CuriousGeorge3coverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: Yes, but ….
2015, 81 min., Color
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus feature: C-/D
Amazon link

After a disappointing Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey and a relatively pedestrian Curious George Swings into Spring, executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have given this popular children’s book character the kind of animated adventure he deserves. Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle may be better than the original Curious George theatrical release, and that’s quite a compliment for a direct-to-DVD release.

This outing, George (voiced by animated voiceover genius Frank Welker) is recruited by a space program run by a man named Houston (John Goodman) to fly into space to link a gizmo to a satellite and then return to Earth with it so that the gizmo can be installed in Africa to prevent flooding. And yes, we do get the line, “Houston, we have a problem.” So while the previous two Curious George films were aimed directly at preschoolers and everyone else be gosh-darned, this time there are a few more embedded allusions to entertain the older siblings and parents who watch with them.   

The screenplay is more clever, too, with non-stop action in a tale that has George crash-landing in Central Africa and the Man in the Yellow Hat (Jeff Bennett) going off in search of him, while Houston and his flunkie (Alexander Polinsky) do the same. Along the way there are animal encounters, plane and land rover and helicopter and log rides, a scientist (Angela Bassett) who mistakes the Man in the Yellow Hat for a poacher, and a high-stakes situation where everyone is depending on George and his best friend.

The animation is as it was with the first films in this series—first rate—and there’s the added bonus of great songs by Heitor Pereira and others. They’re not memorable enough to stick with you after the film is long over, but they do help drive the narrative and give the film a cheery tone.

CuriousGeorge3screenIn fact, even the most threatening moments are muted because of George or his screenwriters. George has a disarming way of making new friends, whether those friends are human or animal, and this movie details a number of his encounters helping other animals and making instant friends. The message is clear and downright biblical: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Pay it forward, would be the modern secular equivalent, and that’s exactly what George does. He helps everyone, and it comes back to him and the Man in the Yellow Hat when they need it the most.

There are lots of primary colors (that appeal to preschoolers) and a fluid three-quarter to full animation that impresses, even in sequences that could have proved challenging. It’s still a movie that’s aimed at a target audience of six year olds and lower, but Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle transcends that audience . . . if viewers still let that little kid inside them flourish.