TV Preview: Hank Stuever on the lovable but too-early 'Merry Madagascar'

By Hank Stuever
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dreamworks' "Madagascar" marketing enterprise lunges at the throat of Christmas in a half-hour special called "Merry Madagascar" Tuesday night on NBC.

I mean really lunges. Like a crazed, 300-pound Black Friday door-buster shopper; like a family of 10 children who've been told that Santa only brought seven presents, available to the first kids who make it downstairs. Trample, trample! It's the most noisiest time of the year, sure, and so are the animated specials -- but Nov. 17 feels about two weeks early, does it not?

Oh, friend, just read your business pages! The retailers could be not be more worried about the message getting out to America and the cartoonizens of cartoonland, on behalf of Wal-mart, Santa Claus and all the rest, would like you to start shopping now, please.

As for "Merry Madagascar," I'd like to "move-it, move-it" to about Dec. 3 or 4, where it would seem so much more enjoyable -- because there are laughs to be had in it (a North Pole reindeer is star-crossed in love with a rival South Pole penguin and declares herself "bipolar"), and they didn't cheap out on the voices. That really is Ben Stiller (lion), Chris Rock (zebra), Jada Pinkett-Smith (hippo) and David Schwimmer (giraffe) punching their timecards for this 30-minute cheapie.

Anyhoo, can Christmas be saved?

That is always the point of any holiday special: Rescue Santa, fix it, make it better. Alex the lion and his zoo friends are homesick for New York at Christmastime and construct a balloon to take them there.

King Julien the lemur orders them shot down, fearing their balloon is really the "Marauding Red Night Goblin" who flies over Madagascar each year on the 24th of Julienary ("King Julien Eve") and pummels the lemurs with coal. (For being naughty, see.)

Well, that Night Goblin is Santa Claus -- a tidy little paycheck for Carl Reiner, one presumes -- and, long story short, he gets shot down over Madagascar, suffers a bout of amnesia in the crash landing, and it's up to the zoo animals to hoist the penguins up to the sleigh and deliver all the . . . oh, you know. It's the same old paradigm: Believe hard enough (and pay very close attention to the commercials, kids), and everything will work out fine.

Park your own little lemurs in front of it and see if they like it; park yourself, too, for a couple of good chuckles.

Merry Madagascar

(30 minutes) airs Tuesday

at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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