Judge Erich Asperschlager wanted a hula hoop for Christmas too, but you don't hear him whining about it.
"You're my sister…and real sisters stick together."
When Ross Bagdasarian Jr. used his sped up singing technique to create a Christmas song sung by a trio of wishful rodents, he couldn't have known he was sparking a cultural revolution. Well, maybe not a cultural revolution, but show me someone who can't immediately identify the Chipmunks' uber-falsetto and I'll gladly buy them new pine needles for the rock they've been sleeping under.
Though their popularity has waned in recent years—capped by a disappointing 2007 live-action movie—nostalgia for furry brothers Alvin, Simon, and Theodore and their human handler, Dave Seville, is alive and well in the over-30 set, myself included. Like a lot of fat kids in the '80s, I watched a lot of cartoons, and Alvin and the Chipmunks was one of my favorites.
In 2008, Paramount began re-releasing collections of Chipmunks episodes on DVD, arranged loosely by topic, including Alvin-centric episodes and movie parodies. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Chipettes is the latest single-disc collection, featuring episodes starring the famous brothers' female counterparts.
The Chipettes—diva Brittany, bookworm Jeanette, and chubby Eleanor—were created and voiced by Bagdasarian's wife, Janice Karman, and made their appearance alongside the Chipmunks in the cartoon's first season in 1983. Though this The Chipettes collection does not include their introductory adventure from the series premiere, the disc's six 11-minute episodes are all taken from the show's first three seasons.
• "May the Best Chipmunk Win"
• "Operation Theodore"
• "The Greatest Show-Offs on Earth"
• "My Fair Chipette"
• "Tell It to the Judge"
Although calling these "episodes" is a bit misleading, since each half-hour The Chipmunks episode was made up of two of these shorter segments, if you've ever seen the show you know what to expect: the Chipettes and/or Chipmunks get themselves in a wacky situation that manages to resolve itself in just over ten minutes, including time for a Chip-ified rendition of a popular song. On this set, the songs range from oldies like "It's My Party" and "Fun Fun Fun" to "oldies" like "Material Girl" and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." To be fair, the latter songs were current to the show, so they must have sounded marginally hipper to its then-young audience. Unless you grew up with them, though, listening to the Chipmunks sing '80s songs now (often with altered lyrics) is awkward at best and downright inappropriate at worst. In "Operation Theodore," for instance, the group sings Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time" to a hospital room full of sick kids worried about having surgery, complete with the opening line "If you said goodbye to me tonight." Ouch!
As for the audiovisual presentation, The Chipettes' 2.0 stereo mix handles the dialogue, effects, and lovingly mangled pop songs well. The video, however, is awful. If I walked in on someone watching this and they told me it was VHS, I'd believe them. Then I'd ask who bootlegged it. Muted and inconsistent colors, too-soft details, and dust specks galore mean a picture that might actually look worse than it did when it first aired.
The biggest problem with these Chipmunks DVDs is that the mini-episode collections feel outdated in a world where full-season sets are the norm. This DVD is just over an hour long, with zero extras. The Chipmunks show ran for eight seasons. If Paramount plans on releasing all 70-plus episodes this way, they might find they've pushed their luck too far with a dwindling fan base.
For all its faults, The Chipmunks is firmly embedded in my pop cultural subconscious. The shows are silly and cheaply made, but I still have a soft spot for them. That said, I can't recommend Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Chipettes for anyone but the most die-hard fan. "But maybe my kids will like it," you say. Do your kids have circa-1984 Madonna and Cyndi Lauper posters hanging in their bedrooms? I didn't think so. Rent it if you must, but I'll hold out for Paramount to do the right thing and give Chipmunks fans the full-season sets they deserve. You'll notice I didn't say "hold my breath."
* speed up to hear verdict read in Chipmunk voice
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