Monday, February 13, 2006

Curious George Books and Movie not Just Fun and Games: Concern of Imperialism, Animal Abuse, and Bad Parenting Legitimately Voiced.

I think it’s safe to say that any thinking individual can see that the books and movie of Curious George are based on imperialism and animal abuse at the very least. I mean, he was stolen from the jungle and placed in a zoo. Need I say more?

Even the film's director admitted that the story has some serious issues with it’s core and that it had to be changed in order to be put onto film in an acceptable manner.

Matthew O'Callaghan, told The Chronicle this week that the script's few changes from the books were made in the name of story-telling and character development.

“The film's director, Matthew O'Callaghan, told The Chronicle this week that the script's few changes from the books were made in the name of story-telling and character development.”

"You can't just have the Man with the Yellow Hat go over there (to Africa) and stuff George into a bag and bring him to a zoo like in the book," O'Callaghan said. "That just wouldn't work."

Article:

Curiously, new monkey movie lands in middle of cultural battle

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=

/c/a/2006/02/10/MNG73H6A5U1.DTL

Friday, February 10, 2006

Monkey business: The Man in the Yellow Hat and his simian...

For the politically correct Bay Area parent, the "Curious George" children's books are a minefield of cultural horrors through which to tiptoe. Imperialism. Animal abuse. Bad parenting.

Puh-leeeeze, George's defenders say. They're children's books, whose charm has not dimmed -- 25 million books and countless swag sold -- even if ideas about political correctness have evolved since the first George adventure was published in 1941. Sometimes a speechless, mischievous monkey is just that -- a monkey, not a metaphor. Besides, George's tales are no more un-PC than those of that royalist warmonger, Babar.

Both camps are wondering how "Curious George," the animated movie that premieres today, will translate details of the popular series of children's books for the more heightened sensitivities of 2006.

The Curious George oeuvre was the work of the husband-and-wife team of H.A. and Margaret Rey, German Jews who escaped France with the first book's manuscript as the Nazis invaded. Most of the seven stories they wrote feature the antics of a monkey whose sweet curiosity gets him in trouble until he's rescued by the nameless Man with the Yellow Hat, George's keeper/parental figure/pal with bail money.

To some, that's the core of an unhealthy relationship.

"The books are really irresponsible to me. It's sickening, really," said Robin Roth, managing editor of www.arkonline.com, an animal welfare Web site.

Start with the Caucasian, gun-carrying Man with the Yellow Hat venturing to Africa (imperialism alert!) to harvest wildlife for a zoo (animal repression alert!). Continue with George being unsupervised and allowed to smoke a pipe and huff ether (bad parenting alert!), and it's a wonder there aren't pickets already forming around movie theaters.

Roth, a high school English teacher in Los Angeles, writes on her animal rights Web site that "Curious George" reveals "the sinister side of a corrupt wildlife trade with perilous roots in Western imperialism." When the mischievous George is sent to jail, "the picture of the forlorn little primate alone in his cell conjures haunting images of countless monkeys lingering in laboratories, suffering silently and alone."

That's a bit of a stretch, say the book's defenders, such as Frederick Meekins of the Web site www.theconservativevoice.com.

"It's not like George ends up being used in laboratory experimentation," Meekins writes on his site. "From what's depicted in the storybooks, it always looked like he had a pretty good life, as do many other zoo animals."

The filmmakers steer a middle ground in the G-rated film, scrubbing up some of the books' more politically incorrect tones while keeping the old-school animation and simple story line.

While George still doesn't talk, the Man with the Yellow Hat -- goofily voiced by comic actor Will Ferrell -- now has a name (Ted) and a more palatable backstory than being a game hunter. Sort of. He's trying to save the museum he works for by retrieving an African idol and making it the centerpiece of a new exhibition. (Third World plundering alert!)

Ted in the film is more of George's buddy, while the Man with the Yellow Hat in the books was more of a parental figure -- and an absentee one, at that. He'd leave George in the morning, making him just another latchkey monkey with no discernible supervision.

The film's director, Matthew O'Callaghan, told The Chronicle this week that the script's few changes from the books were made in the name of story-telling and character development.

"You can't just have the Man with the Yellow Hat go over there (to Africa) and stuff George into a bag and bring him to a zoo like in the book," O'Callaghan said. "That just wouldn't work."

Meekins' take as posted on www.theconservativevoice.com:

"If we are to carry this perspective of Western man as world exploiter to its ultimate conclusion, isn't it just as offensive for the Man in the Yellow Hat to be an archaeologist despoiling the material culture of spiritually enlightened primitives? After all, isn't it inherently worse to take someone else's property than some monkey that doesn't even belong to anyone?"

The movie sidesteps these questions with an old-fashioned man-monkey friendship. George becomes enamored of Ted when the yellow-clad curator shows him a bit of attention that the parents of his other jungle pals don't; George's parents aren't seen. So the monkey stows away on Ted's ship and follows him home to New York City.

"It was a likeability thing for me," said the 44-year-old O'Callaghan, who read the books as a child and has enjoyed them with his three children. "You wouldn't like (the Man with the Yellow Hat) if he was mean to George."

Like, say, by stuffing him in a bag and transporting him across the Atlantic to a zoo, as the Man with the Yellow Hat does in the first book. As the monkey is whisked away from the jungle, the authors write, "George was sad, but he was still a little curious."

Unlike the literary George, the celluloid George doesn't smoke from a pipe or take a hit of ether. While T-shirts depicting George laid out next to an ether bottle (from "Curious George Takes a Job") have been a popular seller in Haight Street novelty shops for years, O'Callaghan was leery of including the scene in a G-rated movie.

"You don't want to give kids the idea to sniff stuff and pass out," he said.

A couple of parents who attended a San Francisco preview of the film -- both of whom enjoyed the movie with their elementary-school-age kids -- said they noticed that the celluloid George isn't punished for his mischief-making in the film; in the book, he's jailed.

Hollywood George doesn't even spend time in a zoo -- where his print counterpart ends up at the end of the first book -- aside from popping by to stir up some playful chaos.

"I really liked it, but he didn't seem to get in much trouble here," said Kara Korbel, an affordable-housing specialist who lives in Oakland. "In the books, the Man with the Yellow Hat was always yelling at him."

"But here, nothing seems to happen to him until the end," said her friend Joanna Gritz, an Oakland resident who saw it with her two children, ages 4 and 9.

Sending George to jail "just raised too many questions," O'Callaghan said. "Why would you send a monkey off to a human jail with other humans? In the '40s that was probably OK, but not now. It would involve too much explaining."

Any time you adapt a popular book into a movie, O'Callaghan said, there are going to be people who don't like it for one reason or another.

"And I'm sure there's going to people who say it's too soft," he said. "But who reads 'Curious George?' Young children."

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