Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Monkey Business with Curious George

Well-researched and beautifully executed documentary mixed with animation
Another wonderful documentary that you can tell the filmmaker has poured their heart and soul is Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators that was released in June last year.

For the past 75 years, millions have loved reading Curious George books as children, but not many know about the couple who created the lovable simian character.

Margaret and Hans Rey created Curious George
Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki gives a pretty comprehensive presentation of Hans and Margaret Rey not only through interviews with their literary executor, Lay Lee Ong, some academics, and even the Rey's neighbours in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, who back in the 1950s were young children that Hans would play with and entertain.

These interviews are interlaced with historical footage and -- even better -- animation of Hans and Margaret that are dropped into the black and white film to illustrate they were there.

They were both German Jews and Hans was originally dating Margaret's older sister when they met -- Margaret was only around nine years old. But they later kept in touch and while he went to Brazil to work with his entrepreneurial brother-in-law, Margaret later paid a visit to see him and decided they should get married and start an advertising firm.

Hans was always an artist, and even his studying medicine could not keep him from doodling. Margaret saw his talent and incorporated his cartoons with her copywriting and photographs for ads.

They left Paris by bicycle with only some precious items
They tied the knot in 1935 and moved to France, but this was just as Adolf Hitler was making his plans to take over the continent. By using cartoons of Hans and Margaret, Yamazaki is able to illustrate how the Reys were able to escape the Nazis in June 1940.

Hans built two bicycles out of spare parts and together they rode hundreds of kilometres south of Paris, to get to a town where they sold their bicycles to catch a train to get to the southwest coat to take a ship to Lisbon.

While they were in Paris, they had started writing a book about Fifi the monkey who later became George. They took this manuscript with them, and just before they escaped the French capital, they received an advance for the book that helped fund their journey.

The couple in their later years in the United States
They managed to get on a ship to the United States and thanks to one of Margaret's sisters who lived in Long Island received a letter from an editor who was familiar with the monkey book and gave them an advance for more Curious George books.

There are seven in total and each of them are a collaboration between the husband and wife.

It's so interesting they would spend their summers in Waterville Valley in the 1950s, at the time when anti-Semitism was very popular in the United States. The children neighbours, now in their 70s, remember Margaret as being scary, while Hans was very nice.

So while much is discussed about the Reys and how Curious George came about, there isn't much information about the Man in the Yellow Hat. Guess he will continue to remain a mystery.

Nevertheless the animation really makes Monkey Business an endearing film, inserting the couple into the story to "reenact" scenes in their lives and definitely adding a humorous touch.

Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators
Directed: Ema Ryan Yamazaki
1 hour and 21 minutes

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