Fox // 2007 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // April 28th, 2008
Talent comes in all sizes. So, too, do bad ideas. Here are three now.
"...some days you just want to close them in a box, and leave the box in the park, and run away, you know?"
If you didn't know going in, you'll certainly be a believer when you come out of a screening of the 2007 holiday horror, Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Dave Seville (Jason Lee, My Name is Earl) is a moderately successful songwriter, if you can consider churning out hit ditties on spec as "success." But bachelor Dave will take whatever he can get with perpetual hope of gaining an audience with industry "big," Ian Hawke (David Cross, Kung Fu Panda). If he can sell Ian a hit song, Dave's sure to reach the songwriting stardom most certainly in his future. Ian isn't impressed, though, and sends the two-bit tunesmith packing, along with three unseen tagalongs: chipmunks!
When he arrives home, Dave is confronted by three talking chipmunks, Alvin (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler, RV), and Theodore (voiced by teen heartthrob Jesse McCartney). The furry trio pleads for some holiday hospitality but the dour Dave is not interested in veterinary pursuits. The three critters belt out an upbeat rendition of "Funky Town" and Dave thinks he's found an act to sing his songs, all the way to the top. And as Dave struggles to unveil his singing sensations while juggling a clumsy affection for the pretty Claire (Cameron Richardson, Open Water 2: Adrift), perhaps his biggest problem is that little rodent in the brightly emblazoned sweater.
Although the spiffy CGI magic is more than competent for a proper redux of the original animated prime time critter crooners, Alvin and his two cuddly comrades are unmistakably served up as roadkill here. It's not that Alvin and the Chipmunks lacks family appeal -- it has some of that -- but it lacks respect for its origins and discards the easy-to-tap retro trend of our day. When aging baby boomers willfully reach for their wallets in order to become reacquainted with a character or icon of their halcyon days, these erstwhile "kiddies" are looking for some love of their childhood favorites. Alvin and the Chipmunks hasn't any love to give but, rather, dishes a misguided reach for today's crop of post-Britney brats.
Despite the fact that America has enjoyed a decades-long affection for Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, the producers of Alvin and the Chipmunks seem to scoff at the characters' history and then proceed to commit three cardinal sins in this particular big-screen adaptation. It begins with, as noted, the disregard of the original tone and style of the 1961 primetime cartoon, The Alvin Show. The outgrowth of composer Ross Bagdasarian's novelty re-recording of "Witch Doctor" (you know -- ooh eee ooh ahh-ahh, ting tang walla-walla bing bang) in which crooning chipmunks, with electronically accelerated squeaky voices, sung of a lovelorn man's pleading with a strange shaman for amorous advice. After the song had become such a smash hit, CBS-TV gave the nod for the animated exploits of the chipmunks and the embattled Dave Seville, airing Wednesday nights at 7:30pm from 1961 to 1962. The cartoon was simple in execution and typically consisted of a random madcap misadventure. What occurs in this adaptation can hardly be called "madcap," it's simply maddening to see the chipmunks dressed up like quasi-gangstas in the typical hip-hop regalia of the day.
Second, the film establishes itself as a Christmas feature, thereby limiting any year-round appeal it might have garnered. Without a doubt, the filmmakers felt compelled to anchor to the holiday given the original "Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" gave the trio a boost in the 1960s. Nevertheless, what goes down here is the typical New Age take on the holiday, full of greed, unrepentant self-indulgence, and a blatantly token-esqe acknowledgement of seasonal sentimentality. As a holiday picture, then, this one is hardly going to find its way onto folks' must-watch list (as has A Christmas Story or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). Therefore, this film clearly set itself up for a single shot for audiences' attention, made a fast cash grab in an otherwise stale 2007 holiday movie season, and will likely be quickly forgotten in its home video incarnations.
Lastly, the most egregious offense of Alvin and the Chipmunks is the fact that it has been "updated" to appeal to modern audiences -- big mistake. These days, "updating" has become synonymous with "outdating," the film bearing all of the trappings of a New Millennium music industry complete with sassy attitudes, present technology, and industry greed (although that greed thing will likely be relevant to all time periods). By mimicking the current music and culture styles, the film will forever exist as a snapshot of 2007 and, given the plot is anchored within this sensibility, the picture will become quickly irrelevant once the calendar flips to the next year. And, given the silliness of Britney and the other pop artists that have become nothing more than tabloid fodder, we have to wonder why the producers went down this dead-end rat hole.
Looking at the technical aspects of this new Blu-ray disc from Fox Home Entertainment, Alvin and the Chipmunks looks and sounds decent. The image quality is quite good, the transfer delivered via a crisp 1080p / AVC encode. Details are sharp, colors are well controlled, and contrast is spot on. That said, the image doesn't exactly pop from the screen but it is easy on the eyes. As for the audio, the DTS HD 5.1 lossless track is good but not great. There's little use of directional effects although the thumping, bumping musical numbers will certainly put any inner-city boombox to shame. Extras on the disc are a real disappointment, though. While much ballyhoo was made about youth favorites Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, and Matthew Gray Gubler offering re-pitched voices for the three mains, there isn't any discussion of them to be found (and at least a commentary track would have given the guys a chance to share anecdotes about their work in the film). All you'll find are a couple of fluffy featurettes, neither offering much in true interest value.
As expected, there are those who will proclaim that the fatal flaw within the preceding arguments is the fact that the film was intended to be satire of the unscrupulously exploitative modern music industry. Fair enough yet the picture succeeds in become a target caught within its own satirical crosshairs, the marketing push clearly hoping to re-ignite and fully exploit the potential for a chipmunk cash-in. While its threadbare plot hopes to show how shallow and unrepentant music moguls are today, it's clear that this film had hopes of reinvigorating the franchise to sell spin-off features and plenty of CDs. It's doubtful that it will succeed in that quest.
At the end of the squeaky song, it's sad to say that Alvin and the Chipmunks would have been better off to remain in their vintage habitat (even within their 1980s animated resurgence) than to have been subjected to this sort of pimping. The film isn't overtly offensive (though there are the usual lazy scatalogical riffs on hand) but neither is it very entertaining. At best, it's forgettable. Sorry boys.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Hitting the Harmony"
* Official Site
* Original DVD Verdict Review