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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators is a documentary that uses interviews, archival footage, and animation to tell the story of Hans and Margret Rey, German artists who escaped the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940. Their grand creation -- Curious George -- is a curious, funny little monkey who has graced the pages of storybooks and delighted children for more than half a century. The Reys' true tale is handled in a gentle, positive way. Making the story even more accessible, charming animation by artist Jacob Kafka is superimposed on the newsreel film, so that young audiences see Hans and Margret as cartoon heroes amid the crowds. In spite of the horrors of European wartime and occupation, the film can serve as a manageable introduction to the rise of Nazism and onset of World War II. There are no frightening or graphic scenes, no atrocities shown or referenced. Still, expect some shots of bombs falling, the aftermath of battles, and Hitler leading his followers. Much of the actual footage focuses on the exodus of citizens from the city. For middle grades and up, the film is recommended for family viewing and should provide ample opportunity for discussion of a critical historical era, as well as a celebration of two unique people whose life journey left an indelible mark on children's literature.
What's the story?
Hans and Margret Rey are the subjects of MONKEY BUSINESS: THE ADVENTURES OF CURIOUS GEORGE'S CREATORS. Both born into affluent Jewish families in Germany and having lived an adventurous young adulthood that took them to France, Brazil, and back again to Paris, Hans and Margret made a desperate escape on bicycles to safety in early 1940. Having fled from the scourge of Nazism, the devoted husband and wife, who had no children of their own, ultimately made their way to the United States. There, Curious George became their "son." Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki's research, interviews with the Reys' longtime Waterville, New Hampshire, neighbors, and lots of footage of Hans and Margret themselves celebrates the couple, their courage, and their uniqueness. A loving, guileless genius, Hans opened his arms to the children of Waterville and those children, now well into adulthood, have wondrous memories of him. Margret, who was far less warm and fuzzy, but no less accomplished, is remembered for her feistiness, her devotion to Hans, and her savvy. The two lived long, prosperous, and creatively satisfying lives. This movie, which is narrated with spirit and warmth by Sam Waterston, commemorates those lives.
Is it any good?
This gentle, celebratory documentary about the Reys, two talented and unique author-artists, includes wonderful animation to make even a scary wartime escape accessible for older kids and teens. Yamazaki's extensive research, creative filmmaking, and thoughtful, upbeat interviews with those who knew Hans and Margret well keep the story compelling. But it's the genius of integrating Jacob Kafka's charming animation, perfectly suited to the style of Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat, that makes Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators extra special.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the innovative way the filmmakers chose to tell the story of Hans and Margret Rey. How did the addition of the cartoon Hans and Margret enrich Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators? Ironically, did Jacob Kafka's animation make the Reys more "alive" for you? Was that unexpected?
Curious George is a character who gets into mischief, then gets himself out and learns from his mistakes. Do you think that may be at least part of the reason the monkey is so well loved? Do curious kids sometimes get into mischief? Why is it a good thing to be "curious"?
- On DVD or streaming: August 15, 2017
- Cast: Sam Waterston
- Director: Ema Ryan Yamazaki
- Studio: The Orchard
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Arts and dance, Book characters, History
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Curiosity, Gratitude, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 81 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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