The Story Structure of “Curious George 2”

30Apr12

Henry loves “Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey.” For the amount we spend on Netflix streaming, we could have purchased the DVD of “Curious George 2” twenty-five times. And it feels like if we’d done that, we’d be far from the number of actual viewings even though Henry gets to watch movies in 30 minute chunks.

Since I’ve watched it with him most of these instances — sometimes while washing dishes, sometimes while on the phone, sometimes actually watching — I’ve tried my best to take a screenwriting point of view on the story, trying to stay focused on career and not get lost in the direct-to-video magic that is the story of a mischievous monkey who frees an elephant from a magic show to help her reunite with her family in a cross-country adventure.

Here now is the Blake Snyder-style Beat Sheet of “Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey.” Warning — MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.

1. Opening Image (Page 1) — a scampering George, running across rooftops like a light-hearted, cape-less Batman. Nobody in New York seems fazed by this at all.

2. Set-Up (Pages 1-10) — George sees an ad for a magic show with an elephant and wants to go, but can’t get Ted (re: the Man With The Yellow Hat) to go, because he wants to become zoo director and must therefore prepare a presentation for the board of directors.

3. Theme Stated (Page 5) — While Ted ignores George’s pleas, Ted’s (presumably live-in) girlfriend Maggie says it plainly: “Sometimes the most important stuff isn’t the most important stuff.” That’s what we’re gonna learn here, folks.

4. Catalyst (Page 12) — The Magic Show. Ted, Maggie and George* see the Great Piccadilly and his elephant, Kayla. When the magician makes Kayla disappear, George freaks out and follows her** down the trap door, where the two animals become friends. George and Kayla open the door to the street with the kind of ease you’d expect in a downtown Manhattan theater and disappear into the city.

5. Debate (Pages 12-25) — “Where is George?” and “Where is Kayla?” are the prevailing questions. Piccadilly puts the case in the hands of Dan O. Wolfe, head of theater security, who takes the case very, very seriously. Ted finds George and Kayla at home, and promises to return her to Piccadilly, but George has other plans. While watching a news report, George realizes that Kayla is homesick for her family in a California animal shelter. George wordlessly decides that he will take Kayla “home,” and every time Ted says he’s helping take Kayla “home,” the monkey chatters happily.

If I may get technical for a moment, this isn’t so much as a debate as a “can this happen” and “how can this happen” section, but it actually moves very naturally. The lesson I suppose is to keep people asking questions and/or assuming they have the right answers when they do not. Like with the whole “Kayla’s home” thing. Yes, I’ve thought about this a lot.

Another nice “debate” aspect is more for audience expectations, who would rightly ask, “How would a monkey get an elephant on a train unnoticed?” I’m not going to spoil ALL the surprises, but they do address this rather deftly. Well, deftly for what we’re dealing with.

6. Break Into Act Two (Page 25) — George leads Kayla onto a California-bound train and Ted follows them. And just as he says, “There is no way we’re riding on a train tonight,” the box car doors slam shut and they’re riding a train tonight.

7. Fun and Games (Pages 30-55) — Road trip! The promise of the premise — and of the freakin’ title — is “Following that monkey,” and that’s just what we do. The fun and games here is classic Curious George mischief (stealing food from a snooty chef***, juggling acts, accidentally knocking Ted out of a moving train, etc.). But to the writers’ credit, they address the ever-prominent mobile phone question with ease and humor and character-based action: they have George play with Ted’s phone and drain the battery.

8. B-Plot (Page 30) — a.k.a. the love story. It’s a love story between Ted and leaving the city on an adventure. At first, he’s not happy about it, but by the end. . . let’s just say that by the end, he’s gonna be cool with jumping out of a plane with no formal parachute training.

9. Midpoint (Page 55) — this is debatable, but I’d say it’s when the train cars our friends are riding in gets detached from the actual moving train. From this point on, they have a lot harder time finding transportation, and. .  .

10. The Bad Guys Close In (Page 55-75) — We’ve had plenty of Dan O. Wolfe following that monkey, but he really gets closer and closer from this point on. Another “bad guy” is the misconception that Kayla was kidnapped by Ted and George (yes. . . ). It plays heavily in the next point. . .

11. All Is Lost (Page 75) — George, Kayla and Ted hook up with a kindly farmer and his daughter. And after getting a ride and spending the night and learning a little something about loosening up and having fun, Ted reads the newspaper article implicating them as elephant-nappers.

12. Dark Night of the Soul (Pages 75-85) — This could ruin his career as well as his life. He more-or-less blames George, explaining that he (Ted) never had plans to take Kayla to California, and that he wants to take Kayla back to NYC to clear his name. George feels betrayed. The team breaks up for a moment. The saddest song in the movie indicates the low point, and we wallow in it, until. . .

13. Break Into Act Three (Page 85) — Ted has a change of attitude, realizing that if this is as bad as things could get, then they can only get better. He decides to make good on his monkey’s promise and take Kayla to meet her family. They’ll catch a ride home to the east coast later.

14. The Finale (Pages 85-110) — After dodging Dan O. Wolfe and his goons at the farm and adopting a bus disguise for Kayla, George and Ted indeed reunite the baby elephant with her family. But only for a moment. Wolfe captures them and puts them on a plane back to New York. Here’s another moment where George’s character helps him out of a jam: he steals the keys from Wolfe’s pocket, and the three friends parachute (there it is) out of the plane****, trying to beat Wolfe to the punch and explain the whole thing (which should be simple, right?). Which they do. Ted makes it back in time for his presentation, and goes off-book for a moment to spout about what he’s learned on the road from his monkey pal, and it clinches the promotion. It’s a new Ted and everyone’s happy!

15. Closing Image (Page 110) — After learning that Piccadilly acquired Kayla’s elephant family and brought them to NYC to join his act (because what magic act is complete without THREE elephants?), George and Ted celebrate with a hug.

This has been part of my afternoon for nearly a year.

*I guess they bought him a ticket, right?

**Spoilers on how magic tricks work, too.

***Yeah, he’s a snooty chef… on a train.

****My son’s least favorite part. Because, I suppose, it is the most dangerous.

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