There is no shortage of potential landmines in children's programming, stuff that, frankly, never occurred to me until I became a parent and had to acquaint myself with purple dinosaurs, singing Australians and the like. Some shows come weighted down with enough saccharine to kill all mice within a 50-mile radius. Other times, you're stuck with characters that are alarmingly obnoxious or mean-spirited. Curious George, thankfully, is spared either nuisance.
Buoyed by a light jazzy score and an indefatigably gentle spirit, PBS Kids' Curious George is breezy entertainment likely to enchant young and old alike.
The four-disc Curious George: Monkey Collection, Volume 1 includes 32 animated episodes and is certain to warrant repeated viewings from discriminating preschoolers.
Taking his cue from the celebrated children's books by H.A. and Margret Rey, George is a little monkey with a well-documented propensity -- however inadvertent -- for mischief. As such, he makes a nifty stand-in for young viewers who might share George's fondness for toys, mud, doughnuts, snow, dogs, rabbits and dinosaurs. That George is essentially as much a child as he is a monkey is reinforced by his country pal Bill (voiced by Annie Mumolo), who appears convinced that George is, indeed, a "city kid."
Each episode, which runs about 12 minutes in length, usually follows a reliable pattern: George (voiced by Frank Welker) involved in a misadventure that sparks trouble before things are invariably put right with the help of science and logic. It's not a complicated formula, but it works.
The show's sly educational component is among its greatest strengths. Whatever challenge George faces, he usually tackles it through clever problem-solving. In "Curious George's Bunny Hunt," for example, he must employ deductive reasoning to figure out which of Bill's rabbits still need to be rounded up. Rarely do the lessons feel grafted on to the plot. And at the end of each episode, a brief live-action clip features children putting those lessons to use.
While George is the definite star of the show, the writers spread the love with an engaging slew of supporting characters. The most notable, of course, is the Man with the Yellow Hat (voiced by Jeff Bennett), George's good-natured and preternaturally patient guardian, but there are plenty of others, from the wonderfully named Chef Pisghetti (Jim Cummings) to the Renkins (voiced by Jeff Bennett and Elizabeth Daily), a farming couple who live near George's country home.
Moreover, the series is legitimately funny, balancing broad kid-friendly comedy with a more wry variety for their parents. Even the show's casual avoidance of exposition has its winking charm. "Curious George's Rocket Ride" coyly handles the Man with the Yellow Hat's sudden emergence as an astronaut by having a scientist ask him rhetorically, "So, you're ready to be the first average, untrained person shot into space?"
The 32 episodes in the collection are listed as follows, with summaries from each keepcase of the four-disc set:
Curious George Plays in the Snow and Other Awesome Activities!
George can't wait to go outside and play, even though the snow is so deep it's almost as tall as he is. But once he learns some new ways to have fun in the snow, nothing can stop him.
Curious George's Low High Score
How can a small number be worth more than a big number? George finds out when he plays his first game of mini-golf.
George discovers that practicing soccer and dog-sitting at the same time is harder than he thought -- Charkie keeps running off.
Curious George vs. Winter
George learns a few things about freezing and melting when he decides he doesn't care if winter is coming -- he's going to play in his wading pool, anyway.
It's the day of the model boat show and Bill's boat doesn't float. George must find a way to help his friend before the contest starts.
The All-Animal Recycled Band
The Firefighter's Band is so good, George is inspired to make his own band. Now all he needs are instruments and a way to get two dogs, a cat and a bird to play music together.
After playing with Charkie, George is covered in mud, but until he finds his favorite bath toy, Sproingy the bubble-making frog, he just won't take a bath. After all, what's a bath without bubbles?
Rocket Ride and Other Adventures!
George has a magnetic experience at the museum while looking for a way to hang his latest drawing.
Curious George's Rocket Ride
George discovers that gravity doesn't seem to work in space the way it does on Earth -- while he is orbiting the planet, all the supplies are orbiting George.
