There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
There is a long and sad tradition of Saturday Night Live alumni going over to the dark side—or, as adherents like to call it, “family film.” Chevy Chase in Oh Heavenly Dog, Eddie Murphy in Doctor Dolittle, Bill Murray in Garfield, David Spade in Racing Stripes—with dismal frequency, comics from the wee small hours go chasing the afternoon-nap crowd and (with the exception of Murray) never quite make it back. To their ranks must now be added the once-subversive Will Ferrell. As lead voice talent in the benignly tedious Curious George, he manages to go 77 minutes without evoking any of the streakers, horndoggers, or cowbell bangers who’ve populated his career. All that’s left is—tremble—nice-guy Will Ferrell, playing a man in a yellow hat who meets a sociopathic chimp in the African jungle. In H.A. Rey’s World War II–era original, the monkey is scooped up and carried away by his French colonialist owner—it’s Amistad for kiddies. In today’s upwardly mobile revision, George (Frank Welker) smuggles himself all the way to America, where he commits such havoc as painting on walls and—shades of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby—toppling dinosaur exhibits. The film’s strongest asset is its look: Director Matthew O’Callaghan and his team have created flat, brightly lit compositions that caper straight out of the storybook pages, and George himself is a fluently drawn cutie. But the schoolmarm love interest (Drew Barrymore) is drab; celebrity voicers Dick Van Dyke, Eugene Levy, and Joan Plowright come and go without quickening the pulse; and despite a couple of good jokes (faux-Aussie outfitters insisting that “yellow is the new khaki”), the plot line involving a long-lost jungle shrine is too blah for bigger kids and too complicated for the pre-K acolytes who make up Curious George’s target audience. In an ominous sign of sequels to come, the film concludes with the monkey and his lemony pal orbiting Earth on an impromptu rocket mission. Maybe sending Ferrell into a wormhole is too much to ask. But would a meteor shower be out of the question? It worked in Zathura—and the closest that had to a once-subversive comedian was Dax Shepard. —Louis Bayard