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DreamWorks Holiday Classics Blu-ray + DVD Review

DreamWorks Holiday Classics Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DreamWorks Holiday Classics

The Madagascar Penguins in A Christmas Caper (2005), Shrek the Halls (2007),
Merry Madagascar (2009),
Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular (2010),
Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury (2011)

Total Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (specials rated TV-PG on air)

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Christmas-tacular & Gift of the Night Fury: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English); everything else: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English); Both Discs: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Blu-ray Feature Presentation only: English for Hearing Impaired
Most Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: October 30, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $35.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9) / Blue Keepcase

Also available as standalone DVD ($26.98 SRP)
Shorts also available as individual DVDs ($15.99 SRP each): Shrek the Halls (November 4, 2008), Merry Madagascar (October 11, 2011; Walmart exclusive: November 18, 2009), and Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury (February 14, 2012)

Buy DreamWorks Holiday Classics from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • DVD

For a good chunk of the 20th century, Charles Schulz, Hanna-Barbera, and Rankin/Bass could be counted on to observe the holiday season with animated television specials featuring beloved characters from songs, folklore, comics, and other cartoons. With Schulz, William Hanna, and Joseph Barbera all deceased and Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass essentially retired since the mid-1980s, new animated holiday specials had grown scarce. For the many Christmasy programs of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s still known by even just the most significant word of their titles (Grinch! Rudolph! Magoo!)
and still popular enough to maintain a presence in holiday retail, it's tough to think of even a single Christmas special from the 1990s that is highly regarded, widely revisited each holiday season, or big enough to merit habitual reissues.

And yet, holiday specials haven't gone the way of variety shows, traditional sitcoms, and music videos, once thriving formats that now exist as niche fringes of the entertainment industry. No, the holiday special lives on, thanks in no small part to DreamWorks Animation. The studio that found success with broadly appealing computer-animated comedies and developed into an empire with franchising, volume, and speed saw the mostly passé holiday special as an appropriate venue to keep their bold, popular characters in the public eye with a fraction of the work, costs, and risks of feature-length sequels. Their hopes proved to be well-placed as their ABC special Shrek the Halls drew a remarkable 21 million viewers in November 2007, more than any television show has regularly averaged since "Seinfeld" signed off in 1998.

Christmas with Shrek was just the beginning. We've since spent multiple Halloweens with him and the Monsters vs. Aliens gang. This coming winter will bring a Madagascar Valentine's Day special. And other hit DreamWorks franchises, including Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, have also rung in Christmas or their transparent equivalent of it. The flurry of activity has seemingly inspired two of DreamWorks' biggest competitors, Walt Disney Animation and Blue Sky Studios, to make a play for the same market with their Prep & Landing and Ice Age holiday specials, respectively. Even leader of the pack Pixar recently announced something they're calling Toy Story of Terror! for Halloween 2013.

The Madagascar gang (Gloria, Alex, Melman, and Marty) fill in for Santa Claus in "Merry Madagascar."

The recently released DreamWorks Holiday Classics compiles three of the company's influential half-hour holiday specials and two shorter shorts on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack reviewed here. Shrek the Halls and 2009's NBC special Merry Madagascar make their Blu-ray debuts, while last year's direct-to-video Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury is revisited just ahead of its scheduled television premiere on Fox next month. Joining them are the theatrically exhibited The Madagascar Penguins in A Christmas Caper (2005), included on the original Madagascar's DVD and Blu-ray releases, and Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular (2010), a short that premiered on the DVD and Blu-ray of Shrek Forever After (and, by extension, the mostly complete Shrek: The Whole Story collection).

There isn't an abundance of common ground to these specials. DreamWorks' first two full-fledged franchises, Shrek and Madagascar, are the ones heaviest on the studio's signature irreverence and pop culture references. Their holiday extensions uphold those sensibilities with their fart jokes and seemingly random pop song selections clearly designed to win over parents and grandparents. Less jokey and susceptible to aging is the Dragons special, reflecting a franchise that has contributed to DreamWorks becoming more critically respected and artistically minded (i.e. more Pixar-like), without sacrificing entertainment value.

Donkey sings about his most favorite time of the year in "Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular." Missing his dragon, Hiccup investigates Fishlegs' strange behavior in "Gift of the Night Fury."

Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular (5:23; 7:46 with end credits) (Originally released December 7, 2010)

Director: Walt Dohrn / Writers: Walt Dohrn, Ryan Crego (screenplay); William Steig (book) / Songs: "My Most Favorite Time of the Year" ("It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"), "Ogres' Christmas Song" ("Jingle Bells"), "Fleas Navidad" ("Feliz Navidad"), "Fairy Tale Rock" ("Jingle Bell Rock")

Voice Cast: Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Walt Dohrn (Rumpelstiltskin, Santa Claus), Jon Hamm (Brogan), Jane Lynch (Gretched), Craig Robinson (Cookie), Cody Cameron (Pinocchio, Three Pigs), Christopher Knights (Blind Mice), Conrad Vernon (Gingerbread Man), Aron Warner (Big Bad Wolf), Nina Zoe Bakshi (Ogre Baby), Miles Christopher Bakshi (Ogre Baby), Ollie Mitchell (Ogre Baby)

Illustrating how low on creativity the Shrek franchise is running these days, this dumb short finds Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) leading a musical party consisting of variations on Christmas carols. He sings "My Most Favorite Time of the Year", Shrek's relatives put their spin of "Jingle Bells" (sample lyrics "Bug cocoon, lick the spoon, try our cricket slurp!"), and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) performs "Fleas Navidad" (a parody of -- you guessed it! -- "Feliz Navidad"). Then, the whole gang contributes to "Fairy Tale Rock", an update on "Jingle Bell Rock." Giving unimaginative jokes to side characters like Gingy and the Pigs, this unfunny but brief short feels like it was written in a single afternoon.

Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury (21:08; 22:14 with end credits) (Originally released November 15, 2011)

Director: Tom Owens / Writers: Adam F. Goldberg (screenplay); Cressida Cowell ("How to Train Your Dragon" book series)

Voice Cast: Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Gerard Butler (Stoick), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), America Ferrera (Astrid), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs), T.J. Miller (Tuffnut), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut), Bridget Hoffman (Female Viking), Peter Lavin (Misc Viking 1), Neil Dickson (Misc Viking 2), Ian Ruskin (Misc Viking 3), Julian Barnes (Misc Viking 4)

As the island of Berk is about to celebrate its first Snoggletog since the war between dragons and Vikings ended, everyone's dragons inexplicably fly away. Even Toothless goes missing with the new tail Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has built for him. Astrid (America Ferrera) tries to lift spirits by introducing some new Snoggletog traditions like yak nog and delivering dragon eggs to people, but there are explosive unintended consequences to those gestures as the explanation for the sudden dragon migration becomes clear. As on How to Train Your Dragon, scope and heart are of greater importance to this holiday special than laughs, although there are a few of those too. It's as if someone (Jeffrey Katzenberg?) decided that DreamWorks deserved a better class of animation franchise.

A bothered King Julien pulls Santa Claus by the mustache in "Merry Madagascar." Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico try to save Private from a poodle in "A Christmas Caper."

Merry Madagascar (21:43; 22:20 with end credits) (Originally aired November 17, 2009)

Director: David Soren / Writers: David Soren, Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath; Mark Burton, Billy Frolick, Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath (characters - uncredited) / Songs: "I Like to Move It, Move It (Choir Version)", "Santa Claus Is Coming to Madagascar"

Voice Cast: Ben Stiller (Alex), Chris Rock (Marty), David Schwimmer (Melman), Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria), Cedric the Entertainer (Maurice), Andy Richter (Mort), Carl Reiner (Santa Claus), Danny Jacobs (King Julien), Tom McGrath (Skipper), Chris Miller (Kowalski), Christopher Knights (Private), Willow Smith (Abby), Nina Dobrev (Cupid), Jim Cummings (Lead Reindeer), David Soren (Lookout Lemur, Additional Lemurs), James Ryan (Additional Lemurs)

Until the surprisingly enjoyable Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, I considered this DreamWorks' worst franchise (and while it may still be, at least it's not completely worthless). I didn't expect much of something coming on the heels of the weak Escape 2 Africa, but this special isn't bad. Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are about to leave Madagascar for New York, when their hot air balloon is shot down by King Julien (Danny Jacobs, replacing Sacha Baron Cohen, the one original cast holdout) and his subjects. They explain that they mistook the balloon for the Marauding Red Night Goblin that troubles them every Julianuary 24th. Then the Red Night Goblin, resembling a meteor shower, is spotted and taken down by Alex. Turns out it's Santa Claus (Carl Reiner) and the crash landing has given him a bump on the head and amnesia. While Santa celebrates Julianuary with the lemurs, the Central Park Zoo foursome looks to fill in for him, using his conveniently accommodating sleigh, with magic sparkles giving the penguins the gift of flight. Those South Pole penguins reignite their rivalry with the North Pole reindeers, with the exception of Private, who falls for the doe Cupid. It's not a great television special, but it's better than anticipated.

