In 10 Words or Less
A short, yet amusing holiday special
Dislikes: Most non-Christmas holiday specials
Hates: Single-serving DVDs
Whomever at Dreamworks thought up the idea of creating holiday specials out of their popular animated movie franchises hopefully has been rewarded well, as it obviously has been a successful venture. After all, why would we keep getting them on a regular basis if they weren't making the studio money? The latest brings back the now-seemingly ubiquitous animal empire of Madagascar, to celebrate the somewhat less-exploited holiday of Valentine's Day with an original animated special.
Set before the days of Madagascar 3, so the animals are hanging out in Africa, the special brings together all of the usual suspects, and their voices (though Sasha Baron Cohen's King Julien is imitated by his non-feature film stand-in Danny Jacobs.) Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) was showered with adoration back in their New York City zoo, especially on Valentine's Day, when he was literally swimming in cards. Now in Africa, though he's writing plenty of valentines to his friends and fellow animals, he's not getting any, which leaves him bummed out. Meanwhile, Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) is trying to put together the perfect Valentine's for his new girlfriend Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), but his absences make her suspicious, and Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) is trying to stand out from the pack in attempting to woo a new okapi in town (Taraji P. Henson.)
Of course, it wouldn't be a Madagascar adventure without King Julien and the Penguins on board. Julien the lemur and his aide Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) have come up with a new scheme, as a bottle of "Love Potion No. 9" has fallen from the sky. Renaming himself as the King of Love, he promises to make any animal irresistible with his magic. However, he soon runs our, and calls upon the paramilitary penguins to mix up a new batch. They are a bit too good at the job though, and as a result the new potion really works, making Marty into the most desirable zebra on the plain, a situation that soon gets out of hand.
The penguins are consistently the most enjoyable part of Madagascar, and this special is no exception, as their serious plotting is contrasted by their cute appearances and their oft-ridiculous misadventures. Here, they find themselves on a mission to obtain materials for more potion, only to be drawn off-course by the contentious relationship between their leader, Skipper, and his new girlfriend, Hulu Girl (an inanimate bobble-head doll.) That explanation alone goes a long way toward explaining how silly their subplot is, and the interplay between the four mercenary birds is a big reason why the 22 minute special flies by, as they are far more entertaining than anything going on with the core four.
Inside a standard keepcase, you get a one-disc release, with an animated anamorphic widescreen menu (featuring what I am certain are recycled run-cycle animation of the characters) offering options to play the special, check out the extras and adjust the set-up. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Boy, Blu-ray is really starting to spoil me. It reminds me of the days when I first started watching DVDs and found regular TV to be hard to watch. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid, with a high level of detail, appropriate color that doesn't over do it (even with the large amounts of pinks and reds) and no noticeable issues with compression artifacts. So very nice for DVD, but it's still DVD.
The Dolby Digita 5.1 soundtrack falls into a similar good-but-not-great zone, though it does feature some decent use of the surrounds to deliver sound effects and to pump up the music (notably during a brief montage to the classic and oft-used Robert Palmer track "Simply Irrestible.") Other than that, it keeps the dialogue crisp and clean in the center channel, though as you'd probably expect from a straight-to-video kids DVD, it's not the deepest range you'll hear at home.
Considering the actual show on this disc is just 22 minutes long, they had to put something else on it to pad things out a bit. That honor goes to a pair of shorts, starting with what the box claims is the all-new "First Flight" (8:03.) In actuality it's just new to DVD, as this short, which features an obsessive commuter and his little bird pal, was made way back in 2006, showing before Dreamworks' Over the Hedge. It's an amusing little story, but it doesn't succeed in the storytelling or technical ways Pixar's shorts do (or even now Disney's (with their brilliant paperman.))
Considering this is a Madagscar DVD, it's a bit odd that the extras are both related to Over the Hedge (and neither fits a Valentine's theme.) This time, Hammy's Boomerang Adventure (4:58) was a new short for Over the Hedge's 2006 DVD release (where it included commentary by the director that was unfortunately left out here.) Better than First Flight by a country mile, it features some very silly fun with Hammy, a manic squirrel, and includes the original voices from the film, namely Steve Carell, Bruce Willis and Gary Shandling.
The Bottom Line
Featuring most of the film's original cast, this Valentine's Day special is quick and amusing, with all the things that earned the movies' their fans, but as my daughter said when the credits rolled, "That's it?" Even with a few unrelated leftovers tossed in, it barely crosses the half-hour mark. One the plus side, it's available for pretty cheap and it looks and sounds very nice. It's probably one for diehard fans only though.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.