Singing rodents learn about love and the music business
David Seville (Jason Lee) is a failing song writer who's reached the end of his rope after being rejected yet again by Ian (David Cross), a former classmate who now runs Jett Records. As a result of an only-in-the-movies situation, he ends up with a basket of muffins, with a side order of chipmunk, namely Alvin, Simon and Theodore. After some convincing, and a wacky redo of hundreds of previously-seen sneaking-around scenes, David lets the talking animals stay, mainly because they can sing, which can help advance his career. However the boys, voiced without need by a trio of sped-up stars (Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney), see David as the family they desire (apparently chipmunks are absentee parents.)
While Lee shows a mere glimmer of what's made him a success, barely displaying the coiled-spring anger that should have sold his "Alvin!," Cross was made to play a slimeball, and he plays the role to the hilt as the bad guy here, pulling out every tactic you've ever seen from a movie businessman, in trying to take the chipmunks away from Dave. I don't have to say another word, and you've probably got the remainder of the movie plotted out in your head. Every step along the way has been done before, and to better effect, which makes it all the more painful to watch two fun actors like Lee and Cross play out the string. Lee likely did it (and Underdog) to give his kid something to watch from daddy's filmography, but Cross just seems entirely wrong for the film, considering his subversive stand-up act. I guess dissent just doesn't pay as well these days. Either appearance is more understandable than a minor cameo on the part of the hilarious Jane Lynch, who hopefully was paid very well for her minor role.
This film breaks the cardinal rule of moviemaking, when it comes to remaking childhood favorites from past generations: don't focus on the kids. There should be just as much entertainment value for the adults in the audience as there is for their children. It's the reason why Shrek and the Pixar films have been so successful they know that adults will watch so-called kids movies if the story works and there are enough over-the-kids-heads winks and nods for the adults to enjoy. Outside of the draw of Lee and Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks has nothing adults will find worth their time. It's as pure a "kids movie" as you could not want to see.
It's not that the film is without its charms. The classic Chipmunks songs are still fun to hear (even if "Witch Doctor" received a hip new dance remix) and the computer-animated chipmunks, especially the cuddly Theodore, are absolutely adorable, striking a nice balance between realism and anthropomorphism. The filmmakers thankfully resisted the temptation to carry over the child-sized proportions of the cartoons, which would have resulted in ridiculous creatures better suited to a Jim Henson production. But no matter the look, in the end, like Lee, they are left to loiter for 90 or so minutes, without much to do, thanks to a lackluster, formulaic script.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track should have been more impressive, but it doesn't really get pumping, though the Chipmunks' stage performances raise the level of the delivery. For the most part, the audio sticks to the center channel, and sounds nice and clean, with the surrounds handling the enhancements on the music and some rather minor atmospheric effects. There was nothing noticeable in terms of any kind of dynamic mixing.
Things wrap up with a soundtrack promo, trailers for The Seeker and Garfield's FunFest and an "Inside Look" featuring a scene from the upcoming "Horton Hears a Who."
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