The Madagascar Penguins in A Christmas Caper (10:22; 10:50 with end credits) (Originally released October 7, 2005)

Director: Gary Trousdale / Writer: Michael Lachance (screenplay); Mark Burton, Billy Frolick, Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath (characters - uncredited) / Songs: The Brian Setzer Orchestra - "Jingle Bells", James Michael Dooley - "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle", Brave Combo - "Jingle Bells"

Voice Cast: Tom McGrath (Skipper), Chris Miller (Kowalski), Christopher Knights (Private), John Di Maggio (Rico), Elisa Gabrielli (Old Lady), Bill Fagerbakke (Ted the Polar Bear), Sean Bishop (Doorman, TV Announcer)

One of the biggest reasons why my expectations for Merry Madagascar were so low was on account of this obnoxious short that preceded Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit in theaters. When Private goes missing, the other three penguins break out of the Central Park Zoo to look for him, following him to the apartment of a nasty old (stereotypically Jewish) woman, who has bought Private as a squeak toy for her poodle Mr. Chew. Crudely animated and told, this short represents a low point in the history of DreamWorks Animation, following the feeble Shark Tale and the unimpressive first Madagascar movie. Of course, it was immediately followed by the Oscar-winning Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but I don't think anyone but Aardman Animations deserves credit for that.

Shrek is just getting the hang of Christmas decorations. Would you cut him some slack please?! A cooked turkey that sings and dances to "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" features in Donkey's Christmas story.

Shrek the Halls (21:40; 28:01 with end credits) (Originally aired November 28, 2007)

Director: Gary Trousdale / Writers: Gary Trousdale, Sean Bishop, Theresa Cullen, Bill Riling (screenplay); William Steig (book) / Songs: Seals & Croft - "Summer Breeze", Eddie Murphy - "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town", Eddie Murphy - "Jingle Bells", Harry Gregson-Williams - "'O Fortuna' from Carmina Burana", Eddie Murphy - "Here We Come A-Wassailing", Harry Gregson-Williams - "The Twelve Days of Christmas", Fatboy Slim - "Because We Can" from Moulin Rouge!, The Waitresses - "Christmas Wrapping", "Ride of the Valkyries", Santana - "Jingo (Gin Go La Ba)", Carmen Carter - "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)", Journey - "Don't Stop Believin'", "Hello Ma Baby", The Fairy Tale Creatures - "Deck the Halls", Harry Gregson-Williams and the Waffle Santa Chorus - "Hallelujah Chorus", The Donnas - "Christmas Wrapping", eels - "The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight", I'm From Barcelona - "Here We Come A-Wassailing"

Voice Cast: Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Sean Bishop (Townsman), Cody Cameron (Pinocchio, Three Pigs), Susan Fitzer (Suzie Cookie), Christopher Knights (Blind Mice), Gary Trousdale (Santa Claus), Conrad Vernon (Gingerbread Man), Aron Warner (Wolf), Marissa Janet Winokur (Bookstore Clerk), Miles Christopher Bakshi (Ogre Baby), Nina Zoe Bakshi (Ogre Baby), Dante James Hauser (Ogre Baby)

The one that started DreamWorks' love affair with television and made them forget the costly failings of their short-lived NBC series "Father of the Pride", Shrek the Halls finds Shrek, Fiona, and their newborn triplets celebrating Christmas for the first time as a family.
For Shrek, it's his first Christmas of any kind, and he buys the book Christmas for Village Idiots to help him know how to decorate and otherwise observe the feast. But Donkey and the others have their own plans in mind and they crash Shrek's home and irritate him to a rage that even drives Fiona and the kids away. Poor Shrek just wanted to celebrate a family Christmas. He didn't know that meant being tolerant of tales by Donkey, Puss, and Gingy or random excerpts of Journey and the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack. It ain't easy being an ogre dad.

As on the recent and comparable DreamWorks Spooky Stories, the standard "Play All" method uses the above sequence and separates end credits from their shorts, compiling them at end in succession, following Shrek the Halls' long sequence. Simply selecting a short from the "DreamWorks Holiday Classics" menu treats you to the complete short, credits and all, of which only Shrek the Halls' set are shamelessly drawn out.

Toothless the dragon and Hiccup the Viking reunite for a heartwarming Snoggletog.


Computer animation generally looks perfect on home video as it's a simple and direct trip from studio computers to disc. The definition of perfection is elevated, however, as we move from standard to high definition. Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen that utilizes 1080p's every available pixel, these cartoons look stunning. Like every other CG animation house, DreamWorks has improved their visuals over the years. As already mentioned, A Christmas Caper isn't quite there yet, but the others from 2007 to last year deliver exquisite and masterful imagery, loaded with detail and subtle lighting and shading. It's amazing to think that four of these five shorts made their debut on television or home video, where standards aren't as high and costs are typically easy to cut. But DreamWorks isn't stingy with their television; these efforts boast all the polish and artistry of their contemporary big screen counterparts. It really does create a technical chasm between the traditionally animated TV specials of yore, like the simple, charming A Charlie Brown Christmas or A Chipmunk Christmas, making it a little easier to overlook the lesser entertainment and virtually non-existent nostalgic value of these featured 'toons.

