MOVIE REVIEW- Simiantics: Hard to keep kids awake

In Madagascar, some animals left a New York zoo and sailed for Africa. In Curious George, one monkey makes the reverse trip, leaving the African jungle for Manhattan's urban one. (Technically it's a chimp, but it's called a monkey out of respect for the original books.)

Curious George has a funnier script than Madagascar, within the limitations of the G rating, and fluid animation of brightly colored drawings (based on those in Margaret and H.A. Rey's books) that are more South Park than Lion King. It's perfect for the pre-school crowd, though interest should wane rapidly in post-kindergarteners.

Will Ferrell voices the main human character, Ted (known to readers as The Man with the Yellow Hat). Ted's a decent docent at a failing natural history museum owned by Mr. Bloomsberry (Dick Van Dyke) but about to be sold for a parking lot by his son, Junior (David Cross).

Junior, jealous that dad prefers Ted to him, is this week's son trying to earn his father's respect.

Ted tries to save the museum by going to Africa to bring back the fabled Lost Shrine of Zagawa, but sabotaged by Junior, he finds a carved monkey that's three inches tall instead of the expected 40 feet. In the museum business, size matters.

Our hero not only wears a yellow hat but an entire yellow outfit, having been convinced by a sharp salesman that "yellow is the new khaki." The banana-colored clothing draws amused stares from humans but also attracts a banana-loving monkey Ted will later name George.

The monkey stows away on Ted's return voyage and follows him home, his simiantics alternately causing trouble and solving problems for the nerdy guy. Also drawn to Ted is Maggie Dunlop, a schoolteacher with a crush on him (Drew Barrymore, whose face and voice are recognizable, but whose chest is drawn several cup sizes smaller than on her Golden Globes appearance).

The film's running time– about 80 minutes plus credits– is designed with short attention spans in mind, but the darkest-before-the-dawn segment is stretched too long to hold very young viewers.

Jack Johnson sings nine songs on the soundtrack, seven of which he wrote. African-flavored American pop, they're pleasant but sound so much alike that they become aural wallpaper.

Ultimately, the strengths of Curious George are summed up in an uncharacteristically adult phrase from Ted: "linguistic competence and polychromatic cave paintings."