During Shakespeare’s time, men dressed like women because women weren’t allowed onstage. But there’s always been a fascination (fetish?) with men donning dresses. Tyler Perry as Madea makes just about everybody’s list of worst attempts at men playing women in movies, but it’s a confoundedly successful attempt . . . and at least Madea isn’t just an alter ego.

Tyler Perry once described his fictional Madea as “exactly the PG version of my mother and my aunt, and I loved having the opportunity to pay homage to them. She would beat the hell out of you but make sure the ambulance got there in time to make sure they could set your arm back . . .”

The old lady with a heart of gold who wants everybody to be nice and successful and respectful and play by the rules stands in sharp contrast to the thuggish grandma who has a quick temper and breaks laws just as readily as she’ll break your face if you backtalk her. That contradiction is apparently one of the reasons Madea is somehow beloved by so many. But you do have to accept the contradiction, because it’s a part of every Madea movie . . . even her first animated feature, “Madea’s Tough Love.”

In this direct-to-video film we get an intro/outro that shows the live-action Madea (Perry, in fat suit, makeup and drag) entering and returning from the world of a cartoon she watches on TV while she enjoys her breakfast cereal. In between, the menu is a Saturday Morning Special formulaic plot about Madea being sentenced to community service for her outbursts and wearing an ankle bracelet to ensure she goes straight to the Moms Mabley Community Center. There’s a little of the late comedian Mabley in the dowdy way that Madea dresses, and the basic situation is also overly familiar:  basically good but disrespectful and wary-of-authority kids are on their own at the crumbling center, which mayoral candidate Betsy Holiday (Rolonda Watts) plans to tear down and build a park that looks suspiciously like a swanky shopping mall.

There’s a positive message here, despite the contradictions, but you’d still have to call “Madea’s Tough Love” the polar opposite of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”—an animated series from the ‘70s and early ‘80s that featured a more consistently wholesome, civic-minded “gang” with a more clearly articulated educational lesson embedded in each episode.

Animation allows Perry to take the character’s legendary feistiness and prowess to new levels. In “Madea’s Tough Love” she hops on a skateboard and zips through Atlanta traffic like Tony Hawk on speed, with the exaggeration peaking as Madea rapidly twirls her purse over her head so that it acts as a helicopter blade, powering her through the air like a kind of anti-Mary Poppins—‘cause sweet she ain’t.

As animated features go, what makes this feel like another Saturday Morning Special are the production values (the artwork just looks like TV animation), an overly familiar plot, stock minor characters, and the lack of any real complexity or suspense. Throughout the film’s scant 64-minute runtime Madea runs afoul of the law (with policemen and a judge trying to keep her “honest”) while trying to get the local kids to learn some respect . . . and coaching them to win a $25,000 prize that’s conveniently set up so that a team the mayoral candidate puts together faces off against this ragtag bunch. Familiar? You bet. Which is why “Madea’s Tough Love” is average at best.

“Madea’s Tough Love” is presented in 16×9 widescreen, and, as I said, the production values, drawing, backgrounds, and animation are all strictly Saturday morning. Animation fares pretty well on DVD these days, especially with Blu-ray players that can upconvert, and “Madea’s Tough Love” does look nearly grain-free and with sharply defined edges and full saturation.

The featured audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 with an additional option in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English and Spanish. There’s not much to report here except that the effects are crisply defined and naturally spread across the speakers so that there’s a logic to them that’s never subject to question. There’s not much bass, but then again, neither is there with Saturday morning cartoons. Is this a pilot pretending to be a movie? That’s what I think.

The only bonus features (other than a Digital Copy) are a storyboard compared against final animation, and a behind-the-scenes featurette on animating Madea’s “larger-than-life personality.”

Bottom line:
This one is strictly for Madea and Tyler Perry fans. For the rest, it’s “Tyler Perry Presents Another Average to Below-Average Movie.”