Okay, alright. Maybe I was a tad harsh with the Chipmunks. My recent review of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Alvinnn!!! Edition left little room for reevaluation of the artistic merit of the '80s TV reboot of the venerable little vermin (I've since learned that words like "stink," hurt), but after watching Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set, I'm embarrassed to write...it wasn't so bad. God, it hurts to write that! Three titles are included here in this boxed set: Trick or Treason, Alvin's Thanksgiving Celebration, and A Chipmunk Christmas, which includes the 1981 Chuck Jones-produced TV special. My own little vermin had what used to be commonly referred to as "the vapors" when they saw the holiday-themed offerings here, and I have little doubt your own kids will feel the same way.
Now, I'm not backtracking on the aesthetic value of these animated shorts. I still fail to see anything here that's really of any lasting value (except for the Chuck Jones effort). These are disposable cartoon filler: innocuous to kids, entirely forgettable to adults. But there is something about gathering together four or five of these shorts under a common theme - holidays, in this case - that does offer a bit more viewing "weight," if you will. Obviously, that certain something "extra" in the Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set comes from our nostalgic "good times" associations with those holidays, and with holiday animated TV fare in general. Do the shorts in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set match up with the celebrated Rankin/Bass or Chuck Jones holiday efforts? Hmmm...not at all (even the Chuck Jones-designed A Chipmunk Christmas is decidedly thin). But kids in the mood for an early start to their holiday obsessions won't care about venerability.
That being said, a couple of the shorts here do provide a bit of a diversion from the pap that dominated the Alvin and the Chipmunks reboot when it ran on NBC back in the '80s - and that's because these three examples weren't produced for that particular '80s run. On the Trick or Treason disc, the self-titled short, which was actually produced as a special in 1994, has a rather mature theme of the boys getting to know a handicapped child who is taunted and teased for his appearance. It's a predictable little story, but it is handled with taste and surprising honesty (someone asks the boy directly about his appearance, and he doesn't shy away from discussing it - unusual for this type of a short), which is in its favor. A Chipmunk Celebration, also produced in 1994, has a predictable story, as well (the Chipmunks perform in a community play, while Dave organizes a family reunion), but somebody took the time to add some fun elements (a Fantasia-like dream sequence, as well as a surprising Ship of Fools reference - how did that get in there?), giving the short a bit of distinction.
And finally, A Chipmunk Christmas, while not a classic in the sense of perennial favorites like Frosty the Snowman or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, does have the Chipmunks looking quite vintage and quirkily shaped by character designer Chuck Jones, while the evocative, densely detailed backgrounds come courtesy of Toby Bluth (who has his own specially designed calligraphy for his single name, "Toby," in the credits - nice). This Christmas special, which aired on NBC in December of 1981, was the first official Chipmunks venture after original Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian died in 1972, and its success set into motion the TV reboot of the series in 1983. It's also the last time the Chipmunks really act like the Chipmunks of old, with Alvin getting quite cross from time to time, and Dave - grumpy and ticked off - coming off miles away from the version of the lobotomized sitcom dad of the Saturday morning edition. Even though it was produced in '81, it has the feel of something from the late '60s or early '70s, and its inclusion here - along with some of their biggest holiday songs on the soundtrack - on the Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set is a welcome addition.
Here are the 9 shorts included on the three-disc boxed set, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set.
TRICK OR TREASON
Trick or Treason (1994)
Alvin is desperate to join the Monster Club, a gang of mean boys who ridicule the new kid, Michael, because he's handicapped. Alvin will do anything to get one of those flashy club jackets, but after Theodore tells Alvin Michael is his new best friend, Alvin has second thoughts.
Babysitter Fright Night (1988)
The boys have a new babysitter...who's so ugly and mean that the boys are convinced she's a witch.
Theodore's Life as a Dog (1988)
After Alvin plays a mean trick on Theodore, making him eat a dog biscuit, Simon and Theodore plot revenge, with Theodore pretending to be a dog.
Nightmare on Seville Street (1989)
Alvin disobeys Dave and sees a scary movie...and now he thinks Dave's "Hideous Harold."
No Chipmunk is an Island (1988)
Dave's solution for the boys fighting constantly? They all get their own rooms...and scary dreams to go along with them.
ALVIN'S THANKSGIVING CELEBRATION
A Chipmunk Celebration (1994)
Things don't work out quite the way the boys planned when they're given different assignments for the local community play, than they hoped for. Too bad they invited all their family over for a reunion and after-play celebration.
Food for Thought (1988)
Theodore is having trouble remembering his American history...including the first Thanksgiving. So Simon comes up with a novel approach: learning through food.
Cookie Chomper III (1989)
The boys adopt a stray kitten...who then gets run over by a car.
Dave's Getting Married (1988)
Dave's getting married...to a woman who has three little boys of her own. And they don't like chipmunks.
A CHIPMUNK CHRISTMAS
A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)
A sick little boy, who may not live to see Christmas, spurs the boys to raise enough money to buy the little boy's favorite toy.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Carroll (1989)
Alvin is in the middle of A Christmas Carol reboot when he acts selfishly right before Christmas.
Dave's Wonderful Life (1988)
Dave's in the middle of a It's a Wonderful Life reboot when money becomes tight, and he starts to believe that the Chipmunks would be better off without him.
The full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set look about the same as the other disc I reviewed for The Chipmunks, although these transfers did seem to be a tad brighter and cleaner (perhaps because they weren't as old?). Interlacing is still a problem, but not a major one.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio track is agreeably strong, with all songs heard to much better advantage than the previous mono tracks. Close-captioning is available.
There are no extras for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set.
Okay. So I stand not corrected, but perhaps...more in the upcoming holiday spirit. Gathering together holiday-related episodes from the final two seasons of Alvin and the Chipmunks (when it was produced by DIC), as well as a vintage 1981 Christmas short, and two 1994 shorts, helped bring me around to these later incarnations of the group I grew up with on The Alvin Show. A couple of these shorts, particularly the Chuck Jones-designed A Chipmunk Christmas, were actually enjoyable. I'm...recommending the Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set (jesus).
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.