Curious George and the Dam Builders
George meets some new friends and gets a lesson in teamwork when he helps them rebuild their home.
Curious George Flies a Kite
In the wind, birds soar and leaves dance. What will happen to a very small monkey with a very large kite?
Curious George Finds His Way
George and Hundley have gotten lost and it's getting dark. But they hear some familiar sounds -- could home be closer than they think?
Curious George, Station Master
George tries to run the train station and has to learn a thing or two about numbers and sequences when it turns out to be harder than he thought.
Curious George Goes Up the River
George and Jumpy Squirrel realize that a river can take you a long way when you're on a raft. How will they get home?
Curious George in the Dark
While exploring a mysterious cave, George finds that things can look a bit scary in the dark. Luckily, he's got his trusty flashlight to chase away his fears.
Zoo Night and Other Animal Stories!
It's all downhill when George, Hundley and Gnocchi learn about motion and momentum.
When George accidentally frees some of the animals, he has to use maps and signs to figure out who lives where.
Curious George's Bunny Hunt
Counting and problem-solving are helpful when George discovers that different animals make different tracks.
Bee Is for Bear
George learns that all living things behave in different ways when he meets up with a baby bear and a stinging bee.
Curious George's Home for Pigeons
After lots of experimentation, George designs and builds the perfect pigeon peach!
George must gather and analyze evidence to prove that Gnocchi the Cat has been wrongfully accused.
Curious George, Dog Counter
When some award-winning pups follow him home, George realizes that dogs come in all shapes and sizes.
Squirrel for a Day
George learns a lesson about growth when he finds out that Jumpy Squirrel stores his food in the ground.
Curious George Discovers the 'Poles
Curious George Takes a Job and More Monkey Business!
George discovers the meaning of "life cycle" when he babysits his friend's pet tadpoles.
Curious George Takes a Job
When George and Gnocchi experiment in Chef Pisghetti's kitchen, they discover that not all foods cook the same way and some things just don't belong in the pasta pot.
Curious George Takes another Job
Washing the windows of a big skyscraper is the perfect job for a little monkey -- at least until George gets distracted.
Curious George Gets a Trophy
George has a chilling experience on a hot day after Chef Pisghetti rewards him for doing a great job at the restaurant.
The Truth about George Burgers
When George accidentally loses the burgers for the fireman's picnic, he and Gnocchi must find a way to replace them - and fast.
Curious George, Door Monkey
George tries to help Hundley with his duties as lobby dog, but when some interesting packages arrive, his curiosity gets the better of him.
George the Grocer
The customers think that George is the most helpful grocery clerk ever -- but the grocer is puzzled by some of George's creative solutions.
Curious George the Architect
Mr. Glass's construction site seems like a great place to play, but George soon learns that while bulldozers, jackhammers and cement mixers are fun, they're definitely not toys.
George Makes a Stand
George and Betsy learn that when life gives you lemons, you'd better know how to share.
Volume 1 collects the show's first four DVDs, all of which were released in 2007. Each is packaged in a slim plastic keepcase. The group of discs is housed by a flimsy cardboard sleeve with a white plastic handle.
Picture quality is top-notch, boasting bright, vivid colors and strong black lines. Aspect ratio is 1:33.1.
There are no noticeable defects with the solid Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Also available are English subtitles for the hearing-impaired.
Each of the DVDs has a smattering of low-rent games for the very young. Rocket Ride has the Curious Construction Game and Curious Shadows Game. Monkey Snow Job and Monkey Bubbles are on Plays in the Snow. Zoo Night includes the Daily Donuts Game and Magic Numbers Game, while Takes a Job boasts Light On! Lights Off! Game and Pack-It Ball Game.
Children are likely to be delighted by the antics of Curious George and his friends, and a good number of parents probably will be, too. Curious George: Monkey Collection, Volume 1 is a thoroughly enjoyable set that is certain to get repeated viewings. My 3 year old can vouch for it. And I can, too.