Alvin and the Chipmunks

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 known 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.

Grade: B+

The Upside: This movie is funny if you let yourself enjoy it.

The Downside: It’ll probably be ruined with a sequel.

On the Side: Ross Bagdasarian, who created Alvin and the Chipmunks almost 50 years ago, was a songwriter who at the time was best known for “The Witch Doctor.”

Alvin and the Chipmunks Poster Release Date: December 14, 2007
Rated: PG for some mild rude humor.
Running Time: 90 minutes
Cast: Jason Lee, Justin Long, David Cross, Cameron Richardson
Director: Tim Hill
Screenplay: Jon Vitti (screenplay), Will McRobb (screenplay), Chris Viscardi (screenplay), Ross Bagdasarian (characters)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Official Website: Click Here

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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