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  Alvin and the Chipmunks

Starring: Jason Lee, Cameron Richardson, Jane Lynch, David Cross, Justin Long

Directed by: Tim Hill

Produced by: Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian Jr.

Written by: Jon Vitti, Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi

Distributor: 20th Century Fox


     The opening scene of Alvin and the Chipmunks promises a surprisingly quirky and innovative update of the classic television cartoon, boasting a gut-busting rendition of Daniel Powter’s Top 40-hit “Bad Day” as sung by the title rodent trio. The sketch brilliantly evokes the spirit originally popularized by chipmunk brothers Alvin, Simon, and Theodore—jubilantly singing in their high-pitched voices and living it up—as they stock their home pine tree with food for the Winter. There isn’t anything big in terms of plot at stake; the audience is merely delighted by the cuteness and charm of the three now-C.G.I. figures harmonizing in the foreground. For about five minutes, one might just come to believe that Alvin and the Chipmunks made for the silver-screen wasn’t the miscalculated idea that everyone had originally assumed it to be.

     The rest of the film, however, abandons the promise of the aforementioned sequence. Filled with all of the clichés, chaos, and redundancy of nearly every other “family film” currently on the market, the movie soon tires and betrays the simple pleasures of its beloved source material. The Chipmunks’ home is quickly chopped down and sold as a Christmas tree for the lobby of corrupt, commercial music-producer Ian’s (David Cross) corporate offices. After a perilous encounter with a pair of vicious canines, the three wind up taking shelter in a complimentary scone-basket stolen by failed musician Dave Seville (Jason Lee). When Dave is shocked to find The Chipmunks savaging in the kitchen of his house, he originally wants nothing to do with them. Dave soon, however, learns of the trio’s singing talent and realizes the Golden Opportunity that it presents. After all, who wouldn’t buy a CD made by talking chipmunks?

     The movie’s set-up, while rather routine, doesn’t completely lack signs of promise. It’s what follows that makes Alvin and the Chipmunks the colossal trainwreck that it is. The Chipmunks are soon introduced to the heartless Ian, who exploits their talents in a way that only a record producer could. Before long, Ian convinces The Chipmunks to abandon stern, caring father-figure Dave in order to take them on an international tour, resulting in an abundance of scenes in which they are either in danger or under extreme emotional duress. Director Tim Hill and writers Jon Vitti, Will McRobb, and Chris Viscardi see said scenes as the only way to move their uncreative plot along.

     Why must movies like Alvin and the Chipmunks constantly rely on the cheap scare tactic of pinning likeable protagonists in situations of jeopardy and hardship? Even if the only thing at stake in the film is the wellbeing of a group of computer-generated rodents that will predictably be saved from their woes by the time that the end-credits roll, the approach still comes off as wildly uncomfortable for the audience. Why couldn’t Alvin and the Chipmunks have merely celebrated the surface joy evoked by the sight and sound of singing chipmunks, as its opening does? The humor of one of the funniest scenes in the movie is derived from the sheer absurdity of the image of millions of fans coming to the concert of a trio of four-inch-tall chipmunks. Is the presence of a detailed plot (let alone a clichéd, detailed plot) really vital to the successful presentation of such trivially enjoyable material?

     Another one of the film’s biggest disappointments is the poorly conceived and packaged lead performance of Jason Lee. Lee was admittedly the perfect choice for the role, a sardonic everyman version of the infamous Dave Seville, but his efforts come across as extremely misguided in the final product. Whether this is his own fault or that of director Hill – I dunno. In the film, the Chipmunks are supposed to develop a grudge against Dave because of the strict fatherly decisions that he makes for their own good. He is supposed to be a sympathetic character that the Chipmunks simply do not understand in their reveling youth. Instead, Lee’s Dave seems every bit the asshole that the Chipmunks come to perceive him to be, making it hard for the viewer to really root for them to retreat to his loving home from the wrath of the manipulative, conniving Ian. In other words, Dave is only a worthy father figure because the script tells us that he is, not because we feel genuine warmth generated from Lee’s performance.

     Alvin and the Chipmunks will likely sell millions of tickets and DVDs based on sheer name-recognition and novelty value. It’s unfortunate for me to report this, given that it will represent a complete waste of money on the behalves of the buyers. Now that I can no longer hope for Alvin and the Chipmunks to be an enjoyable experience, I have only one plea to make of God and Nature as compensation: that the kids of future generations continue to grow up with good ‘ol cartoon Alvin, not the diluted, blasé C.G.I. excuse for a singing chipmunk seen in this film adaptation. In fact, it would be a downright travesty for the movie to do anything but gather dust on the shelves of dimly-lit Blockbuster aisles in the coming years.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 12.16.2007

Screened on: 12.14.2007 at the Krikorian Vista Metroplex 15 in Vista, CA.


Alvin and the Chipmunks is rated PG and runs 91 minutes.

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