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ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney
Director:  Tim Hill
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  April 1, 2008

“How did you guys…?”

“We’re talking chipmunks, Dave.  We can get out of a cat carrier.”

Film **

It was 50 years ago this year that a struggling songwriter and musician named Ross Bagdasarian donned the persona of David Seville and created the fictional but loveable squeaky-voiced trio known as The Chipmunks.  This move not only brought him great success and fortune, but also caused great discomfort to my father, who was christened Alvin more than a decade earlier, but whose name would never be regarded in the same light again.

It seemed inevitable in our age of CGI that a live action version of Dave and his chirpy group would find its way to the big screen.  Alvin and the Chipmunks does finally make the boys seem a little more life-size than we remember from the cartoons, and does a decent if unremarkable job at keeping the spirit of Bagdasarian’s creations alive.

When Alvin (Long), Simon (Gubler) and Theodore (McCartney) find their tree cut down and used for a Christmas decoration in the office of a recording studio, they steal away in a bag belonging to Dave (Lee), who is somewhat dejected after his studio boss Ian (Cross) has just turned down his latest broken-heart song offering.

The lads cause havoc and chaos in Dave’s life, but also a breakthrough when he discovers they can not only talk (no explanation), but can also sing (again, no explanation).  This inspires him to write the Christmas classic “The Chipmunk Song”, which becomes a huge hit, and the rest is history.

Well, not quite.  The unscrupulous Ian, realizing he has a major new act, plans to exploit The Chipmunks and take them all over the world, against Dave’s wishes, who recognizes they’re just kids and shouldn’t be driven so hard.  It will be up to Dave to save the boys from the success he helped bring them!

There’s nothing particularly compelling or original here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my girlfriend said this was the cutest movie she’s ever seen.  That’s worth something.  It is indeed a cute film, and family friendly, only garnering a PG rating for a couple of bodily function gags.

I can remember coming home from school as a kid one day and hearing my parents playing the Chipmunk Christmas album.  I thought it was a different record played at the wrong speed.  But this fictional threesome became a holiday staple for me, and I must admit, I have that same album on my iPod, which I break out every season.  I can’t quite say how the group has managed to be a top selling artist for so many years…one would think the novelty of such an act would wear thin pretty quickly.

But who am I to begrudge success?  The film is sweet, and sometimes funny, and doesn’t stray much from the recognizable.  Jason Lee in particular is a good sport; it takes an actor without a lot of ego to allow three CGI animals to upstage him for ninety minutes.

And like everything else The Chipmunks have put their stamp on, the film was a hit.  One can only imagine a sequel is in the works.  How about Chipmunks II:  Munk Harder?  Hello?  Anyone out there?  Simon?  Theodore? 

ALVIN??

BONUS TRIVIA:  Dave's piano in the film is the actual piano Ross Bagdasarian used to write his famous tunes!

Video ***

No complaints about the anamorphic transfer (full frame also included)…colors are natural and images are generally well-defined throughout.  On a side note, Jason Lee is the best human in the film as far as believable interaction with the non-existent chipmunks…other actors seem to be looking right through them.

Audio ***

The 5.1 offering makes good use of the music scenes and a little bit of zany comic action here and there.  Decent dynamic range and good clear vocals, even from the chattering trio.

Features **

The only extras are featurettes on the history of the Chipmunks and a music one, plus a look at Horton Hears a Who.

Summary:

Alvin and the Chipmunks delivers just what you expect, no more or less.  Ross Bagdasarian’s creations remain loveable and endearing, and hey, possibly the only recording artist not currently engaged in protest music.  That’s something.

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