Sometimes this critic takes a break from the usual mix of classic, cult, and foreign titles to review something for no other reason than I think my six-year-old daughter might enjoy it. Such is the case with Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013), an hour-long direct-to-video special. An offshoot of the 2006-present PBS series adapted from Margret and H.A. Rey's classic children's books, the Halloween special is pretty good for what it is. As an adult, I found it reasonably entertaining and even good for a couple of honestly earned laughs. More importantly, my daughter was all smiles, laughing long and hard through much of it, and she immediately wanted to watch it all over again as soon as it had ended. And any show whose climax emulates the boulder-dodging avalanche from Buster Keaton's Seven Chances (1925) can't be all bad.
The DVD has no extras but is presented in a pleasant 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer that looks and sounds good.
The Man with the Yellow Hat (voiced by Jeff Bennett) and his ward, the forever-curious monkey named George (Frank Welker), spending time in the country, are looking forward to their first annual Halloween Boo Festival. A local legend intrigues George: Every Halloween night No-Noggin, a ghost in the form of a headless scarecrow, supposedly takes to playfully stealing away the hats of those walking down a lonely road near George's house.
Meanwhile, George busies himself with Halloween season activities: jumping in piles of raked autumn leaves, selecting and carving pumpkins, and most urgently choosing and preparing a costume original enough to win the Grand Prize at the Boo Fest's costume contest: a leaf-sucking mower the Man covets and which George figures will enable even more leaf-jumping.
The teleplay carefully generates suspense while avoiding being too scary for small children. A very funny scene, like something out of The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930) has the Man with the Yellow Hat terrified in the middle of the night by George's No-Noggin costume, sending him stumbling backwards down a flight of stairs. Later, George triggers an avalanche of pumpkins, including a 2,001-lb. whopper vying for another Boo Festival prize. The sight of George-as-No-Noggin leading the out of control melee into town had my daughter giddy with delight.
This special, as with the PBS TV series, and like Disney's adaptation of A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, strikes a happy medium between the Rey's original children's books and the need for a somewhat broader range of characters and situations, with narration (spoken by Rino Romano) helping to tie these cartoons to their literary source. In a pleasing, direct nod to the Reys, whenever George dreams or imagines something, his thoughts are visualized in the precise style of Rey's original drawings.
The cel animation is good, TV cartoon animation having come a long way since the dominance of Hanna-Barbera and a few others during the 1960s and ‘70s. Everything is bright and colorful and attractively drawn, helped here and there by bits of what look like CGI assists, though apparently not much.
The show runs 57 minutes and doesn't wear out its welcome before it's over, and three agreeable, original songs support it.
Video & Audio
Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest is presented in 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen and up to contemporary television-on-DVD standards. The picture is bright and sharp, with a lively 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo track (English only) with optional English subtitles. The disc is Region 1 encoded and has no Extra Features.
Perhaps not an annual tradition but definitely well ahead of most of the holiday television special pack, Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest is, for families, Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.