Sound is equally potent, whether in the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 used on Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular and Gift of the Night Fury, or "plain old" Dolby TrueHD 5.1 employed on all the others. These are truly dynamic aurally, full of strong bass, crisp and immediate dialogue, and fitting directional effects. The sound design adds sweep to these cartoons that would make them feel entirely at home in a movie theater.

Puss in Boots contributes to the finale "Fairy Tale Rock" finale from the sing-along version of "Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular. Title logos adorn the DreamWorks Holiday Classics DVD's cartoon selection menu.


Though it has plenty of disc space to spare, the set is scant on bonus features, with nothing qualifying as very special. First up, Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular (5:23) is offered in a sing-along mode, which displays the song lyrics in English-only subtitles that turn from white to green.
(You can also add this enhancement during "Play All" by selecting the otherwise unavailable fifth subtitle stream.) Unable to reproduce that mode with subtitles, the DVD just gives us a bouncing Shrek head on the hard-coded lyrics.

There is also a standard promotional World of DreamWorks Animation section, consisting of ads and music videos for the following franchises/films: Shrek, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Megamind, and Puss in Boots.

Finally, Previews provides menu access to the same three trailers that open each disc, for Rise of the Guardians, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, and the upcoming Valentine's Day special Madly Madagascar.

It's worth pointing out that some of the things that accompanied these shorts on their previous DVD release do not resurface here. Shrek the Halls loses its full screen version, two sing-along clips featuring The Madagascar Penguins in A Christmas Caper, the set-top Gingy's Dunking Game, and a DVD-ROM demo of the video game Shrek's Carnival Craze. Merry Madagascar drops a Mad Mis-Match game and "Christmas in Madagascar" music videos (possibly the same sing-alongs on Shrek). Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury shared its Blu-ray with the predominantly stylized 2D 18-minute short Book of Dragons and a code for playing an online video game. The combo pack also provided an Animators' Corner picture-in-picture mode, deleted scenes, "Ultimate Book of Dragons", various shorts and games, and DVD-ROM printables.

While the Blu-ray's menu plays full-sized clips from all these contents, the DVD simply recycles Shrek the Halls' main menu, as animated snow falls over a view of Shrek's ornately-decorated home. The Blu-ray frustratingly fails to make full use of the format's technology, not utilizing a pop-up menu, supporting bookmarks, or being able to resume playback after your player is powered off. I hope that figuring out how to author discs with resuming features tops the New Year's Resolution lists of Paramount and Disney home video units. At least that is one thing DreamWorks' new distribution partner Fox does know.

The plainly-labeled discs take opposite sides of a standard Blu-ray case, which isn't joined by a slipcover or insert.

Nothing says DreamWorks Holiday Classics like a booger-picking Ogre Claus who farts magic.


DreamWorks Holiday Classics is a far better value than the lightweight discs on which some of these specials were previously sold. While the two short shorts are pretty awful, the longer specials range from adequate to reasonably appealing. "Classics" is a generous label to place on these cartoons,
which do not meet that definition by age or quality. Still, I like that the studio explores different formats for these films and characters. It doesn't diminish the brands the way that lackluster full sequels do and it feels like something fun and different even when it's simply more of DreamWorks' familiar middle of the road output.

Though it offers spectacular picture and sound, the combo pack carries a high $35.98 list price and almost no bonus features. That makes it less than the obvious stocking stuffer it might be. Furthermore, if you only like Gift of the Night Fury (which is the best thing on this set), you'd be better off getting its own combo pack, which includes a good amount of bonus features and has come down to a lower price point. That is the way to go if you are more of a Dragons fan than a DreamWorks fan, a position that is easy to comprehend.

Buy DreamWorks Holiday Classics at Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • DVD

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Related Reviews:
New: DreamWorks Spooky Stories • Arthur Christmas • The Muppet Christmas Carol • Bugs Bunny Superstar • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
Other Releases of These Cartoons: Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury & Book of Dragons • Shrek the Halls

Modern Holiday Specials: Prep & Landing • Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special • A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa • A Miser Brothers' Christmas
Classic Holiday Specials: A Charlie Brown Christmas • 'Twas the Night Before Christmas • A Chipmunk Christmas • Mickey's Christmas Carol • Jack Frost (1979)

Classic Christmas Movies: Santa Claus: The Movie • Scrooged • It's a Wonderful Life • Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Modern Christmas Movies: The Santa Clause (3-Movie Collection) • Elf • A Christmas Carol • Four Christmases • Fred Claus • Unaccompanied Minors

DreamWorks Films: Shrek the Third • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa • Puss in Boots • Kung Fu Panda • Kung Fu Panda 2 • Megamind • Bee Movie

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Reviewed November 7, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2005-2011 DreamWorks Animation SKG and 2012 DreamWorks Animation Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment.
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