Shout! Factory // 1993 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // October 27th, 2010
"Joyeux Noel, my little friends!"
Long before Dora first said "hola," a plucky Parisian girl took young readers on multicultural adventures of her own. Madeline first appeared in a series of books written by Ludwig Bemelmans. She later made the jump to movies and television, introducing a new generation of kids to her charming world of butter and baguettes. Shout! Factory gives those young fans an early Joyeux Noel, with a DVD collection of five holiday-themed episodes, called Madeline's Christmas and Other Wintry Tales.
* "Madeline's Winter Vacation"
Madeline and her schoolmates spend Christmas in the Alps with Miss Clavel's Aunt Hilda and her yodeling nephew Hans. The otherwise relaxing holiday takes a scary turn when they are trapped by an avalanche, and a legendary snow monster that may or may not be lurking outside.
* "Madeline at the North Pole"
The first of four episodes from the more recent series The New Adventures of Madeline. The girls are upset to find out there will be no snow for Christmas, so their benefactor Lord Cucuface arranges for them to visit the North Pole. But when all the elves get sick right before Christmas, Madeline and her friends have to pitch in to get the toys ready for Santa.
* "Madeline and Santa"
Picking up right after "Madeline at the North Pole," the girls finish getting Santa's sleigh ready for Christmas Eve only to be rewarded by all getting sick. As the only one to avoid the flu, Madeline uses her energy to bake several batches of the Christmas cake, Buche de Noel. She returns to the kitchen to find that all of the cakes have disappeared -- a mystery that is solved when Santa realizes he is too big to fit down any of the chimneys and must ask Madeline to help save Christmas...again.
* "Madeline's Holiday with Mr. Grump"
The girls get an unpleasant Christmas present when Miss Clavel leaves to look after her sick aunt, and is replaced by a nasty new headmaster named Mr. Grump.
* "Madeline and the Ice Skates"
Madeline is complimented on her skating ability by a famous skater, so she turns all of her attention to practicing on the ice -- at the expense of her schoolwork, her friends, and her health.
Having seen more than my share of kids' DVDs lately -- with more to come if my infant daughter has anything to say about it -- I thought I knew what to expect from Madeline. For the most part, I was right. The episodes are filled with plucky young girls placed in mildly unpleasant situations who emerge victorious after twenty-some minutes with minimal effort. The animation is serviceable, even stylish in places, and the occasional song provides just enough melody and beat to get young toes tapping.
But Madeline distinguishes itself from other tiny tot fare with its easygoing charm. Maybe it's the European flair, maybe it's Christopher Plummer's laid back rhyming narration, but Madeline is a welcome break from the hyperactivity of modern kids' cartoons. Her holiday adventures don't have any high-speed sleigh chases or Battle of Gettysburgh-esque snowball fights, and that's a good thing.
The downside is that Madeline's cordiality won't work on every kid. If your children are either too old or too young, these Wintry Tales might be too boring to entertain them while you try to sip your eggnog in peace in the other room.
The DVD itself gets the job done. The full frame animation is clean and colorful in a muted European sort of way, with only minor flecks and specks; and the stereo soundtrack delivers the dialogue, narration, and synthesized background music just fine. There are no bonus features or alternate language tracks to clutter up this bare-bones disc.
Although it won't appeal to everyone, if you like your holiday with a bit of Old World charm (and your kids have a thing for walking in two straight lines), then Madeline's Christmas and Other Wintry Tales is a worthy stocking stuffer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated