Thursday, February 02, 2006

Curious George

The OpinionJournal has a discussion about Curious George as it takes a turn on the big screen this week. The previews for this movie have made me cringe but judging from the happy oohs and aahs of the kids watching the preview it should be popular with young children. I know lots of Curious George books were checked out at the elementary school yesterday because the kids were showing Dragon their book picks.

John J. Miller writes:
But the challenges of adapting Curious George are in fact a bit more complex. Earnest literary types have interpreted the first book as a barely disguised slave narrative. Have you considered that the man's weird outfit could be a send-up of a colonial officer's uniform? Or that George is brown and lacks a tail? (Lots of monkeys are brown and most species have visible tails.) Or that he is abducted against his will from Africa and brought across the sea to a foreign land where he engages in high jinks when the master is away?

This interpretation--surely the subject of many half-baked teacher-college lectures--was not on the mind of the Reys as they fled from the Nazis. Perhaps it is helpful to remember something that Margret once said of her books: "I don't like messages. . . . These are just stories."

Except that this isn't really true. The final Curious George book actually authored by the Reys--"Curious George Goes to the Hospital"--was written to convince children that they needn't fear the patient ward. It's closer in spirit to a plainly therapeutic book such as "The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor" than the original tale in its own series.

Even earlier than that, however, the books displayed a form of social consciousness: In the 1942 British edition, Curious George was renamed Zozo. The publisher objected to the monkey's name because George VI sat on the throne and, in London slang, "curious" meant "gay."


Jamie said...

I've only caught brief snatches of the previews for the movie, so I can't really assess it yet... although I didn't realize until reading the article that Ron Howard also directed "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", a fact that is not in his favor. My 4-year-old has been begging to see the movie, so we've been talking about making it a family treat for Valentine's Day--I hope I don't regret this plan too much.

The Curious George/slave story theory is new to me--and wow, quite a reach, in my opinion. While there is certainly great depth of meaning in some (children's) books, I think others are overanalyzed. Regardless, I don't quite see how the comparison can be made between having an underlying message about slavery within the books to one that reassures children that the hospital isn't as scary as it seems. The latter is still just a story, even if the "message" isn't very subtle. There has to be some sort of conflict or struggle to make a good plot, and the fear of a trip to the hospital is something that kids (and many adults!) can relate to.

I know that wasn't what the bulk of the article was about, the comparison just struck me... excuse my rambling. :)

Camille said...

The little guys in the movie theater seemed entranced by the preview. I think it is going to be a good match for them.
It just calls to them the way the books always have. No matter what shape they are in, the Curious George books are always checked out.

Kendra said...

Sorry, I have to drop a comment here before you take your analysis too far. The difference between monkeys and apes is that all monkeys have tails and apes don't. That said, Curious George is not a monkey, but a chimp...and he's far from an anthropomorphic representation of a slave.