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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."
DVD ReviewAs a boy, I never read any of Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline books. I was too busy with Daredevil and Captain America comics to be concerned with the adventures of a French schoolgirl. It wasn't until I had a daughter of my own that I became aware of these popular books, and began to understand the attraction. Like a lot of girls since 1939, when Bemelmans wrote and illustrated the first of five Madeline adventures, my daughter Sammy became hooked on the spunky Parisian orphan and her wild escapades. Through Sammy and our nightly bedtime stories, I became well acquainted with Madeline, Miss Clavel, Pepito and all of the other characters that populate the Madeline books.
Thankfully, Director Daisy Von Scherler Mayer's (Party Girl) loving 1998 film adaptation remains fairly true to Bemelmans' creation, and in doing has literally brought a series of classic books to life for a whole new generation. With some minor tweaks in the time period, modernizing it a bit from the dark 1930s to the slightly more colorful 1950s, this new Madeline still retains the gentle and mischeivous spirit so prevalant in the original books.
Merging components of four of the five Madeline books (Madeline, Madeline And The Bad Hat, Madeline's Rescue, and Madeline And The Gypsies), screenwriters Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett have also introduced a new subplot involving a kidnapping into the mix. Despite the tampering and condensation of a children's literary classic, Madeline manages to transcend the stigma of simply being a "kid's film."
As with any book-to-film project, the cast is always under scrutiny from even the most casual observer. Luckily, with Madeline, I imagine that even the most hard-nosed fans will be pleased. Oscar® winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) as Miss Clavel and nine-year-old Hatty Jones as Madeline are a perfect compliment to each other. Jones is bubbly and all smiles in the title role, and McDormand manages to convey the stern, yet motherly traits of the school patron. Oscar® nominee Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness Of King George) as dastardly Lord Covington gets the opportunity to turn up the theatrics a bit as the film's villain.
The plot of Madeline is really inconsequential, and never veers too far off the path set by Bemelmans. The school/orphanage where Madeline and her friends live is threatened with closing after the kindly and caring Lady Covington passes away. Her husband, the evil Lord Covington wants to sell the school, and is unconcerned with what will happen to Madeline, Miss Clavel, or the rest of the girls that live there. Add in a medical emergency (Madeline's appendix!) and the mysterious young hunk Pepito, and you have the proper ingredients for a better than average family film.
Will Madeline save the day? What do you think? Suffice, if there is a little girl in your life that has enjoyed Bemelmans' Madeline books, then this film is a natural extension.
Filmed in and around Paris, Von Scherler Mayer further brings the charm of the books to life via familiar French sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Arc de Triomphe, and, but of course, the Pont de l'Archeveche bridge. If you have to ask what happens on the bridge, well I guess you need to brush up on your Madeline trivia.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Madeline is presented in a rich 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer from TriStar, from an apparently near pristine print. Colors are vibrant, and the transfer is faithful to Daisy Von Scherler Mayer original goal of recreating the look of the Ludwig Bemelmans Madeline books.
A full-frame version is also included on the disc's flipside, and since this title is geared toward younger children, I fully understand TriStar's decision to do so.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: A pair of standard issue mixes is offered by TriStar. The English 5.1 mix makes good use of the rear channel for music cues and minimal background sounds, but overall this is an average audio track. Not to worry, the kiddies would gobble it up if it was in mono. If you choose to crank it through your home theater, the 5.1 mix sounds surprisingly lush, and makes the enjoyable Michel Legrand score sound wonderfully full.
An adequate English 2.O mix is also provided.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
A brief photo gallery of Madeline production stills and a full-frame trailer are also included, but hardly merit mention.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsI only wish more live-action children's films were released that had the same level of wonder and exuberance that is present in Madeline. This is the type of film that will thrill and entertain youngsters, especially if they have read the books. Geared primarily toward the often ignored young girl (ages 5 to 9) market, Madeline is a well made film, and provides solid entertainment. Parents, too, will no doubt be pleasantly surprised. For all those dads that haven't learned about Madeline yet, this is a great way to get educated. Afterwards, pick up Bemelmans' books and read to your daughter. You'll thank me later.
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