Everybody loves monkeys. There's no denying it. After all, we're indoctrinated at a young age. Almost as soon as we can read, we're introduced to a monkey who needs our constant care and attention - if we should tear our eyes away for even a moment, something bad is sure to happen. Why's that? Because George is curious.
Bibliophiles' favorite inquisitive primate was created in 1941 by the husband-and-wife team of H.A. and Margret Rey, and he's getting a major motion picture sometime soon. Wait, what's that? The movie already came out? In February? Man, George tanked hard, didn't he? Well, if nothing else, at least he got a line of action figures out of it.
ToyBiz is the company that landed the license, and while the movie wasn't as big a hit as their last licensed property was (sad to say), they still put a good effort into the toys. This is truly a children's line, so there are plenty of variations - George in an airplane, George in a spacesuit, George in a bumper car - but there's also a costume-less George for those who want his iconic look.
The action figures are sold in "adventure sets," which is basically George and a giant accessory in a clear plastic cube. Illustrating the difference between manufacturing toys for kids and toys for collectors, the package isn't even taped shut and there are no twist-ties holding the figure in place. Because really, who's going to steal Curious George?
If you want a plain George (as opposed to a "Plane" George), then you want the Balloon Adventure - this is the only figure not wearing any clothes, and really, when you think of Curious George, do you think of him wearing a little shirt? No, of course not. You think of a little brown monkey, and that's what this set offers.
Curious George is 4 1/2" tall and moves at the Big Five, which, in terms of pre-school toys, counts as being super-articulated. The little monkey has a big smile on his face, and is really sculpted well. It's always hard to turn a cartoon character into a three-dimensional figure, but this one's looking nice. George's design in the movie was slightly different in the film than in the books (just due to a question of pure static line art vs. the needs of fluid animation), but he's still recognizably classic.
The big accessory in the Balloon Adventure is a park scene - the raised base has a few bricks sculpted on the ground, along with what looks like a pool filter. A wheeled cart rests in the center of this scene, with an umbrella sticking out the top. Overall, the look is cartoony and undetailed, but isn't that as it should be? The cart is permanently attached to the base, and the wheels don't turn - primarily because the cart houses this set's action feature.
Press down on the umbrella and... nothing really happens. Well, that's because the whole thing isn't assembled yet. A clear plastic arm attaches to the back of the cart, and it swings when the umbrella is pushed. At the end of said arm is a swiveling bunch of balloons, which George can clutch. Hit the big button when he's holding the balloons, and the little monkey will lift up in the air, soar over the stand and come down on the other side. Neat!
With the announcement that ToyBiz would be losing the Marvel license to Hasbro at the end of this year, a lot of people wondered if the company would be able to survive; in terms of the industry, they're about one step above two guys selling garage kits out of the back of a truck, and they don't have a lot of other big licenses to cushion the blow. Curious George may not be the answer to their secure future, but the fact that they can make a toy that's designed for kids, but still fun enough for older collectors (if the fanboys are willing to give it a chance), proves that ToyBiz does indeed have what it takes to survive - provided they can get the right license.
So the next time you're at Toys R Us or wherever, take a quick side-trip to the toddler aisle before you leave, and pick up a Curious George of your own. It's really a fun little toy, and George is just the kind of character that would be awesome on your desk at work. He really could be the next hipster must-have, like Hulk Hands or Darth Tater; the thing that even the coolest of cool cats would be proud to have in their homes. After all: everybody loves monkeys.
What license do you want ToyBiz to chase down? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.