Fox // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // April 12th, 2010
"There used to be this thing called 'records' that you put on a record player..." -- Amy Poehler, Meet the Chipettes
Working under the stage name David Seville, singer/record producer Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. recorded "Witch Doctor" in the summer of 1958. The single, which featured high-pitched vocals achieved by slowing the tape speed down during recording, became a novelty hit. That winter, Bagdasarian returned to the squeaky-voiced novelty well once more to record "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," a tune in which three chipmunks named Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (all voiced by Bagdasarian) relay to their human guardian (Seville) what they want for Christmas even as the hot-tempered Seville becomes increasingly exasperated with the mischievous Alvin. The song was such a huge hit that it spawned other Chipmunks tunes, and eventually led to a primetime animated television series that ran from 1961 to 1962. An empire was born.
Bagdasarian died in 1972, but his son Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. assumed control of The Chipmunks money machine and set out to keep his father's legacy alive. Since the early '80s, there has been a nearly endless stream of Chipmunk-based music, television shows, and feature films. The latest incarnation of the trio's adventures began with 2007's live-action/CG-animated hybrid feature film Alvin and the Chipmunks. The flick was met with loathing and scorn from critics everywhere. But kids loved it, ensuring that it raked in a heap of box office loot. So it is that we have this follow-up, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Sqeakquel.
Now international recording superstars, the Chipmunks -- Alvin (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler, (500) Days of Summer), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney, Tinker Bell) -- are playing a charity event in Paris when Alvin's antics put their legal guardian, Dave Seville (Jason Lee, The Incredibles), in traction. The boys are shipped back to America to stay with Seville's aunt, but when she too suffers an accident, they're put in the care of Dave's nerdy, video game-obsessed cousin Toby (Zachary Levi, Chuck). The rodents soon learn that Dave has enrolled them at the local high school, where they cross paths with bullying jocks and are recruited by the school's principal (Wendie Malick, The Emperor's New Groove) to perform at a Battle of Bands so that the prize money can be used to save the school's music program. Coincidentally, Toby had a crush on the boys' teacher back when they were both in high school, but has trouble finding the courage to ask her out now that he has an excuse to be around her again. Meanwhile, The Chipmunks' former manager, Ian Hawke (David Cross, Curious George), has hit the skids, but sees opportunity for a new beginning when he discovers Brittany (Christina Applegate, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), Jeanette (Anna Faris, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), and Eleanor (Amy Poehler, Horton Hears a Who!), three female chipmunks who can sing just as well as the boys. Hawke formulates a scheme whereby The Chipettes will supplant The Chipmunks in pop star popularity, and restore his own prestige in the music biz.
The biggest complaint about 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks was an odd bit of "Get Off My Lawn"-ism by critics across the country: The flick wasn't properly grounded in the Eisenhower era cultural milieu and pre-Beatles music production style in which Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. recorded the early Chipmunks songs, and which evoked childhood for middle-aged critics all across America. The primary problem with a movie starring computer-animated rodents, then, was that it had the gall to be aimed at kids, rather than old fogies hungry for a trip down memory lane. But the Chipmunks' musical and animated adventures have always existed in the present tense, regardless of whether that present was the '60s, the '80s, or the new millennium. It may offend old farts' sensibilities to witness cartoon characters they used to enjoy four decades ago singing Beyonce tunes or dancing like a boy band cobbled together by Lou Pearlman, but little kids dig it. Isn't that supposed to be the point?
The real problem with these Chipmunks movies (and the various animated series that preceded them) is that the whole shtick works better as a comedic recording experiment than as a television series or movie. There's an energy and wit in "The Chipmunk Song" that has never been reproduced in a visual medium. In part because Seville's explosive rage is custom-made for audio entertainment, but doesn't necessarily translate to cartoons where it has to be toned down for the sake of creating acceptable children's entertainment, but also because the original records allowed Seville and the Chipmunks to exist in the realm of kids' fertile imaginations (even the best animation studios can't match an imaginative child's flights of fancy). As a child, I loved the Chipmunks' music. The tunes somehow captured the texture of a child's perception of being bossed around by adults. Plus, the voices were funny to my elementary school-aged ears. The cartoons -- even the original The Alvin Show, which was made almost a decade before I was born -- I could always do without. In comparison to the songs, the various series just seemed limp, false, and watered down.
