Curious George (Netflix)
Just as it's not easy to adapt a huge novel to a movie, it's equally challenging to adapt a short, illustrated children's classic to a feature-length film. Unimaginative filmmakers pad the stories with vulgar jokes and pop-culture references, but the makers of the G-rated Curious George (2006) instead opted for a sweet, gentle tone, with a dash of Jack Johnson's laid-back, mellow pop tunes. Will Ferrell provides the voice of the Man in the Yellow Hat (known here as "Ted"), who tries to save his museum from being turned into a parking lot. He goes to Africa to find a rare idol, but instead comes back with a stowaway: George (voiced by Frank Welker).
George causes all kinds of mischief, of course, but nothing too terrible, and he eventually finds ways of helping. He even matches Ted with a pretty school teacher (voiced by Drew Barrymore), who loves dragging her class to Ted's boring museum lectures. Matthew O'Callaghan uses a charming combination of hand-drawn animation and 3D computer backdrops, and the result is as gentle as a bedtime story should be. The voice cast is excellent, but Welker especially deserves praise for his work as George; known for Scooby-Doo and Transformers, as well as hundreds of other credits, he's an unsung master of voice acting.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (Amazon Instant Video)
A safe bet for very young movie buffs, and not too bad for parents either, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999) is a delightful, funny "Sesame Street" movie that never goes too far (it's far less edgy than the Muppet movies) and finishes up at only 73 minutes. It's hard not to love the adorable Elmo (voiced and performed by Kevin Clash) with his huge heart and innocent ways. He loves nothing more than his favorite blanket, and he's understandably upset when Oscar the Grouch (voiced and performed by Caroll Spinney) sneezes into it and throws it away.
So he journeys to "Grouchland" to get it back. There, he meets the greedy Huxley (Mandy Patinkin) and the Queen of Trash (Vanessa Williams). Many other beloved Muppets turn up, including Bert (voiced and performed by Frank Oz) and Ernie (voiced and performed by Steve Whitmire), who narrate the movie from the sidelines, plus Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover, Zoe, and the Count. Gary Halvorson directs.
Listen Up Philip (Amazon Instant Video)
Alex Ross Perry's portrait of a self-obsessed, but talented writer, Listen Up Philip (2014) asks viewers to latch onto a thoroughly miserable, despicable character and see him through to the end. Some will resist, but more adventurous viewers will find it thrillingly nasty and acidly funny. Jason Schwartzman plays Philip Friedman, who, on the verge of publishing his second novel and finding his relationship with his girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) growing stale, decides to spend a summer at the home of his idol, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). There he meets the alluring Melanie (Krysten Ritter), Zimmerman's damaged daughter.
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