This project had been under development at Imagine Entertainment for a long time, dating back at least as long ago as 1992 (& possibly many years before this). The screenplay was written by Ken Kaufman, with a story by Kaufman & Mike Werb. Although it's a traditionally animated film, about 20% of it takes place in 3D environments that were computer-generated.
It was the 1st Universal Pictures theatrically released feature-length animated film since 1995's Balto, & Imagine Entertainment's 1st animated film. Due to the success of the film, the franchise was adapted to a TV series on PBS Kids, with Jeff Bennett replacing Will Ferrell as the voice of the Man with the Yellow Hat.
The introduction of the movie's a cartoon short where we are introduced to a happy, artistic, & mischievous but lonely little monkey somewhere in the jungle. Ted (Will Ferrell) is an employed guide at the Bloomsberry Museum. We're introduced to teacher Ms. Maggie Dunlop (Drew Barrymore) & her students who come to the museum often but they're the only regular visitors. Mr. Bloomsberry (Dick Van Dyke) heartbreakingly informs Ted that the museum will have to close, because it's no longer making any money. Bloomsberry's son, Junior (David Cross), wants to tear down the museum, & replace it with a parking garage. Ted's convinced to volunteer to go to Africa in place of Mr. Bloomsberry & bring back a mystical, 40 foot tall idol known as "Lost Shrine of Zagawa" in the hopes that it will attract customers, much to Junior's envy. Ted's outfitted with a hideous yellow suit (which causes people to laugh at him), & boards a cargo ship to Africa despite his embarrassment.
With the help of a tour guide & tour group, Ted finds the "Lost Shrine of Zagawa", but discovers it to be only 3 inches tall, much to his disappointment. Ted also encounters the little monkey on his expedition to Africa, & gives the monkey his yellow hat. The monkey, who quickly grows fond of Ted, follows him & boards the cargo ship, unknown to Ted. Ted returns home, & enters his apartment, only to receive a call from Bloomsberry telling him to report to the museum, so Ted can do an interview on the news. The monkey follows Ted to his apartment, the monkey's discovered busily repainting a posh apartment in full scale African animals & due to the strict "no pets allowed policy", Ted's evicted by grumpy doorman Ivan (Ed O'Ross). Ted returns to the museum, & reveals to Bloomsberry the idol's size. Ted's kicked out of the museum by Junior, after the monkey accidentally destroys an Apatosaurus skeleton. Ted & the monkey sleep outside in the park, & the next morning, Ted follows the monkey into the zoo, where Maggie & her young students name the monkey "George". George gets into trouble & begins dangerously floating away on balloons high up over the city, Ted takes flight as well. George's balloons are popped by spikes on a building & Ted saves him from certain death.
Ted & George make their way to the home of an inventor named Clovis (Eugene Levy), where George uses an overhead projector to increase the idol's size making it & himself appear 40 ft tall. Ted & George head to the museum to show Bloomsberry the invention. Junior tries to convince his father that it wouldn't be honest to fool the public, but the elder Bloomsberry sees it as the only way to save the museum. Determined to get his parking garage, Junior foils Ted's plan by pouring hot coffee on the machine & framing George. Believing his life to be ruined, Ted allows animal control to take away George.
Ted speaks with Ms. Maggie who helps Ted "see" what's really important in his life. Ted regrets the decision to give George to animal control, & boards George's cargo ship to get him back. Ted tells George that nothing else matters besides their "buddyship". In the hold of the ship, George discovers that when reflected in light, the idol reveals a pictogram with the message "turn your eye to the light, go from blindness to sight". It turns out that when held up to the sun, the small idol's actually a map to the real idol. They sail the ship back to Africa & George helps him find the real idol which is, indeed, 40 feet tall.
The idol's put in the museum, & the museum goes back in business, & becomes more successful than ever when it becomes more hands-on because of the addition of Clovis' inventions, the interaction with Ms. Dunlop & her young students &, of course, George. Junior finally gets his parking garage, but is upset that Ted's still working at the museum. Ivan invites Ted to move back to his apartment because he likes George, & Ted & Maggie almost start a romance, but George causes more trouble by starting up a rocket ship, forcing Ted to follow him.
- Frank Welker as George, a curious monkey who's compassionate & clever, with a proficiency in visual art.
