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Alvin and the Chipmunks

Fox // PG // April 1, 2008
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted April 11, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

To date, Alvin and the Chipmunks has made more than $200 million domestically and $350 million worldwide. Relax, let that sink in for a second. If I can quote basic cable TV's great comedic talent Joel McHale, "You suck apocalypse!" There's so much that's wrong with why this film has been so widely seen and who was involved in the process, it makes my heart ache.

Alvin and the Chipmunks was a co-written joint by Jon Vitti (writer for episodes on such shows like The Larry Sanders Show and Saturday Night Live) and Will McRobb, and directed by Tim Hill, of the Garfield sequel. This version of Ross Bagdasarian's animated franchise takes a turn into live action, and if you don't know the drill, their owner Dave (Jason Lee, Chasing Amy) is a songwriter/musician who finds the chipmunks who have a tendency for song, and he decides to try and use them to sing his songs, in the hopes of landing a record deal at Jett Records with talent executive Ian Hawke (David Cross, Arrested Development). In case you don't know who the chipmunks are, you have the extroverted Alvin (voiced by Justin Long, Accepted), the slightly bookish and blind Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler, Criminal Minds) and the slightly pudgy Theodore, voiced by pre-teen pop idol Jesse McCartney, and anyone knows me knows that I'm not the biggest fan of pop music. So while Dave begins to get used to (and like) his furry de facto children, Ian wants to exploit their music ability for all its worth.

Now I get that the film's premise is taken with seriousness and that singing chipmunks aren't greeted by jaws dropping in and around the Los Angeles area where the film is set. But there's something about this translation to live action with computer generated chipmunks that, even with all the modern touches, makes this a little bit too, I don't know, "urban," using all of the common catchphrases of 2007 which in turn, makes things a little bit disingenuous on the part of the filmmakers. Modernizing it took away all of its charm, and it loses its identity. It's not Alvin and the Chipmunks anymore, it's Lilo and Stitch or even Garfield.

That's not to say it doesn't have its fans; it does, my wife being one of them, and she had this to say about her thoughts on the film:

"The producers of this film said they wanted to create a movie for twenty-somethings that had grown up watching Alvin and the Chipmunks in cartoons. In fact, in the late 80s, nearly every weekend I was watching The Chipmunk Adventure in my friend's basement while my parents played board games with their friends. I watched it so many times, I could recite the lines. So, while this updated version of the chipmunks is quite different, it still carries memories. I have noticed that my preferences have changed; when I was younger, I really liked Alvin. He was the cool, rebellious one. But now, I'm all about sweet Theodore.

This is certainly no cinematic gem, but just hearing their high-pitched voices brought me back to being 8 years old in my pajamas without a care in the world. For about 90 minutes, I laughed at things that would strike a young child as funny, and I forgot that Alvin and his two brothers were merely the products of an active imagination so long ago. This film made me feel good, and well, I can't help but like it."

Granted, I'm contractually obligated to let her say these things, but I was slightly older for the cartoon version of it, for what it's worth.

One other thing; Cross was made quite the piece of internet detritus for his decision to take the part as the evil record manager. He defended himself with a statement on his website, which seemed to indicate that it was something he didn't mind doing, in some part because the work was a necessity. Lost among what was said was that one of the reasons he was offered and did the part was that he could " something with the part that isn't on the page." And you can see instances of this, albeit minor. It's those instances that I enjoyed and was looking for, more and more as the film wore on, and that's what made me laugh. Besides, us homies with a receding hairline have got to stick together.

The Blu-ray Disc:

1.85:1 widescreen using the MPEG-4 codec, and it looks, well, OK. The computer generated squirrels might look good at first, but there are times where the little varmints look a bit soft and lack any real detail in broader shots. Blacks are quite solid, providing a good contrast, and there are some scenes of surprising background depth. Flesh tones are even presented in a largely realistic manner, but when it comes to overall video presentations, there have been better treatments given to Fox's catalog titles as opposed to this four month old effort.


DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround for this release, and I was considerably less impressed. Sure, dialogue was in the center channel and replicated well without any speaker compensation, but the directional effects are virtually nonexistent, and the speaker panning is sparse. A "chase" sequence of sorts is focused in the front speakers the entire time. As far as subwoofer activity goes, don't be ridiculous. The high-pitched music and musical numbers translate rather clearly, and supports the material adequately, but this is an instance where next-gen audio and video probably weren't really necessary for a film so lacking in convincing source material.


You'd think that with all the money the film made that there would be some sort of explosive, exhaustive set, but no, Fox has decided to hold off, presumably to double-dip fans of the film for when the sequel comes out. And don't act like you're surprised, how many $200 million grossing films DON'T have sequels? Anyway, "Chip-Chip-Hooray!" (12:18) is a look at the chipmunk franchise with recollections by Bagdasarian's son on how the franchise came about, and how the rodents were names, and Bagdasarian's history, including his songwriting past. There are some early drawings of Alvin, Simon and Theodore, and the success of the characters is shown also. I found it surprisingly informative and well worth the time. "Hitting the Harmony" (8:55) examines songs in the film, and shows some of the singers as they get a song "Chipmunk Ready", if you will. And aside from previews of other Fox Blu-ray titles, that's it. No director commentary, and no interviews from the cast. Maybe they're quietly ashamed of what it is they did in the project, I don't know, but let's face facts; this is a financial blockbuster that has gotten a virtual barebones disc treatment. Whether it's Alvin and the Chipmunks or another popular film, that's an outrage.

Final Thoughts:

So what does Alvin and the Chipmunks give you after 90 minutes of so-called entertainment? Maybe the occasional laugh, but if you want to travel back with nostalgia, stick to the original stuff, as it's better than this production that people seem to sleepwalk through.

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