I’ll admit it, when I was a youth I watched the 1980’s Saturday morning cartoon the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie is based upon. Don’t ask why, I’m still trying to understand what would have compelled me to watch it (I’d like to know why I watched the Smurfs also). But based on old habits, I figured I’d take a peek and see what kind of spin Hollywood could give to these furry rodents of yesteryear.
The answer amazingly, is not much. How much can one really do with three talking chipmunks? They’re not going to save the world from a villain hell-bent on destroying the world or solve any mysteries stumping the F.B.I.. All they can do is sing, dance and on some level, look cute and adorable. That’s a good thing because that means the maximum number of movies based on this premise has now been exhausted.
So what we’re presented with is a movie that details how the phenomenon of Alvin and the Chipmunks was born. Whoppee. We learn that Dave Seville (Jason Lee) is a downtrodden, wannabe songwriter whose luck takes a turn for the better when three very special chipmunks – Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (voiced by Jesse McCartney) – hitch a ride in a basket of muffins he’s stolen. After some awkward moments (you’d have them too if you met talking animals), Dave realizes he’s looking at a major payday so he takes them see his record executive friend at Jett Records, Ian (David Cross). Of course, since everyone who works at a record label is a conniving dirtbag, Ian exploits the rodents for all they are worth.
It’s here that Alvin and the Chipmunks shifts focus and tries to be more than just a flick about a trio of singing rat cousins. It becomes a story about preserving the family unit and looking out for the welfare of minors (the chipmunks are relative newborns). For me it doesn’t work so well. All of a sudden, Dave comes to the realization he’s a father-figure to the boys and must do all he can to save them from those who would do them harm? I smell bullshit. From my perspective, I just figured he was mightily pissed-off at being pushed aside and wanted back in on the action. Who wouldn’t be? He’s got no job and nothing on the horizon, and the girl he loves Claire (Cameron Richardson) has no interest in him. It’s human nature, baby!
Aside from the rather boring premise, Alvin and the Chipmunks suffers from the overacting syndrome too. It’s a case where the actors try to compensate too much while performing in front of the green screen to sticks that are supposed to represent the final animated characters. Some actors are able to overcome this problem, but it appears Jason Lee is still suffering from it. I would have figured after his stint in Underdog (he voiced the dog), he would have had a better feel for the process.
Ultimately, there are only two good things that come from this movie. One is David Cross. He certainly has the knack for playing obnoxious and slightly deranged characters. The laughs to be found in the movie come from scenes he is in and only in the scenes he is in. The second is being able to once again hear the song that started it all – The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) and the obligatory holler of “ALVIN!” – without fear of retribution. Hearing both reminds me of being a little kid, sitting on the sofa eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes. Unfortunately, it was much better then.