coverGrade:  B
Entire family:  No
2012, 57 min., Color
Not rated (pre-school)
Universal
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  F
Trailer

This direct-to-video offering is strictly for preschoolers, but parents and siblings who’ve read aloud their share of Curious George books will judge that Curious George Swings into Spring is well done. Executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and company get back to basics with this one, following the overly long Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey and its Man with the Yellow Hat-less plot.

The screenplay comes from Joe Fallon, whose writing credits include Arthur and the Curious George TV series, As with the TV show, it’s based on the popular picture books by Margret & H.A. Rey, who took the first Curious George manuscript with them when they fled Paris in 1940.

Featured here are the same cartoon voices, animation and background styles as in the TV series. Cartoon voice legend Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo!) returns to provide the monkey noises that George makes, along with other minor characters, while Jeff Bennett gives voice to The Man with the Yellow Hat and others. Grey Delisle (Scooby-Doo!) and Winnie the Pooh voice talents Jim Cummings and Kath Soucie also turn up on the end credits.

Like the TV show, this cartoon world is all about bright colors. Even the buildings are pink and dark purple and anything but grey or brown. As always, it’s about Curious George’s unbridled enthusiasm and the innocent ways in which he finds himself getting into trouble. Hot air balloon floats get loose? We know who’s responsible. There’s plenty of action here, as George ends up canoeing (bad idea, right?), skateboarding, swinging, frolicking, and running into all sorts of animals.

swingBut it’s not only about the mischief. The film tries to teach youngsters about spring, first with the doorman’s explanation to George that it’s one of the four seasons, and next with an outing George takes with The Man with the Yellow Hat, who shows him birds hatching, caterpillars turning into butterflies, trees leafing out, flowering plants budding, and so on.

Even though Curious George Swings into Spring is episodic, it builds nicely to a climax, and there’s a positive message embedded in a character arc. At the beginning of the film Hundley, the doorman’s dachshund, is an Eeyore character who sees every glass as being half empty. To him, fall means leaves tracked into the lobby, for example, and he views George as nothing more than a nuisance. By the end, he’s come around to being more of a positive individual. That adds another layer of interest.

Don’t look for any bonus features though. This DVD is film-only, but it’s a richly textured addition to the mischievous monkey franchise. Preschoolers who love George ought to love this film.

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