- Will Ferrell as Ted Shackleford (The Man in the Yellow Hat), Curious George's friend. He's clumsy, but resilient & compassionate. In a deleted scene, his last name's established as Shackleford.
- Drew Barrymore as Margaret "Maggie" Dunlop, a teacher.
- David Cross as Junior Bloomsberry, the son & only child of the museum's owner.
- Eugene Levy as Clovis, a museum employee who builds robotic animals to help him with his work.
- Joan Plowright as Ms. Plushbottom, Ted's neighbor. She's an opera singer.
- Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Bloomsberry, the kind, elderly owner of the museum.
- Ed O'Ross as Ivan, the doorman at Ted's apartment building.
- Michael Chinyamurindi as Edu, Ted's African guide.
In various points during its development, it was proposed that the film be entirely CG or live-action mixed with CG, before the decision was finally made to use traditional animation to bring the titular character to life. As of 2001, Brad Bird had written a script for the film. Director Matthew O'Callaghan greatly appreciated having Dick Van Dyke voice 1 of the characters. "I was surprised when I actually finally met him that he had never done an animated voice before, with his association with Disney for all those years. I was just blown away so I'm going, 'This is great,' because as an animation director you always want to use people who are fresh, who haven't done animated voices – at least I do." he said. CG Supervisor Thanh John Nguyen states that they tried to duplicate the look of the cars in the book, which Executive Producer Ken Tsumura describes as bearing the look of the 1940s & 1950s; According to Production Designer Yarrow Cheney, the filmmakers also partnered with Volkswagen to design the red car that Ted drives, simplifying it a bit & rounding the edges. Cheney also said that prior to this they had based some of the models on Volkswagens due to their suitability
The film was released to 2,566 theaters on February 10, 2006 & opened at #3 with a total opening weekend gross of $14.7 million averaging $5,730 per theater. The film grossed $58.4 million in the United States & $11.5 million overseas, totaling $69.8 million worldwide
The film received generally positive reviews and earned a 69% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert praised the design of the film & its faithfulness to the "spirit & innocence of the books." Since he himself didn't particularly enjoy the film, Ebert made an exception in this case in recommending it for young children based on its better qualities, a point on which he said he disagreed somewhat with his TV show co-host Richard Roeper. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly was "pleasantly surprised" by the film's calm tone, which he found to be against modern trends, but said that George was perhaps a bit too sweet & that the "movie comes close to denying he's any sort of troublemaker". He noted somewhat negatively the few modern anachronisms in the film. Brian Lowry of Variety was negative about the film, criticizing the quality of the animation, the music, & other aspects. Lowry states that there are some updates to the story, such as that "The Man in the Yellow Hat" from the books is finally given a name. He also notes that David Cross' animated character bears a strong resemblance to the actor himself. Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune noted that the film's use of "traditional cell [sic] painting & digital effects" compliments the original watercolor illustrations, & thought the film entertaining & yet still quite simple. He considered the difficulties in adapting the original stories (in which George basically causes trouble & the Man in the Yellow Hat fixes it all up) into a film, & how some conflict & a slight romantic subplot were added.
Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George is the soundtrack to the film, featuring songs by Jack Johnson & Sally Williams. In its 1st week on Billboard 200 albums chart, the soundtrack made it to #1, making it Jack Johnson's 1st #1 album (In Between Dreams peaked at 2, On & On peaked at 3) & making it the 1st soundtrack to reach #1 since the Bad Boys II soundtrack in August 2003 & the 1st soundtrack to an animated film to top the Billboard 200 since Pocahontas reigned for 1 week in July 1995.
Home media history
- September 26, 2006 (DVD)
- March 20, 2007 (DVD - 2-pack with The Land Before Time)
- November 20, 2007 (DVD - 2-movie collection with Babe: Pig in the City) (Note: This is a widescreen DVD box set only.)
- August 5, 2008 (Carrying Case DVD with Fun Activity Book - Universal Watch on the Go) (Note: This is a pan & scan DVD copy only.)
- March 3, 2015 (Blu-ray)
A sneak peek for the sequel, Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey! was included in the special features for The Tale of Despereaux. The sequel was released on March 2, 2010.
The plot for the sequel centers around George becoming friends with a young elephant named Kayla. George tries to help Kayla travel across the country to be reunited with her family. A 2nd sequel, Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle was released on June 23, 2015.
- This is Universal's only animated theatrical film to be produced by Universal Animation Studios.