“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” That simple opening rhyme has wooed children around the world for more than 70 years. Author Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books have been reincarnated as Academy Award-nominated animated shorts, syndicated cartoons, soundtracks and a live-action film. Madeline: Lost in Paris celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2009 and continues the party with a Shout! Factory DVD release.
Our story begins when a letter for Madeline from a stranger named Henri Horst (Jason Alexander) arrives at the boarding school. The man claims to be her only surviving relative and announces his intention on visiting his orphaned niece. Horst is, of course, a fraud only interested in kidnapping Madeline so he and the decrepit Madame Lacroque (Lauren Bacall) can collect her inheritance. Before Madeline can figure out the truth, it’s too late—she’s whisked away onto the Metro to a sketchy neighborhood harboring a child-labor camp masquerading as a lace shop. When Miss Clavel (Louise Vallance) catches wind that something’s up, she enlists the help of the police—and all of Madeline’s friends—to find her.
Doesn’t sound like a very cheery premise for a cartoon, but it’s actually a pleasant, warm-hearted distraction for children on a busy day. Despite a few creepy moments involving Madeline’s captors starving young children for labor and threatening to use our heroine’s locks for red lace, parents can rest assured their kids are in good hands for 75 minutes. If only their ears could be saved from the dreadful original songs interspersed with the story.
Madeline: Lost in Paris is presented in full screen. Madeline’s signature flat animation doesn’t offer much dimension and is occasionally a bit blurry when characters move quickly, but it’s still an improvement over the original animation. The best part of the film’s appearance is the rich color palette the animators have chosen. Madeline’s chiffon beret pops far more than it ever did on the animated series.
The film’s bombastic soundtrack is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and complete with sweeping orchestration. Expect typical Parisian cartoon fanfare in nearly every scene. Christopher Plummer’s warm, rhyming narration always rises above the mix to help move the adventure along. The sound mixing ensures you don’t miss a single sound effect that brings Madeline’s Paris to life.
There are no special features.
Although they make for some decent comedic material, the saccharine original songs are this cartoon’s only downfall. That said, the young crowd is hardly going to complain while they’re entertained by this relentlessly charming film. Madeline: Lost in Paris is a welcome addition to classic that’s spanned seven decades and counting. If only there were more leading ladies like mademoiselle Madeline on children’s television.