Four years ago, I went somewhat easy on Alvin and the Chipmunks, although in retrospect, I probably could have been much harder. Two years ago, I showed no mercy to Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. This year, I’m faced with Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. I didn’t feel the intense dislike I felt for the previous film. Instead, I went through all of its eighty-seven minutes with numb indifference. That’s because this time, I recognized it was made for really young children. There’s no complicated plot, no deep character development, no messages that haven’t already been delivered; it’s simply a bright, colorful, goofy, innocent film. Indeed, it’s the first of the series to receive a G rating. I guess this means no more jokes about eating your brother’s accidental defecation and pretending it’s a raisin.
Parents, be forewarned: There are precious few jokes included for your enjoyment. I will do you the favor of not spoiling the two I took notice of (if there are any jokes I forgot about, well, you can consider it a bonus). You deserve at least that much if you plan on taking your children, who I’m sure you love dearly, to see it. 99.9% of this movie is made for them and them only. They will respond to the bold colors, the lighthearted physical gags, and the cuteness of the title characters, all computer-generated rodents with fluffy cheeks, little twitchy noses, big expressive eyes, and adorable helium voices. The same applies for their female counterparts, the Chipettes, who were introduced in the second chapter and are now a part of the formula. If your children actually learn the film’s good-natured lessons in responsibility, growth, trust, forgiveness, and redemption, look up into the sky and thank your lucky stars.
Here’s the story. The Chipmunks – Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (voiced by Jesse McCartney) – along with the Chipettes – Brittany (voiced by Christina Applegate), Jeanette (voiced by Anna Faris), and Eleanor (voiced by Amy Poehler) – and their human adoptive father, Dave Seville (Jason Lee), board a cruise ship for a vacation. Alvin, who feels babied, rebels against Dave’s rules by being a troublemaking daredevil. Unfortunately, his antics get all six chipmunks in hot water; the kite they were riding, initially for fun, breaks loose and goes flying out to sea. It isn’t long before they find themselves stranded on a tropical island. They meet a stranded young woman named Zoe (Jenny Slate), who claims to have been there for eight or nine years. No one really knows how she got there, but it’s strongly suggested that she’s a few coconuts short of a palm tree.
As they struggle to survive in the wild, Simon will get bitten by a spider. Its venom doesn’t kill him, although it does make him think he’s a thrill-seeking, passionately romantic Frenchman named Simone, with extra emphasis on the “-one.” For the time being, he’s no longer the uptight, brainy one of the group. Theodore, always the more timid of the Chipmunks, will take the first steps towards loosening up and having a little fun. The biggest surprise is Alvin, who begins to act responsibly for the first time in his life. When Brittany tells him that he’s starting to sound like Dave, all strict and fatherly-like, he can only look up and let out a long, agonized, highly theatrical, “Noooooooooooooooooo!”
Meanwhile, Dave has gotten himself stranded on the same island, as he went overboard when he saw the Chipmunks flying away on the kite. Quite by accident, someone came along with him. Here reenters Ian Hawke (David Cross), the former record producer who now works as a mascot for the cruise ship. He spends just about the entire film dressed in a duck costume, blaming Dave for his botched opportunities with both the Chipmunks and the Chipettes. In a hopelessly naïve display of transcendence that wore itself out twenty years ago on episodes of Full House, we watch Ian instantaneously shift from cruel and greedy towards ... not complete selflessness, but certainly into a much kinder person. Will they find all six chipmunks before the volcano in the center of the island erupts?
The children who see this movie will probably laugh at Zoe and her collection of sports balls, all of which she talks to and has supplied with smiley faces and names. They’re unlikely, however, to know that this is a reference to Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away. That was released in 2000, which is a good seven or eight years before the target audience was born. They’re much more likely to respond to the numerous scenes of the Chipmunks and Chipettes singing, even though only some of the songs are current pop standards. In the course of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, we will hear samples of “Vacation,” “Bad Romance,” “Born This Way,” “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” “Survivor,” “Conga,” and “Firework.” Will they actually take notice of the film’s more compelling aspects, like Alvin inching ever closer towards maturity? There are some things even I don’t know the answer to.
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