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Curious George Is Relevant as Ever, 80 Years After His First Unlikely Adventure

How the curious little monkey has survived and thrived for nearly 80 years.

One of the great joys of parenthood is introducing your kids to your favorite shows. Of course, just because you loved it, doesn’t mean your kid will. Fortunately, every series has superfans, scholars, and experts who can help parents find a way in. And with Hulu’s expansive TV library, you can get up to speed together in between your summer outings.   

Curious George is a survivor and he comes by it rightly. The ape’s creators, Margaret and H.A. Rey, fled their Paris home on bicycles in 1940 as Nazis stormed the city, taking little more than the clothes on their backs and the illustrated manuscript that would become Curious George. Nearly 80 years after the release of that first book, George is an icon. He’s also unchanged. There have been books, telefilms, telefilm-inspired books, movies, and even video games, but George has remained a constant. He doesn’t need to change, only to explore more of a changing world.

“He’s the quintessential kid,” says Cyrisse Jaffe, the educational project manager of Boston’s WGBH, one of the production companies behind the Curious George series. “George is a perfect character because of his curiosity. It’s meant to open kids to exploring and being curious, which they are already.”

George is hungry for knowledge, and educators know that kids almost invariably are as well. That’s why Jaffe, who works in the educational department of WGBH, has been able to create materials for parents, teachers, librarians, schools, nurses, and social workers based on the character. That’s why countless parents have used him to spark conversations for decades. Put George in a situation, and he’s going to explore.

“It’s a great show to talk about with your toddler,” she says. “It’s a wonderful way to relate through the show because it teaches concepts. It gives parents a chance to talk about what you might not normally talk about: What does the wind do? What happens to a rocket in space?”

Ellen Ruffin is the Curator of de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, says that the proof of Curious George’s universality is in where you put him. The character has been translated into dozens of languages and been “wildly successful” all over the world, she explains. That’s because trial and error is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Everyone does it; small people twice as often.

“He doesn’t intend to cause trouble or create problems,” points out Ruffin. “He winds up in all kinds of troubling circumstances that are difficult, but a child identifies with it. They’re being curious, they get into things that are troublesome, but George, through ingenuity, finds a way out of those ordeals.”

Because George’s motivation (Learn stuff!) is so easy to understand, the only thing a new watcher really needs to know for context is that the world he occupies is a big place. That’s a lesson that never ages and never ceases to be exciting for both kids and adults.

What’s magical about George, at the end of the day, is that people who read his books or watch his show get to witness someone seeing the wonders of the universe for the first time. To watch the show is to watch someone struck dumb with awe at the raw possibility of it all.

George doesn’t talk. Why? Some eighty years later, he’s still speechless.