It's strange to recall that 2007's "Alvin and the Chipmunks" wasn't just a standard, "it's winter, get me out of the house" hit, but one of the highest grossing films of that year. Seems Chipmunk fever was waiting for the proper moment to strike back from cultural obscurity. Two years later we have the goofily titled "Squeakquel," which tries to replicate the...er, magic of the original film by repeating essentially the same story, only updating the lead character and the pop tunes performed. Otherwise, it's the same chipmunk business, only the novelty, if there was any to begin with, has worn away.
During a charity concert in Paris, Dave (Jason Lee) is mangled in a horrible stage accident, leaving The Chipmunks, Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gulber), and Theodore (Jess McCartney) without a guardian. Enter Dave's nephew, Toby (Zachary Levi), a bumbling gamer with little interest in responsibility, forced to make sure the pop superstars start attending high school. Waiting in the dark is disgraced record executive Ian (David Cross), who comes across The Chipettes, Brittany (Christina Applegate), Jeanette (Anna Faris), and Eleanor (Amy Poehler), a lively team of singing rodents. Ian, smelling a comeback, cons the Chipettes into a contract, while the Chipmunks deal with their own troubles at school, where the local cliques threaten to break up the trio for good.
Admittedly, I wasn't throw-a-chair-out-of-the-window angry with "Alvin and the Chipmunks," finding it more labored and crude than reassuringly atrocious. "The Squeakquel" is a step backwards if that's even possible, boasting DTVish production value, limited imagination, and trying performances. However, Jason Lee has wisely wiggled his way out of duty, as old short-fuse Dave Seville is absent for a majority of this adventure, leaving the Chipmunks in the hands of Zachary Levi.
Levi, star of the NBC show "Chuck," is an appalling comedian, imagining himself somewhere between Mr. Bean and an Xbox Live edition of Jeff Spicoli. In a film of singing and dancing chipmunks, an extended fart joke involving the dreaded "Dutch Oven," and David Cross finally reliving himself of his pesky dignity (I know Cross likes the money, but there should be a certain limit to screen humiliation), Levi is easily the single worst element of "The Squeakquel," which speaks to the depths of annoyance the actor plummets to. The cartoons show more wit and ease with a punchline than this guy.
"The Squeakquel" attempts to develop the Chipmunks past their touring fortunes by moving the action to high school. The screenplay doesn't offer much besides a routine of bullies, swirlies, and a big head for Alvin as he's accepted by the football team, infusing him with popularity that alienates Simon and Theodore. The addition of the Chipettes is lazily tacked on; the ladies seem hustled into the picture due to a drought of creativity, not to raise the comedic tension. The Chipettes serve a function for the soundtrack as well, permitting the producers to gorge on female hitmakers to munkify, including omnipresent tunes from Beyonce and Katy Perry.
There's enough oddity in "The Squeakquel" to wonder if the screenwriters weren't bored out of their minds, looking anywhere to entertain themselves. The weirdness includes Alvin quoting "Silence of the Lambs" at the big football game (along with "Taxi Driver" during a dodgeball skirmish), a reference to pole dancing, making Theodore a devout fan of "Meerkat Manor," and serving up a bewildering cameo by a creature known as "Digger, the NASCAR gopher."
The AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) looks nicely detailed, which doesn't always benefit the budget-minded CG effects. Facial detail is convincing on both chipmunk and human characters, though the BD does continually underline the synthetic nature of the picture. The image appears overtly brightened to come across more friendly to sensitive family audiences, with a color boost that helps the wide range of hues to pop excessively. Performance sequences have a pleasing energy, with evocative lighting cues and visual depth. Shadow detail is strong and supportive, while skintones are believable on the humans.
The 5.1 DTS-HD mix deals almost exclusively with high-spirited music and chipmunk squealing, which the track handles easily, hitting a few highlights through robust performance sequences. School and concert hall atmospherics bring some dimension to the aural event, with directional effects assisting crowd response and general slapstick adventures. Dialogue is presented without disruption, though a few lines feature some light distortion when the action hits the city streets. Soundtrack cuts are loud, but blended well with the madcap movement of the stars. English 5.1, English DVS, Spanish, and French tracks are included.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
"Munk Music Machine" (10:57) gathers all the performance sequences from the film for easy consumption. Occasionally, extra Chipmunks will appear onscreen to help with the dance party mood.
"Alvin Album Maker" is an opportunity to collect images from the film and bedazzle them with instruments and digital stickers.
"Munking History: 50 Years of Chipmunk Mischief, Mayhem, and Music" (9:21) interviews producers Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman, investigating the history of the franchise, which dates all the way back to a novelty album from 1959.
"Meet the Chipettes" (8:37) explores the ladies of the film, tracing the history of the group (brought to life in 1982) to their appearance in the "Squeakquel." Karman returns to explain personalities, and some time with the voice actresses (in painfully rehearsed comedy bits) is included.
"Rockin' Rising Stars" (6:21) introduces the world to the pleather-hoodied band Honor Society, who serve as the backup group to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Time with singer Charice Pempengco is also included, who honestly seems overwhelmed by her screen debut.
"Music Mania" (9:04) covers the shooting of the grand finale, set during a musical competition that spotlights various music and dance groups. Choreographer Rosero McCoy appears to explain how Chipmunk and Chipette dances moves are achieved, and the prop masters show up to display stuffed rodent stand-ins ("Stuffies") for the special effects.
"The Chipmunks: Behind the Squeaking" (9:40) is a faux documentary done in an E! Channel style ("Munk News"), interviewing cast and crew who comedically play up their relationships with the tiny stars.
"A-NUT-omy of a Scene" (2:39) is a brief exploration of the Stuffies, revealing how the effects are achieve with live-action actors.
"Meet the Stuffies" (3:09) is even more time with the Chipmunk stand-ins, though this featurette is more tongue-in-cheek, saved only by footage of the Stuffies at work.
"Shake Your Groove Thing! with Rosero" (8:59) teaches the kids at home the Chipmunk moves. Parents beware: this featurette might encourage massive displays of frightful dancing.
"Music Videos" returns to the tunes, gifting the viewer a chance to sing-along with the tiny stars, if the mood strikes.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Well, at least nobody sucks on a turd, which was one of the more repulsive lowlights of the original picture. Obviously kids won't care what "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" adds up to, but as a film critic and a firm parental sympathizer, there's a world of adventure out there for The Chipmunks to enjoy. This sequel, ahem, "Squeakquel," keeps matters depressingly routine and tired. The Chipmunks may be pint-sized and adorable, but we've all seen this song and dance before.