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Moviegoers Get Curious

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Moviegoers Get Curious

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it seems to have worked out for one monkey who won the affection of generations of young readers before finally making it to the big screen. Universal’s Curious George opens in theaters nationwide this weekend and has fans and pundits more than a little curious as to whether or not a 2D-animated feature can compete in a field currently dominated by CG.

Based on the beloved, 60-year-old series of children’s books by H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey, Curious George follows the misadventures of an inquisitive chimp who makes monkey trouble for his human pal, the Man in the Yellow Hat, voiced by comedy champ Will Ferrell. Drew Barrymore, Eugene Levy, Dick Van Dyke, David Cross and Frank Welker also lend their voices to this family pic directed by Disney animation veteran Matthew O’Callaghan (Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas) and produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, David Kirschner, Bonne Radford and Jon Shapiro.

The film has traveled a rocky road to the screen since going into development about a decade ago. It was originally going to be produced in CG, then live-action combined with digital animation before Universal finally decided to roll the dice with 2D. The studio and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Ent. then brought in Monsters, Inc. scribes Robert L. Baird and Dan Gerson to rewrite the screenplay by Michael McCullers. A number of other factors caused the release date to be pushed back more than once. However, the production team stayed committed to delivering the film by February, since the wheels had already been set in motion for Curious George, the animated TV series to premiere on PBS in the fall.

To get the movie in the can, Universal enlisted the talents of several animation studios, including the Disney Paris team (now called Neomis Animation), Project Firefly in Orlando, Fla., Yowza in Toronto, Fat Cat in Phoenix, Az., July Films in Simi Valley, Calif., Wang Film Prods. in Taipei, Ink and Paint in Manila and Warner Bros. Feature Animation in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in addition to Universal’s in-house team.

Arriving at last, Curious George has received mostly positive reviews from critics, who have been praising it for its charm and fidelity to the simplistic tone of the books as well as its lush color scheme. A built-in audience should ensure a good opening weekend with even bigger returns expected on home video. At any rate, it offers some stiff competition for The Weinstein Co.’s animated Hoodwinked!, which has managed to hold onto a top-five spot for the past eight weeks. (The February issue of Animation Magazine features a cover story about the making of the feature which includes interviews with members of the key creative team.)

Also opening in wide release this weekend is Sony’s The Pink Panther, a stab at resurrecting a popular film franchise that fizzled out decades ago. Steve Martin fills in for late comic genius Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in this prequel, which also stars Kevin Kline, Jean Reno and Beyonc’ Knowles. In addition, the film’s cartoon mascot returns for the opening and closing credits courtesy of new 2D animation by Burbank animation house Kurtz and Friends, run by Emmy-winning Pink Panther veteran Bob Kurtz.

A pair of thrillers go toe-to-toe as well this weekend as New Line’s Final Destination 3 taps the lucrative teen horror market and Warner Bros. aims for a slightly more mature audience with the Harrison Ford family-in-jeopardy vehicle Firewall.

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