In 10 Words or Less
The gang's all back and stuck on an island
Likes: Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jason Lee, David Cross
Dislikes: Predictable movies, Unnecessary sequels
Hates: Pandering to children
The Story So Far
Alvin, Simon and Theodore, a trio of singing chipmunks, came into the life of David Seville in Alvin and the Chipmunks a live-action feature update on the classic characters, with three computer-animated stars blending with reality to tell the story of fame and celebrity in the music business. It was followed by a sequel that introduced the female Chippettes, completing the comeback. The first film was released on DVD in April of 2008, joined soon after by a double-dip in November of the same year, while the "Squeakquel" arrived in March of 2010. DVDTalk has reviews of both films.
It's no surprise that the Chipmunks returned for a third film, considering the poorly-regarded "squeakquel" pulled in over $200 million. But armed with a subtitle just as pun-tastic and the return of Jason Lee to a starring role, the latest chipmunk movie proved the law of diminishing returns to be very true, earning the least of the trilogy, and somehow offering the least engaging film, while dragging Jenny Slate down with it. But if there's one good thing about this film, it's probably the franchise's last that will make it to theaters (and with the cost of computer-generating the chipmunks, direct to video releases are unlikely.)
After spending the second film recouping in France, the chipmunks' manager David (Jason Lee) is back in action, just in time to take his rodent charges on a vacation cruise on the way to the International Music Awards, where the six will be performing. Of course, with Alvin on board, it's unlikely that things will go smoothly, and after some on-board mischief, including the Chippettes getting into a dance battle, the chipmunks find themselves alone on a jungle island, with Dave (and the group's former manager, the ludicrously-inserted Ian (David Cross)) on the hunt for them. That sets up some island adventuring, joined by a stranded, slightly-insane Slate and her Cast Away-inspired menagerie of sports equipment. This may sound like a lot going on, but it's all so empty and meaningless, existing mainly to move from song to song, that it just flies by, like so many flashing lights with a sped-up Top-40 soundtrack.
Of course, as with most kid-focused entertainment, the college-educated adult in the room is not the ultimate judge of quality (just the one who pays the bill for it.) Though all the singing, dancing and general cuteness will certainly entertain little ones, as it did my daughter, there's a weird dichotomy at work in the material, as it's peppered with references and jokes that no one who will enjoy the film would (or should) be able to process. The only good thing is these jokes will likely sail over younger viewer's heads, so you might not have to explain a joke about Alvin's testicles, but they are still oddly placed, and they aren't funny enough to make up for the entertainment deficit for adult viewers.
If there's a bit of this movie that really disappoints, since everything else is basically sadly as advertised, it's the actors involved. I've never understood the point of getting six well-known actors to provided the voices for the six chipmunks, since the chipmunk processing renders them into anonymity and their fame isn't used to sell the film. If you could tell who any of the chipmunks are without prompting, you should be working as some sort of government voice-analysis expert. Then there's the three main human actors, Lee, Cross and Slate, all of whom have proven themselves to be very funny during their careers. Then there's this movie. I get the idea of wanting to make movies your kids can watch (even if you don't have kids at the time.) But I think Lee's filled that quota at this point. And I get the idea that it's nice to make money. But when you've got people with such comedic talent, it's hard to see them in such low-rent roles, flailing around like clowns.
Chipwrecked arrives in a two-disc set, packed in a dual-hubbed standard-width Blu-Ray keepcase, with a few promotional inserts included. The Blu-Ray features an animated menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1, and Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks quite nice all-around, delivering plenty of fine detail, with the fur and clothing on the chipmunks looking particularly impressive, along with the island settings (though I've certainly seen sharper images before.) The downside of the clarity is the obvious nature of some of the lower-budget studio-shot scenes, where the backgrounds are sadly fake looking, to the point where they look like a high-school drama production (which unfortunately stands out most during the film's big climax.) On the plus side, there are no issues with the color, and black levels are, for the most part, deep, while there are no obvious issues with digital distractions.
Though there's no issue with clarity on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and the music (really the film's raison d'etre) gets sufficient support from the surround speakers, but the sound effects in the surrounds just didn't have the oomph needed to sell the action on-screen (but based on the rest of the production value, it wouldn't be very surprising if there wasn't a lot of effort on the audio mix.) Occasionally a bit of movement can be heard in the rear speakers, and the rumble of the island later in the film is solid, but it's not consistently present enough to make a real impact.
