Curious George might be one of the few television efforts to actually improve on the children's books on which it is based. That pronouncement might be heresy to generations who grew up with the misadventures of the good little monkey, but this reviewer has to admit a particular affection for the PBS Kids series.
I have reviewed a few Curious George DVD collections previously -- here and here -- and a few of the same observations are apt to be repeated in this review of the eight-episode compilation, Curious George: Robot Monkey and More Great Gadgets. Based on the beloved books by H.A. and Margret Rey, the series' greatest attribute might just be its gentle charm. Unlike so much ostensibly kid-friendly programming, Curious George is neither shrill nor mawkish. Its warmth comes from brightly colored animation, a light jazzy musical score and good-humored storytelling, an easy-to-embrace appeal that works for child and parent alike.
And it's educational without being obnoxious or overly obvious. Each show generally follows the path of a well-meaning George (voiced by Frank Welker) getting himself out of a jam through logic or mathematically based problem-solving. In between each episode, which generally runs 12 minutes in length, live-action segments feature a group of kids engaged in some project or craft that stem from something George has learned.
The star here is unquestionably the precocious primate of the title, but the series benefits from a surprisingly well-drawn (figuratively) cast of supporting characters. The Man with the Yellow Hat (Jeff Bennett) is endearingly dorky, not to mention the world's most patient, tolerant and even-tempered parental figure. And then there's George's friendly nemesis, Hundley, the dignified dachshund who lives in the high-rise where George resides with the Man with the Yellow Hat.
The eight episodes in the collection are listed as follows, with summaries from the back of the keepcase:
Robot Monkey Hullabaloo
George creates an awesome robot outfit that's so good, it fools everyone - even The Man with the Yellow Hat and Professor Wiseman. Will George end up on display at the museum's new robot exhibit?
Curious George, Spy Monkey
After reading his spy book, "Double-Oh Doggy," George goes undercover, trying to solve the mystery of what surprise the Man with the Yellow Hat is going to buy for George. Will "Double-Oh Monkey" crack the case?
Curious George Rides a Bike
George loves his new bike, but when he gets the chance to help Bill with his paper route, he hits a big rock and bends his wheel. Can George find the right tools to get rolling again?
Curious George vs. The Turbo Python 3000
You must be eight licorice whips tall to ride the Turbo Python 3000, and George is only seven whips tall. George looks for ways to grow and it seems to work, but are his legs longer, or is his stomach fuller?
The Man with the Yellow Hat has come down with a terrible cold, and George decides to nurse him back to health by setting up the bedroom like a real hospital and using his own brand of monkey medicine.
The Lucky Cap
George is having a terrible day. But when the Man with the Yellow Hat gives George a new cap, all George's bad luck turns good! But when the cap shrinks, can George find a way to make his own luck?
When George helps out at Cayley's candy counter for an afternoon, he quickly learns that eating candy is easy, but counting and sorting is much more difficult.
When Mr. Zoobel's snake, Bruno, sheds his skin, George heads to the pet store for an explanation. When he returns, he finds Bruno has escaped and George must wrangle him back to where he belongs.
Boasting bright colors and crisp lines, the picture is strong and clear. Aspect ratio is 1.33:1.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is clear and solid, unencumbered by issues with distortion or drop-out.
Not much here for a curious little monkey. The only extras are an interactive game titled the Counter Intelligence Game, as well as DVD-ROM feature with printable coloring pages and connect-the-dots.
What else can I say? My 3-year-old daughter hasn't gotten tired of Curious George. And neither have I.