Friday, February 03, 2006

Curiouser and Curiouser: Curious George

In The Dark Side of Dr. Seuss, I ended half jokingly:
I may have to stick to "Curious George"--a metaphorical expose of America's capitalist exploitation of Third World Countries.
But John J. Miller seems to agree. In his article "Curious George Goes Hollywood: Will the movie be too politically correct?", he writes first about the political correctness of the movie as opposed to the book:
Consider how the first book violates our modern codes of political correctness. Rather than an eco-tourist, the Man in the Yellow Hat is a gun-toting poacher. When he first spots George, he says, "I would like to take him home with me." So he sets down his goofy hat as a lure. As George investigates, the man sneaks up from behind, pops him into a bag, and takes him home. Then George becomes Caliban with a twist: The man doesn't teach his simian sidekick how to curse, but he does show him how to drink booze and smoke a pipe.

There's something to be said for keeping liquor and tobacco products out of movies aimed at children, but the new film's whitewashing will go much further: The trailer makes clear that although the man still wears a yellow hat, he's also an unarmed naturalist. There's no snatch-and-grab, either. Instead, George mistakes the hat for a banana and follows the man across the ocean as a stowaway.

But there's more to it than that. While the original book might not be interpreted as "a metaphorical expose of America's capitalist exploitation of Third World Countries", there actually are those who believe they have delved into the dark underbelly of the Curious George narrative:
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?
In college I majored in Comparative Literature and wrote a paper comparing Dostoevsky and the Gemara--but based on this, I guess I will never be an 'earnest literary type'.

By the way, the story of the lives of the authors, Margret and H.A. Rey, is pretty interesting too:
In 1940, the Reys, who were German-born Jews living in Paris, fled on bikes as Hitler's army marched down the Champs-Elysees. They carried only a few items with them, including an early Curious George manuscript. (Their refugee travels, which ultimately took them to New York by way of Spain, Portugal and Brazil, are recounted in a picture book published last September: "The Journey That Saved Curious George," by Louise Borden.)
Now that would make an interesting movie.

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