Judge Erich Asperschlager once raced around the world in a hot air balloon crewed by chipmunks. It was a disaster.
Our review of Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Chipmunk Adventure, published May 22nd, 2006, is also available.
"Flying through the airways/
Hey don't you know we're off to see the world/
-- from "Off to See the World"
Be they of the Saturday morning or after school variety, I've always been a huge cartoon fan. And while I won't go so far as to say Alvin and the Chipmunks is at the top of the animated heap, I remember the show fondly enough that I must have made time for it in my oh-so-busy schedule of going to school and watching TV. I'm sure that when a lot of people think of The Chipmunks, they think of Ross Bagdasarian Sr.'s 1958 novelty hit "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." And though it might keep us old folks up at night knowing that the current generation thinks The Chipmunks are computer-generated gangsta rodents owned by "that guy from My Name is Earl," we can take at least some comfort in knowing that the Chipmunks' Christmas song will make its radio appearance once a year, and that the animated trio we remember is getting a second chance on DVD.
When I was a kid, there were a handful of movies that made it in heavy rotation on our old VCR. One of those was The Chipmunk Adventure. And while I can't say I appreciate it quite as much now as I did then, I'm happy to report The Chipmunks' first feature film is still a Habitrail full of fun.
When business sends Dave to Europe, he leaves the despondent Alvin, Simon, and Theodore at home with absentminded babysitter Miss Miller. While at a local ice cream parlor playing the "Around the World in 30 Days" arcade game against female counterparts "The Chipettes," the kids' competitive boasting catches the ear of brother-sister diamond smugglers Klaus and Claudia Furschtien. In order to trick the tots into making illegal diamond deliveries for them, they pit the Chipmunks and Chipettes against each other in an around-the-world balloon race with a hundred thousand dollar grand prize. And so, both teams take off on the journey of a lifetime, unaware that the chipmunk dolls they're dropping off at checkpoints across the globe are really stuffed with gems—and that a shadowy figure determined to stop them is hot on their trail.
This is a beautifully animated film. If you weep silently every Saturday morning at what passes for animation these days, this will remind you why you keep that box of tissues handy. Ross Bagdasarian Jr., who took over the Chipmunks empire after his father's death in the early '70s, assembled a talented crew of animators—many of whom had worked, or went on to work, for Disney. Equal kudos go to the voice work, which features co-writers Bagdasarian (as Dave, Alvin, and Simon) and Janice Karman (as Theodore and the Chipettes), as well as notable performances by Dody Goodman as Miss Miller, Nancy Cartwright as the Arabian Prince, and Frank Welker as Claudia's spoiled dog, Sophie.
The Chipmunks have always been about high-pitched music, and this adventure is no exception—proving that even when you're engaged in a fierce transcontinental competition, there's always time for a fully choreographed musical number atop the Parthenon. The music, like much of the style, is pure '80s cheese. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you dig such classics as "Off to See the World," "The Girls of Rock 'n' Roll," and "I, Yi, Yi, Yi," this DVD edition has a special treat: the full film soundtrack on a bonus CD. I'm not saying I'd put it on my iPod, but it's a nice value-add.
Speaking of music, the audio on this DVD is great, with one of the best 5.1 surround mixes I've heard in a while. Seriously! When characters are off screen, you hear them out of the rear speakers; and when Fijian natives hold our boys at spear point, you get to hear every vaguely racially insensitive detail. Considering how easy it is to half-ass the production of a 20-year-old animated feature, I'm really impressed. Too bad they saved the half-assedness for the video presentation. Though the picture quality itself is good, why go to all the trouble of knocking the soundtrack out of the park if you're only going to give us the film in full screen? The only other real disappointment is the lack of any extras besides a collection of DVD-remote-navigated original artwork.
Though older kids might find the movie a little dated, and the full frame video is a shame, this new edition of The Chipmunks Adventure is a nice way for parents who fondly remember these squirrely siblings to share them with their children. Now if only they'd give DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp a decent DVD release…
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