Fox // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 24th, 2008
The original entourage.
"Talking chipmunks? You've got to be kidding me."
You have to feel sorry for poor Dave Seville (Jason Lee, My Name is Earl). He's a struggling wannabe musician who is working in an office job that he hates in order to pay the rent. He tries to sell his songs to the head of a music label (David Cross, Arrested Development) but is rejected quite harshly. His girlfriend (Cameron Richardson, Entourage) has dumped him. Things are just plain bad. In the midst of all of this, something strange happens. Three crazy talking chipmunks are invading his kitchen, throwing food around, making a giant mess. Dave doesn't care that these little rodents can talk. He's cranky, they have wrecked his kitchen, and he throws them out.
It is at this moment that The Chipmunks do the one thing they are best at: doing something cute to prevent from Dave hating them. They start singing "Only You" outside his window, in that high-pitched helium-induced manner that they have become famous for. Dave smells money and agrees to take care of The Chipmunks. They rapidly become superstars, singing such hits as "Witch Doctor" and "The Chipmunk Song." Still, with great fame often comes great conflict, and tensions begin to rise between Dave and his furry friends. Will they learn that family and friendship is more important than fame and fortune? Only if this movie is as formulaic and predictable you would expect it to be. Oh, um, hold on...
You know, I have to admit that I have never really understood the appeal of The Chipmunks. Just what is it about those squeaky little balls of fur that people like so much? I can understand how hearing one of their songs might be slightly amusing as a novelty once or twice, but how could they achieve any kind of lasting popularity? The appeal of The Chipmunks seems to transcend anything like sense or reason. My own wife, usually a woman of great taste, cheered when she heard that I would be reviewing Alvin and The Chipmunks, saying, "Oh, they are so cute!" Indeed, as we watched the film, she exclaimed several times, "Those little things are just so cute!" I suppose I'm just a grouchy grump.
That being said, I sincerely doubt this particular incarnation of The Chipmunks will give any of their fans reason to love them more than ever. The movie updates and adapts the characters for modern audiences (translation: they are a bit dumber and they also burp and fart a lot), and things certainly worked out from a financial perspective: the movie grossed over $200 million at the box office. I have certainly learned never to underestimate the power of furry little creatures singing pop songs.
That is about the only original thing contained in the movie. The actual plot more or less follows the romantic comedy pattern...a bit weird if you think about it, but that's precisely what it is. Dave meets The Chipmunks; they hate each other at first. Then they start to fall in love, then there is a misunderstanding, they break up, and a contrived third act brings about a great big happy ending and everyone dances to a pop song. Sound familiar? Interesting, a subplot within the film involving Dave and his girlfriend follows more or less the same plot line.
Also somewhat curious is the logic in the film. The jokes are precisely the sort that young kids are going to snicker at, but they are rooted in something that inspires a lot of questions. For instance, The Chipmunks don't wear any clothes for most of the film. However, when Dave sees one of The Chipmunks showering, the Chipmunk covers up the area where his bits and pieces would generally be and acts embarassed. On another note, The Chipmunks have lived in the forest all their lives but seem to know everything about pop culture and human society as soon as they meet Dave. I know, I know, these are ridiculous things to ponder when watching something like Alvin and The Chipmunks. Still...
Let's talk about the humans in the film for just a moment. There are essentially only three significant human characters. Jason Lee did not have a terribly proud year in 2007, starring not only in this film but voicing the lead character in another crummy adaptation about a talking animal (Underdog). Here, he overacts in an attempt to keep up with the wackiness of The Chipmunks and doesn't seem to be having a very good time. Cameron Richardson is pleasant as his girlfriend but doesn't have much of anything to do. David Cross does what he can with the role of the villainous head of the record company, but even he can't do a whole lot to make things interesting. However, everyone does a pretty good job of interacting with the CGI stars of the movie. The Chipmunks are voiced by Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard), Jesse McCartney (Horton Hears a Who!), and Matthew Gray Gubler (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), but they could have just as well been voiced by Oprah Winfrey, Dick Cheney, and Joe Pesci. What I'm getting at is that once their voices are sped up, they all sound the same.
The DVD transfer is quite solid, nicely accentuating the very bright and cheerful colors of the film. The audio track is very strong, particularly during the loud song sequences. I received two separate review discs: one with the widescreen version, and one with the full-screen version. Unfortunately, the DVD the regular consumer will be purchasing is one of those double-sided discs with both the widescreen and full screen versions included. Once again, I must express my dislike for these. They seem a bit pointless, there's no artwork on the disc, and they scratch and smudge a lot easier. Extras on the disc are thin, too. You get an eight-minute featurette about the music, a 30-second promo for the soundtrack, and a four-minute scene from Horton Hears a Who. That's it.
I missed Alvin and The Chipmunks when it was in theatres, but I was at the theatre around the same time it was playing. I remember seeing a group of kids walking out of the movie, and they were excitedly quoting their favorite bits and singing songs in what I assume were supposed to be chipmunk voices. Anyway, one young kid said, "That was seriously like the very best movie EVER!" Another kid said, "Yeah, it was the best movie ever." A third kid said, "Well, it was good, but maybe not the best movie ever. Night at the Museum is the best movie ever." Based on this incredibly substantial evidence, I can only assume that two out of every three kids will think Alvin and The Chipmunks is the best movie ever...at least until they watch another movie.
I didn't particularly care for this soulless little piece of studio candy, but what I have to say doesn't particularly matter. Alvin and The Chipmunks is the kind of movie that sells itself. Either you want to watch a movie about chipmunk pop stars, or you don't. When the inevitable sequel comes around, I hope they ask Christopher Guest to turn it into a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary about the rise and fall of The Chipmunks in the cruel music business. That might be fun. Until then, there's only verdict I can offer.
Guilty. But knowing those Chipmunks, they're going to escape prison within a matter of moments, so it doesn't really make any difference.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Hitting the Harmony"