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A children's activity book, based on Congo? It's hard to believe that the same movie that single-handedly got 1,700 theaters nationwide shut down sheerly by sucking so horribly could have any kind of merchandise attached to it, but the Lord works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he likes to throw us a curveball. An activity book about a monkey who speaks using a Nintendo Power Glove? Yeah, that's a curveball.
I hate to admit it, but the movie is a guilty pleasure of mine. I've just got this attraction towards any kind of art that manages to include shots of Tim Curry being ass-raped by a horde of vicious gray gorillas. I wouldn't call it a fetish, but I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't strike me as somewhat provocative. If you've never seen the flick, it was supposed to be a huge hit. Based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, the hope was that Congo could perform on the same level as the Jurassic Park franchise. Obviously, it didn't. Reviews of the film have been almost universally scathing, in part because it was misleadingly promoted. The trailers promised an intense action/disaster flick, but Congo was more of a sleeper adventure with a few well-placed scenes involving man-eating hippos and foreign dignitaries who won't let people eat their imported sesame cake.
At the heart of the film is Amy, a domesticated gorilla who uses sign language and a voice box to communicate with her human compatriots. Amy's handler, Peter, joins a troop of assorted miscreants who travel into the dangerous jungles for various reasons. The cast is a colorful bunch - you've got Tim Curry, a talking gorilla, Ernie Hudson, and a tribe of jungle people who paint themselves white with chalk. The all end up in 'The Lost City of Zinj,' a legendary and mysterious spot in the middle of nowhere that's supposed to have vast diamond mines. As our heroes find out, it's got something else, too: gray gorillas hideously rendered by computer graphics.
Congo wasn't a hit with moviegoers, but let's see if they can succeed in the smaller arena of children's puzzle books...
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I found this treasure at one of our local thrift stores, at the bargain price of ten cents. Despite the low cost, I had a few misgivings about buying it. First off, it's a Congo activity book, something that by very nature must be completely stupid. Secondly, the thrift store is staffed by a group of nosy old ladies who like to ask tons of questions about anything you purchase. In the past, I've had enough trouble buying blank videocassettes from this place without an inquisition. I'm sure you can understand my hesitation about going up to their eighty-year-old register with a Congo activity book meant for four-year-olds. Fortunately, I caught them in the midst of a mass hacking fit, and they were too busy coughing up their insides to ask me why I liked gorillas so much. I left the shop feeling mighty accomplished, and quickly returned home to complete the book's numerous mazes and 'Amy's Awesome Word Search.'
'Safari Adventures' is riddled with pretty much what you'd expect - lots of scrambled word puzzles, crosswords, things like that. Sadly, almost every answer ends up being 'gorilla,' with the only alternate being the same word in plural form. It was getting to the point where you could just scribble the word 'gorilla' across the entire book blindly, check the answer guide, and relish in your perfect score. While most of the pages were fairly mundane, a select few are worth showing the world. With that, here's my review of the Congo activity book.
Well here's a tough one. It's real difficult to spot the one gorilla on the page wearing a giant metal oven mitt. What's odd is that Congo was probably a little too scary for most small kids to enjoy, and without the innate coolness of dinosaurs or robots to bat the fears away, I doubt many children got around to seeing the movie. I mean, sure, a cherubic talking monkey is the kind of thing that could charm the piss-stained pants off the kindergarten demographic, but Amy was no Magilla Gorilla. Congo also had a line of action figures, but they were marketed towards older kids so it's at least somewhat understandable. Nobody bought the figures, but it was still understandable I guess. The activity book is an entirely different story, having been written in such a way that only retarded two-year-olds could possibly soak the pages in without having their brains self-aneurysing out of sheer spite.
The puzzles proved to be too simple for anyone who doesn't regularly eat paste to enjoy. I can't complain about that, since the book was made specifically for paste-eaters. Still, COME ON, are things like the next page the best they could come up with?
