"Alvin and the Chipmunks" is a cute film, but it's also the cinematic equivalent of empty calories--light, airy, and sweet, with nothing of value except for maybe a few moments of enjoyment. After it's over, the experience is forgotten, and we're no better or worse than before we saw it. There really isn't much that can be analyzed, deconstructed, or even explained; this is one of those films that puts absolutely everything on the table, able to capture the attention of even the most inattentive five-year-old. I'm not saying that this is a bad movie, but I'd be lying if I said that I'm the right person to have seen it. This is for kids and kids alone, a bright, energetic, simple film unfettered of complexity and meaning.
Now that I've gotten all my adult-level jargon out of the way, let me summarize the plot for you. Dave Seville (Jason Lee) is a struggling songwriter, unable to impress anyone with his music, least of all Ian (David Cross), the executive of a record company. When he steals a basket of muffins out of spite, he discovers three small, furry, squeaky-voiced chipmunk stowaways: the troublemaking Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), the brainy Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler), and the meek overeater Theodore (voiced by Jesse McCartney). Dave soon discovers that the three are natural born singers, and thus negotiates an arrangement: they can stay in his home so long as they sing the songs he writes. The film begins at Christmastime, so naturally, Dave's first song with the chipmunks is "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." You know--the one where Alvin wants a Hula Hoop.
This song soon brings Ian back into the game, and he immediately shows his true colors by tempting them away from Dave. He lavishes them with expensive gifts. He tells lies about how Dave feels about them. But most importantly, he turns them into full-blown music superstars, allowing them to live a carefree lifestyle of food, toys, and video games. These things sound juvenile, but as Simon explains, he, Alvin, and Theodore are only kids; their parents left them a week after their birth, which is supposedly the way it's done with chipmunks. Of course, if you actually care one way or another about where they came from, how old they are, or even why they're able to talk and sing, then this is definitely not the movie for you.
But I digress. As the chipmunks are lured deeper and deeper into the crazy world of pop music celebrity, Dave realizes that he misses them, despite the fact that they drove him crazy. They in turn feel the strain of constant performing, and even though they believe that Dave doesn't want them back, they still would like to go home. Ian, of course, finds this unacceptable; he sees the chipmunks as nothing but cute moneymakers, an excuse to manufacture and distribute a boatload of rodent-related merchandise. He repeatedly says that he never loses, and isn't that exactly what you'd expect the villain of a kid's movie to say? Anyway, in realizing that the chipmunks are about to launch a twelve-month world tour, Dave vows to save them, not only from Ian, but from fame, as well. Helping him is a press photographer named Claire (Cameron Richardson), and as you might have guessed, she and Dave have feelings for each other.
That's about as much of the plot as there is to summarize. If this doesn't fit the bill as pure child-friendly escapism, then I must have missed something along the way. Short of the direct to video Barbie films, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" is about as fluffy and generally unimportant as they get. It's filled to the brim with sight gags, such as the chipmunks trashing Dave's house, ridiculous character quirks, and a scene in which Simon puts Theodore's accident into his mouth, convincing Dave that a raisin had somehow landed on the couch. There's also moment when Alvin inhales helium from a balloon; apparently, helium makes an already high-pitched voice sound deeper. Pretty much the only things saving this film from being too sickly sweet are the numerous pop culture references--songs such as "Funkytown," "Don't Cha," and "Only You" find their way into the film, as do a number of present day slang terms like, "My bad." Even chipmunks have to keep up with the times.
Or do they? This film adaptation of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" definitely accomplishes what it set out to accomplish, but honestly, did it really have to be made? I know that kids will like this film, if for no other reason than the joy of seeing cute CG rodents on the big screen. I don't debate the fact that this is a good-looking film, and to some extent, it is fun--or rather, about as fun as simple films can be. But that doesn't mean that it was necessary, and I have no doubt that adults will feel the exact same way. I don't know what original "Chipmunks" creator Ross Bagdasarian would have to say about this film, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. At the very least, he would have been glad to hear Dave's trademark shout: "Allllllviiiiiin!"
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About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi (Chris_Pandolfi)
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Families come in many different shapes and sizes, but few humans consider rodents members of the family. Dave Seville (Jason Lee) is no exception, so when this flailing musician finds three young talking chipmunks gorging themselves in his kitchen cupboards, Dave is quick to question his sanity and then toss the offending chipmunks outside into the rain and restore order. When Dave hears the chipmunks singing outside his window, he realizes that that unusual trio might just be the world's next vocal sensation and he strikes a bargain with them--the chipmunks can stay with him if they sing his songs. While chipmunks Alvin (Justin Long), Theodore (Jesse McCartney), and Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) quickly begin to see Dave as a father figure, it's strictly a business arrangement for Dave and he maintains an appropriate emotional distance. Dave's frustration with the chipmunks mounts as they unwittingly wreak havoc on his personal life, but when Dave's old friend and record label mogul Ian (David Cross) begins to exploit the chipmunks for personal gain, Dave suddenly realizes what an important part of his life, and indeed his family, the three chipmunks have become. Hilarity reins in this live action/CGI comedy with many memorable scenes--think chipmunks showering in the dishwasher, riding in remote control planes, and bouncing off the walls under the influence of a serious caffeine buzz. Catchy Chipmunks' songs both new and old promise to lodge themselves in ...