Who knew an inquisitive monkey's media empire could grow to these proportions. It appears that Curious George has two separate home video incarnations: one being a dalliance with glossy feature animation (2006's "Curious George" and 2010's "Follow That Monkey"), the other a PBS production that adheres more closely to the illustrated world of creators Margret and H.A. Rey. "A Very Monkey Christmas" is a holiday special from the PBS series, presenting a kindly, festive celebration of expectation for family audiences. Humble and gentle, "Monkey Christmas" is an affable way to kick off the seasonal anticipation, following George as he goes bananas for X-mas merriment.
Bursting with excitement for Christmas, Curious George can't wait for the big day, barreling in on The Man with the Yellow Hat every morning since Thanksgiving, prematurely welcoming holiday joy. After a Christmas countdown lesson, the pals set out to make their wish lists. For George, the Man wants nothing more than something homemade, but what exactly that means sends the monkey into a series of messy adventures. For The Man, George has drawn a cryptic illustration of his desired Christmas gift. Frustrated and uncertain about validity of their relationship, The Man hunts for clues around town, looking to crack George's code and give him the Christmas morning he's been looking forward to.
Though modestly animated, "Monkey Christmas" is a colorful, jubilant holiday special, playing up the anxiety of the holiday season through mild comedic delights. It's aimed at younger viewers, but it's winningly scripted, throwing in the odd edgy retort without the calcification of cynicism that eats away at most animated entertainment. I enjoyed my time with the program, but more importantly, I was completely taken by the design of the show, which sticks to primary colors and minimalist expression to best bring the textures of the original books to life. There's reassuring warmth to the animation here, which nicely underlines the decency of the characters without straining into overly cartoony realms. Having never viewed the PBS show before, "Monkey Christmas" was a swell introduction to the series, which captures the spirit of the books without sacrificing animated fun.
Music plays an important part in "Monkey Christmas" as well. The songs are basic and fit the holiday mood, but they fail to liven up the proceedings, crossing into needless Disney territory to help sustain attention spans. Holiday cheer is easily accessible through the faces and places in George's world. The songs only stop the momentum.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), the "Monkey Christmas" disc holds up the budget animation very well, with marvelous color preservation for the characters and the holiday ornamentation. While far from a crisp, eye-popping experience, the DVD does an admirable job retaining the details of the work, without any noticeable defects.
A 5.1 Dolby Digital treatment is offered for the show, and while keeping to a dull roar, the dialogue is well preserved and always discernable, while scoring is nicely balanced in the background. Surround activity is minimal, but the track reveals some inviting depth during the musical numbers.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
Running only 55 minutes, "A Very Monkey Christmas" hits all the high points of friendship and mischief and checks out quickly. Brevity is welcome here, leaving the messages of giving and community interaction perfectly captured, spread out over a kind, amusing holiday program.
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