy's voiceover narration help give the proceedings a gentle, but not saccharine, feel. As for George, his misadventures are typically borne of the best of intentions. He is responsible for plenty of mishaps, certainly, but the poor fellow always means well. His efforts just wind up problematic because, well, he's a monkey.
In fact, there is a refreshing absence of malice in Curious George. His long-suffering guardian, the Man with the Yellow Hat, is exceptionally tolerant and understanding of the messes that George causes. Then again, just about everyone in this amiable universe is kind and considerate. The closest our hirsute hero has to a foil is an uptight dachshund who lives in the same high-rise as George.
Speaking of that high-rise, one of the more curious aspects of the series is how exactly the Man in the Yellow Hat has enough moolah to afford both a city dwelling anda rustic home in the country. In light of such extravagant living arrangements, you'd think the guy could afford a change of clothes.
Below are the eight episodes on Curious George Leads the Band and Other Musical Mayhem! , along with the synopses provided on the disc keepcase:
Curious George Beats the Band
At the symphony, George can't believe his luck when he wins the conductor-for-a-day contest. His debut goes brilliantly, until Charkie mistakes George's baton for a dog toy. Can the monkey maestro keep the baton away without conducting his musicians into a musical frenzy?
Old McGeorgie Had a Farm
The Renkins' prize pig is in the State Finals, but Mr. Renkins is too busy with the farm to attend. George and the Man with the Yellow Hat volunteer to take over the work, but they cause barnyard chaos in the process.
George goes behind the scenes of a talent show to help his friend Bill with the curtains and trapdoors. All goes well except that Bill gets stuck beneath the stage and leaves George alone in the spotlight.
The Elephant Upstairs
George is convinced the new neighbor upstairs has a pet elephant. What else could make such loud thumping sounds? When George investigates, he realizes the story is more interesting than even he could imagine!
George and the Man with the Yellow Hat bring home a stinky stowaway in their picnic basket. When all three return to the apartment in the city, George soon learns how one little skunk can wreak a whole lot of havoc.
Color Me Monkey
Mr. Glass has finally found a one-of-a-kind painting, but George and Charkie rip it before it's hung! George has to recreate the masterpiece and ends up spattering primary colors everywhere - especially on himself!
Zeros to Donuts
When George learns about the power of zero, he tests his knowledge at the donut shop. When he adds a couple of zeros to his order, he's surprised to find that a hundred dozen donuts is more than enough for one little monkey!
Special Delivery Monkey
After lunch at Pisghetti's restaurant, George and the Man with the Yellow Hat finish their meal with a board game. The counting lesson George learns from the game comes in handy when he helps the chef deliver a pie.
Presented in full-frame 1.33:1, Curious George Leads the Band and Other Musical Mayhem! has strong, solid picture quality. Lines are sharp and the colors are bright and vivid. No complaints.
The 2.0 track is adequate, albeit unremarkable, with clean and clear sound. English subtitles for the hearing-impaired are available.
Kiddos can check out George's conducting game or DVD-ROM features that include coloring pages and a connect-the-dots.
Curious George Leads the Band and Other Musical Mayhem! is good fun that children will enjoy without simultaneously driving their parents into fits. This is good-natured and gently clever programming that performs the nifty balancing act of being both entertaining and educational.