The fact that the critics are wrong in complaining about these new movies' modern setting and sensibilities doesn't mean that they're wrong that the movies aren't all that good. Alvin and the Chipmunks is, at best, an innocuous Christmas-themed movie for kids. It is not the sort of top-notch piece of family entertainment that readily appeals to audiences of all ages. Its plot is a predictable mix of music, light romance, and rote character conflict. Its characters are bland (especially Dave Seville, who delivers his Alvinnnnn!s as a well-worn catch-phrase instead of an expression of genuine anger). Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is a significant step down from its predecessor. The opening moments of the flick all but dispense with Seville (how can you have a Chipmunks movie without Dave Seville?) so that the plot can repeat the same awkward romantic elements from the first film with a new (and younger) human protagonist. The Chipettes (originally introduced in the Alvin and the Chipmunks animated series from the '80s) are added to the fray so that they can have the same conflict with seedy, greedy, wanna-be record producer and impresario Ian Hawke that the Chipmunks had in the first film. Less a sequel of a bad movie than a remake of one, The Squeakquel makes painful viewing for anyone who's entered puberty or beyond.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel lands on Blu-ray in a fine 1080p/AVC transfer. Colors are bold and hyper-saturated. Black levels are inky and beautiful. Detail is vivid. The animated characters are integrated well into the live-action setting. They're rendered in enough crisp detail to capture individual hairs on their bodies, and mischievous glints in their eyes. Audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio track that makes fine use of the entire soundstage, especially during the robust musical numbers.
Taking a page from the Disney playbook, Fox serves up Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel in a three-disc set that offers the movie on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. Whether you want to let your kids watch the flick on high definition gear in your home theater, on a 7-inch LCD from the backseat of the minivan, or on an iPod or other portable device, this release has you covered. Both the BD and DVD contain the feature film, plus a lengthy (albeit limp) list of extras:
'Munk Music Machine is a low-tech video jukebox feature that isolates 11 musical numbers from the movie. You can select the numbers individually from a menu, or listen to them all with a Play All option. There's also a Continuous Repeat option, presumably for CIA agents trying to ply vital intelligence information from terrorists.
Music in a Nutshell: Song Trivia is an in-movie trivia track that dishes up information about the songs covered by the Chipmunks, as well as the bands and artists who originally made them hits.
A-l-v-i-n-n-n-n!!! Album Maker is a BD-Live feature that, try as I might, I couldn't get to launch. I'm guessing it involves making albums of some sort...and perhaps screaming at Alvin.
Munking History: 50 Years of Chipmunk Mischief, Mayhem and Music (9:21) is a fast-paced featurette that zips through Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.'s original recordings; the animated television series The Alvin Show from the early '60s and Alvin and the Chipmunks from the early '80s; the 1987 animated feature The Chipmunk Adventure; and these new live-action feature films.
Meet the Chipettes (8:37) is an introduction to the Chipmunks' female analogs, created by longtime Chipmunks producer and voice actress Janice Karman in 1982 in order to cash in on Chipmunked cover versions of tunes by female artists. The piece includes contributions by Anna Faris, Amy Poehler, and Christina Applegate, the voice actors behind the trio.
Rockin' Rising Stars (6:21) is about Honor Society, the band that plays the Chipmunks' backing band in the movie.
Music Mania (9:04) offers a behind-the-scenes look at the movie's climactic talent show.
The Chipmunks: Behind the Squeaking (9:40) is a silly parody of VH1's Behind the Music that offers a glimpse of the Chipmunks' real lives, only without the drugs, infighting, bankruptsy, and career skids typical of the music channel's rock docs.
A-NUT-omy of a Scene (2:39) delivers a bit of technical detail on the making of the movie by explaining how they shot test passes of each scene with stuffed animals standing in for the Chipmunks, followed by a real take in which the actors played against thin air. The piece also touches on the computer animation and how it is composited into the live action footage. It's mildly interesting stuff, clearly geared toward young viewers.
Meet the Stuffies (3:09) sounds vaguely pornographic, but is actually a silly featurette about the stuffed animals that stood in for the CG Chipmunks during test passes of shots in the movie.
In Shake Your Groove Thing! With Rosero (8:59) the movie's choreographer teaches young viewers the moves he designed for the flick's dance numbers.
There are also music videos for five of the movie's songs. Each is offered with a sing-a-long option.
All of the video features are presented in high definition.
A "Live Extras" option on the main menu provides access to BD-Live content, including cast and crew filmographies, and two deleted scenes.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel may not appeal to audiences of all ages, but it does appeal to kids -- my kids, at least. The animated rodents' high-pitched voices, slapstick antics, and musical numbers were more than enough to keep them entertained, despite a plot that would otherwise have bored them to tears (I can't imagine them sitting through a flick about a video game-playing nerd's awkward attempts at romance). If you're the parent of young children, proceed with caution: If you show them The Squeakquel once, they'll probably want to watch it again and again -- and then you will feel the pain.
This Blu-ray edition of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel provides an eye- and ear-popping presentation of a truly lame movie. Still, the flick offers plenty of eye candy and bouncy tunes for tots to enjoy, and Fox's decision to throw a DVD version of the movie in the case for families on the go is smart and consumer-friendly.
Guilty as charged.
Review content copyright © 2010 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, DVS)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Trivia Track
* Music Machine
* Music Videos