Film: Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators (2017)

May 15, 2018 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / WWII / Children’s Books / Curious George

Synopsis: Affectionate and moving chronicle of how two refugees from Nazi Germany safeguarded a book that would become a beloved children’s classic.

Special Features:  n/a




Behind the best-selling children’s book about an overly curious monkey and his human friend in the yellow hat is the fantastic story of its creators, artist Hans Augusto Rey and writer Margert Rey, German Jews who fled Nazi Germany and eventually settled in the U.S. The Reys’ migration to safety is packed with epic travels, near-misses, and incredible luck, and it’s unsurprising director Ema Ryan Yamazaki chose to interweave the images and words from the Curious George books to parallel the Reys’ own flight to safety.

Born to wealthy families in Hamburg, Germany, the pair remained friends after Hans traveled to Brazil for a steady bookkeeping job, but it was Margret who decided to gamble on a South American trip and marry Hans, whisking him away from a dull job that negated his brilliant talent for illustration in commercial and storytelling realms.

The pair eventually moved to Paris, only to flee when Hitler’s tanks entered the city, and with a pair of bicycles the couple fled, riding towards Spain and guarding the one keepsake they felt was both precious and might launch their new lives in America: a children’s book featuring Fifi the monkey (later Curious George), always getting into mischief but learning some valuable life lessons in the process.

A French publisher had already expressed an interest in the proposed series, but it was in the U.S. where Curious George was born, after which came 6 further adventures before Hans’ health began to weaken, and Magret was faced with being both a widow and steward of a popular series she co-created.

More than anything, Monkey Business is a celebration of a love affair that bonded two unlikely friends – easygoing Hans, blunt and Germanic Margret – whose skills were perfectly matched. ‘Twas Margret who pointed out Hans’ escapist monkey drawing had potential, and her knack for story, characters, and sense of order shaped the books into plotted, fanciful tales for young and old. Curious George was their child, but Hans was neighbour to whom kids loved to visit, being enthusiastic, attentive, funny and often asking the kids for advice and suggestions.

Packed with stills and archival interviews (mostly of Margret), it’s a beautifully crafted biography that flows like an adventure, addressing the dark aspects of WWI (which Hans gruesomely experienced as a medical attendant) and WWII, but buoyed by the unwavering spirit of the Reys.

Margret’s sometimes harsh, no bullshit personality was pivotal in shaping the series, and after Hans’ passing, she took a gamble on merchandising and licensing the character – a then unique approach to sustaining a brand through subsequent generations of readers, and its ongoing survival.

Yamazaki weaves archival images and film footage with beautifully integrated drawn versions of the Reys, softening the severity of their flight but never negating the danger and horror of war and anti-Semitism, and the live-action interview subjects range from friends, the estate’s protector, and the now greying kids who loved Hans, reflecting on his impact when they converged at the Rey household.

Jason Cummings’ score is light yet affecting, and Yamazaki’s skill as an editor (Jersey Strong, Chicagoland) keeps the pacing tight, but never forced; the vibrant animated drawings of the Reys also close the film with one of the loveliest closing moments involving a winding banister.

Referenced in the credits are the books The True Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden, and Fleeing Hitler by Hanna Diamon.



© 2018 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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