The holiday season heralds the return of the "Madagascar" gang in "Merry Madagascar," a television special looking to produce a pinch of Christmas cheer to fans, admirers, and all of their patient parents.
Still stuck with King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) on Madagascar, Alex (Ben Stiller), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), Marty (Chris Rock), and Melman (David Schwimmer) are planning an escape, desperate to return to New York City. When the coast is assailed by coal raining from the sky, Julien orders a counterattack, with Alex responsible for a direct hit on the enemy, which turns out to be Santa Claus (Carl Reiner). A crash landing has left Santa with amnesia, leaving the four animal friends the last hope for Christmas gift delivery. Led by The Penguins (covered in magical flying dust), the team takes off around the world, concerned that Santa's job might be too much for them to handle.
The "Madagascar" series has met up with seasonal shenanigans before, in the 2005 short, "The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper." While two feature-length films have effectively explored the characters and their panic to return to their comfy zoo habitat, these holiday shorts are equally appealing, stripping the franchise down to the basics of slapstick and silly characterization.
While thinly plotted, "Merry Madagascar" (situated somewhere between "Madagascar" and its 2008 sequel) contains an ample amount of Christmas cheer, supplemented by more traditional franchise highlights, including the self-centered madness of King Julien and the neurotic hysteria shared between our four heroes. The short throws a few needed curveballs, including an amusing rivalry between the South Pole Penguins and the North Pole reindeer; it's like the Bloods and the Crips, only with one-liners and a reservoir of magic flying dust to cheat everybody's way into the sky. Also humorous is the Santa journey for the gang, who fly exhaustedly around the world, distributing presents to overly excited kids. As one might expect with this accident-prone group, not everything goes smoothly.
Audio & Visual:
DVD Talk was only provided with a heavily watermarked DVD-R screener for review.
Along with Halloween's "Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space" special, Dreamworks has found a fresh way to keep their franchises primed for future use without the burden of nervously mounting an entire feature film. "Merry Madagascar" is a blissful ride, zipping along on a generous amount of holiday spirit. The short also solidifies something about the "Madagascar" Penguins I've been feeling for a few years now: they are the most hilarious animated characters of the last 30 years. There, I've admitted it. I adore those guys. They steal everything they're in.