Yeah, you've really gotta have a firm grasp on dot-connecting to reveal that mystery animal as a hippopotamus. I'm not even sure what I'm attempting to outline here - the lips? They spent 47 dots on connecting the hippo's lips?! I firmly believe that the Congo activity book was simply an exercise in bringing on lucid dreams while awake. If connecting fifty dots around a hippo's mouth doesn't put you in some kind of weird trance, very little else has a shot.
By the way, a scene in the film suggested that a hippo's typical behavior includes ambushing any boat that passes by. I'm not an authority on hippos or anything, but I think they might've taken a few creative liberties. I shouldn't have expected more from a movie that claims that gorillas can sketch perfect representations of distant jungle castles in crayon. Tim Curry is a wonderful actor, but the guy must've lost a lot of bets considering the flicks he's chosen to take part in. After all, we haven't forgotten The Worst Witch. And sorry Tim, we never will.
Another major brainteaser comes our way on this two-page spread where you're supposed to name everything you see that starts with the letter 'A.' This would've been a little more difficult if the artists didn't consult a dictionary to make sure that every word in the English language starting with 'A' was on these two pages. I have no idea what that room they're in is supposed to be, but it's gotta be the only place in the whole universe that mixes acorns, alligators, airplanes, and antlers as centrical display pieces. It's like the antiquer's version of Noah's Ark in there. Shit, 'antiquer' starts with 'A.' I've been bit by the Congo disease.
I'm really not in the mood to play Scategories with this stupid activity book, so I'll leave that to Sir Curry.
Congo was set in the jungles of Africa, mostly because any movie set in Africa wouldn't be complete without a jungle and wily tribesmen. If someone ever presents of picture of a McDonald's restaurant in Zimbabwe, the collective world's head would probably explode. The film does its best to teach us a little bit about the local animals, and this next page helps us learn about their natural habitats...
Okay, I absolutely swear - the blue lines drawn up above aren't mine. I bought the book used, and sadly, it's previous owner seems to have been the most ignorant soul on the planet. According to the activity book's former master, crocodiles live in trees, and parrots eat their crackers in underground sanctuaries. What's even more amazing is that the kid got those wrong, but knew that zebras lived in savannas. Hell, I don't even know what a savanna is. If pressed to make a guess, I would've said that it's the pretty girl who turns letters in an alternate universe version of Earth where everything has to start with an 'S' sound.
I'm not sure what I'm talking about here either; the book is rotting my brain. Speaking of rotting, termites live in rotting logs! I'm surprised that the Congo activity book hasn't replaced all those outdated elementary science textbooks. I'm also surprised that Random House Books didn't put a bounty out for some hunter to seek out and kill the person who sold them on the idea of making activity books about Congo. Amy's film debut was just full of surprises.
Good, now I know how to tell the book to 'fuck off' without feeling silly about talking aloud with no one else in the room. In the process of learning sign language, kids are offered the chance to figure out Amy's secret message. After an hour or so of work, all of the letters fell into place and we could finally see what special message Amy had in store for us. Are you ready, folks? Ready for a verbal gem like you've never heard before? After you finish the puzzle, here's what's revealed to be Amy's mystery note:
AMY WANT JUNGLE HOME NOW.
I kinda want someone to shit on my face so I'd have something to be more upset about than Amy's insights.
The Congo activity book ends with a two-page drawing depicting the Lost City of Zinj, where all of the movie's climax scenes took place. It was here that Tim Curry got eaten by gorillas, where Amy befriended apes of her own kind, and where Ernie Hudson made a solemn vow to stick to television roles until movie studios stopped funding crap like this.
I'm really not sure if there's anything I can add to what we've seen, but I left the book with a much more focused fear of literature in general, if that counts. There will never be a sequel to Congo, so the world will never know how a group of wild African gorillas responded to Amy joining their little family. One would have to assume that there'd be some tense moments of etiquette disagreements between apes who talk and paint, and apes who kill and pluck mites off their asses. As for the book? It's currently being used as a makeshift fly swatter. It's actually working so well that I'm tempted to mail this hint in to Heloise. I guess I should thank Congo for keeping my living space free of flies, but that's all I'm thanking it for. 2 out of 10.
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