Too young to have originally witnessed the "Chipmunk Song" fad or the TV show it spawned (I have since caught reruns of "The Alvin Show" and, like most unfortunate souls, have long since memorized the lyrics to the screechy holiday tune), I'm a child instead of "Alvin & the Chipmunks," the MTV-era revival of the franchise. I recall dutifully watching the 80s series - yes, that's the one with the Chipettes - every Saturday morning, although I can't really recall anything I actually liked about it.
In fact, taking a look at "The Chipmunks: Trick or Treason," a Halloween TV special produced in 1994, I realize I had not only forgotten just how indestructible the franchise had become through the Reagan and Bush Sr. years, but I had also forgotten just how just plain lousy the show was. The songs, both originals and covers of popular hits, were lame; the jokes were lamer; the situation (record producer Dave Seville is a lousy, neglectful parent to his three adopted chipmunk kids) questionable; the character shortcuts (Alvin's the troublemaker, Simon's the nerd, Theodore's the fat kid) were sloppy.
By the time "Trick or Treason" arrived, the "Chipmunks" series had run its course and the spin-off movie had long gone from multiplexes. Still, there was room for the random video release or, in this case, the occasional preachy, sappy, weak television one-shot.
The plot finds Alvin desperate to get into the Monster Club, a gang of pranksters who have "cool jackets." To join, he's required to do very mean things to Pumpkinhead, a lonely, deformed boy who lives down the block that everyone believes to be a monster. Theodore meets Pumpkinhead, whose real name is Michael; it's learned that aside from his wretched high-pitched/nasal/cutesy-cartoony voice, he's actually a nice guy, the sort that takes care of sick animals in his free time. At first Theodore hides his friendship with Michael, but then he realizes it's time for his brothers to learn a lesson or two about friendship and name-calling and jumping to conclusions and wanting to be in a club where you have to be a big meanie. Along the way, they all sing "The Monster Mash."
The message is nice, I suppose - be nice to others who look different, try not to hurt others' feelings, etc. But the execution is so beyond messed up, I'm not sure where to start. Michael has some serious issues here; he's the one who tells Theodore to hide the friendship, because he's always been teased for his looks and thus know how the game works. Michael's just so darn chipper about being tormented that it's kinda creepy. He even loves being seen as a monster. (The fact that he has a menagerie of injured stray animals eternally following him provides a Dr. Moreau vibe.)
Kids will most likely overlook all of this, seeing instead a tale of an outsider who finds a friend and isn't that sweet? That's what it intended to be, of course. But parents will be dropping their jaws wondering just how depressing things will get before everything winds up happy again. The quick answer: a lot.
With "Trick or Treason" running less than half an hour, Paramount has packaged the special with a collection of "Alvin & the Chipmunks" episodes with vague Halloween-ish themes; these episodes come from the late 80s and each run around ten minutes apiece.
The episodes included are:
"Babysitter Fright Night." Dave once again abandons the boys, leaving them in the care of a German babysitter the boys believe to be an escaped criminal. Or is she…? (Of course she's not.)
"Theodore's Life as a Dog." When Alvin tricks Theodore to eat a dog biscuit, Simon hatches a plan to trick Alvin into thinking Theodore's been turned into a were-dog. Alvin believes this because Alvin is stupid.
"Nightmare on Seville Street." The boys sneak into a horror movie, then think the movie's killer is out to get them. Because Alvin is stupid.
"No Chipmunk is an Island." After a fight, the boys decide they want their own rooms. Then they each have nightmares about living alone. The witty parody of Geraldo Rivera in this episode? "Geraldo Riviera." It's just enough to avoid lawsuit without the hassle of actually being clever.
As you may have guessed, these extra episodes are just as obnoxious and unfunny as the main attraction.
I don't remember how this show looked upon its initial run, but here, the colors are muted and flat, which does no justice to the animation, which deserves to pop more than it does. Presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame format.
The Dolby stereo is enough to get us through the lousy song-and-dance routines. No subtitles are offered.
None. (The bonus episodes are listed as part of the program.)
Skip It, unless screechy renditions of pop music and terrible cartoon slapstick is your thing. Allllviiiiiiiiiiin!!!!!