When DreamWorks Animation’s new series “Madagascar: A Little Wild” debuted on Hulu and Peacock in September 2020, it introduced kids to a deaf chimpanzee named Dave, who communicates via American Sign Language (ASL), as well than 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 another step toward inclusivity with a guest appearance by deaf actress Shaylee Mansfield.
In a sixth-season episode, which drops in full on Hulu and Peacock on January 13, a little girl named and modeled after Mansfield trades cards with Dave at the zoo. She was animated using a video reference of her playing the role. In what may be 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 interpret all of the series’ ASL references so that sign language, body and facial expressions are all animated as authentically as possible.
DreamWorks Animation partnered with RespectAbility, a non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment and self-advocacy of people 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 includes voice work from guest stars Maria Canals-Barrera and Tony Plana.
The series is produced by Johanna Stein (“Kung Fu Panda: Legs of Destiny”) and Dana Starfield (“Monster High: Welcome to Monster High”).