The extras for this film are oddly in-depth for a film that is, without a doubt, a pure kids movie. Thus, it would be hard to figure out who these extras are meant for. Though my six-year-old loved the movie, she doesn't much care about the history of the chipmunks' vacations, while my interest in the film is quite limited, yet I thought some of the bonus content is worth watching. Perhaps it's just meant to be added value to the parents who shell out the cash for a movie they are unlikely to watch.
The first extra is for the kids, as the Munk Music and Dance Machine offers up 17 clips of music used in the film, which can be viewed individually, all at once or in a nonstop loop. Since they end when the music ends in the film, they are a bit frustrating when you like a song, only to hear it end seconds later. And the Just Dance-like on-screen dance guides don't add much to the few clips they are added to, as they don't really match up to the dancing occurring in the film.
A series of featurettes follow, which range from informative to cute, and include many interviews with producers Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and Janice Karman and much of the cast (though Christina Applegate is M.I.A.) Up first is "Going Overboard with the Chipmunks" (7:50), which serves as a solid history of the chipmunks on vacation, through all their cartoon incarnations. It should appeals to fans of their animated eras, even if the films have done nothing for you.
"Munking Movies in Paradise" (6:43) is another in a line of featurettes that acts as if the chipmunks are real people, this time focuses on the experiences of of shooting in Hawaii and Vancouver. If you enjoy the idea of people pretending that cartoons are real, you might get a kick out of this, but the peeks at the studio production explains a lot about the resulting look of the film. There's more behind-the-scenes info in "Everybody Munk Now!" (7:39), which covers the choreography of the film's dance battle and the complexity of the shoot, including the very amusing "stuffy pass."
The final new featurette is "Alan Tudyk, Chipmunk Apprentice" (6:39) which is all about the voice of Simone, Simon's suave alter-ego, and the chipmunk training regimen Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) created for him to prepare him for the role. This one is far more about being cute, as Tudyk goes all out in his preparation, with Gubler having plenty of fun with the conceit. There are also a pair of pieces from FOX Movie Channel about the film, with "Growing Up Alvin" (10:12), about Bagdasarian Jr. growing up with the characters, and then his kids doing the same, and "In Character with Jason Lee" (5:11), a rather basic examination of the character with Lee.
We go back to pleasing the kids with three music videos, for Vacation, Survivor and Bad Romance, with each collection of movie clips offered with optional sing-along lyrics. Then it's back to the cinephiles, delivering eight extended scenes, which run a total of 5:11. Considering how short the final film is, it's surprising that they managed to find anything cut from the film, but you'll find a few surgically excised moments here, with the surrounding material, so there's less new content here than the run time might suggest.
Rounding out the bonus material is a set of promos for the film, including two small featurettes, a video of the chipmunks singing Jingle Bells, and three trailers for the film. There's also some other Fox sneak peeks here as well.
The usual "live" extras are on-hand, promoting Fox properties (including We Bought a Zoo, oddly listed as "In Theaters") but there are two somewhat unique entries. First is a "live look-up" feature that lets you watch the film either in a frame or with an overlay that lets you check the filmography of the actors in the film, along with details about the movie. It's a pretty cool idea, and one that could be of value for a better film. The second live extra is more questionable, as there's a featurette, available to download or stream, about the paw print ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theater for the chipmunks. I could understand if this took place as the disc was being finalized, but it was held in 2011. It seems like overkill to make viewers jump through online hoops to watch a low-energy Lee host a kids promo event with giant costumed chipmunks.
In addition to the on-disc extras, the Blu-Ray comes with a DVD copy of the film (minus the extras), which also has a digital copy of the film.
The Bottom Line
The second Chipmunks film did not stick with me in any way, so it's hard to say how this third film stacks up in comparison, but on its own, it's a rather empty event, stringing musical moments together for about 90 minutes, before slapping on some cursory morals about behaving and obsession. But, as with the other films in the franchise, try telling that to the child watching the cute chipmunks and singing along with the songs. At least the presentation is good, and there's a nice amount of well-done extras (even if it's not clear who they are aimed at, since they seem meant for an audience that wouldn't really enjoy the movie.)
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.