ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
***1/2 (out of 5)
December 14, 2007
Jason Lee as DAVE
David Cross as IAN
Cameron Richardson as CAIRE
Justin Long as ALVIN (VOICE)
Jane Lynch as GAIL
Matthew Gray Gubler as SIMON (VOICE)
Jesse McCartney as THEODORE (VOICE)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Tim Hill
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
A few months back, when I first saw the trailers for “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” I was terrified. After movies like “Garfield” and “Underdog” trampled over the memories of the original stories, I feared that a big-budget, CGI-animated film about the lovable chipmunks will turn out the same way.
However, after seeing the film, I realized that sometimes, even Hollywood gets it right.
To truly appreciate “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” you have to understand where the story originally came from. A struggling songwriter got the bright idea to speed up voices on a record and release it as if chipmunks were singing the chorus. It wasn’t really special effect wizardry because ever since records were released in different speeds, we’ve all played them wrong for comedic effect.
After some recordings of Alvin and the Chipmunks, there were cartoons, television specials and even a major motion picture in the 1990s. However, it all stemmed from a silly little Christmas recording made in 1958.
The new film stays true to that premise, save the 1958 part. Jason Lee plays Dave Saville (aka a musical Earl Hickey without a ‘stach) who is struggling to sell his songs to his record producer friend Ian (David Cross). One day, Saville stumbles onto three singing chipmunks. He quickly composes a Christmas song for them, which eventually makes them international music stars.
The premise is a little thin, and not too substantive, but I’m afraid it’s not that dissimilar to the story of Britney Spears and her ilk. Humble beginnings to the abusive life in the record industry. Fortunately for this film, the chipmunks makes everything cute.
The cast of the film is good enough to make things work, but it doesn’t get in the way. Leading the charge with Cross and Lee is a good choice, although Lee does at times seem like he’s just making a paycheck. Cameron Richardson is pretty but also pretty forgettable as the love interest. (To be honest, I enjoyed her performance in this year’s “Rise: Blood Hunter” much better than this one.) Still, we’re lucky that she’s just a minor player here.
I do have to give a nod to the voices of the Chipmunks – Justin Long as Alvin, Matthew Gray Gubler as Simon and Jesse McCartney as Theodore. Even though at least two of the three are well know celebrities, this doesn’t trump the story. Justin Long helps bring Alvin alive with his humor, and it’s nice to see Jesse McCartney show up in something other than a cheesy cameo on “Hannah Montana.”
The new “Alvin and the Chipmunks” is a movie for children. It’s not made for the pretentious New York film critic. Instead, it’s a film filled with slapstick, silliness and its fair share of bathroom humor. And you need to keep this in mind when you see it.
I took my two children, ages 4 and 6, and to watch their faces at the right moments – even when I thought the joke was cheap or the gag was too silly – it made things so much more effective to watch my children’s eyes light up. Ultimately, you have to approach this movie with a child’s eye to really enjoy it.