‘Madagascar: A Little Wild’ Makes History With Animated Deaf Character Signing in ASL (Exclusive Video)

‘Madagascar: A Little Wild’ Makes History With Animated Deaf Character Signing in ASL (Exclusive Video)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

When DreamWorks Animation’s new series “Madagascar: A Little Wild” debuted on Hulu and Peacock in September 2020, it introduced kids to a deaf chimp named Dave, who communicates through American Sign Language (ASL), as well as his sister, Pickles, who translates for him and can also sign in ASL.

Now the show, a prequel to the 2005 film featuring younger versions of Central Park Zoo characters Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe — is taking new strides toward inclusiveness with a guest appearance from deaf actress Shaylee Mansfield.

In an episode in the sixth season, which drops in full on Hulu and Peacock on Jan. 13, a little girl named and modeled after Mansfield trades cards with Dave at the zoo. She was animated by using a video reference of her performing the role. In what is possibly a first for deaf performers, she is credited alongside the “audible” voice actors for her “sign over” performance in the episode “‘Gloria’s Got ‘Em All.”

Watch the exclusive clip above.

The series also employs a trio of consultants — deaf brothers Del and Jevon Whetter, and interpreter Justin Maurer who is a child of deaf adults — to perform all the ASL references for the series so that the sign language, body language and facial expressions are all animated as authentically as possible.

DreamWorks Animation teamed with RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowerment and self-advocacy for individuals with disabilities, for the episode.

The regular voice cast includes Shaylin Becton, Tucker Chandler, Luke Lowe, Candace Kozak and Amir O’Neil. The episode with Mansfield also features voicework from guest stars Maria Canals-Barrera and Tony Plana.

The series is executive produced by Johanna Stein (“Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny”) and Dana Starfield (“Monster High: Welcome to Monster High”).