There is absolutely no satisfying way to explain and introduce Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked in a classic film review format, because of one major hurdle – it’s a film about singing chipmunks that get shipwrecked (sigh, chipwrecked) on a seemingly unpopulated island. It’s hard to believe this is a real film (it’s nearly impossible to also believe that it’s the third film in a franchise), and it’s even harder to attempt to talk about it in a critical and professional manner. But let’s try.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked opens with human moron Dave Seville (Jason Lee) and his six-pack of fuzzy (children? paychecks? vermin?) heading off on what is meant to be restful holiday cruise. Dave is understandably exhausted after spending years of his life raising six chipmunks – Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Brittany, Jeanette, and the other one – who are also international signing superstars. The seven of them plan to use the cruise to relax before hitting the International Music Awards (sort of like the MTV Video Music Awards, but somehow even less important), where the boys (Alvin and the Chipmunks, so much for Simon and Theodore’s name recognition) and the girls (The Chipettes, much more equal opportunity) will likely rack up a bevy of awards. Of course, the Chipmunks and the Chipettes ultimately get marooned on a tropical island, thanks to (shockingly!) a move by ol’ troublemaker Alvin, a plan so stupid that even these damn singing chipmunks should have realized the depth of their idiocy before launching into it.
The rest of Chipwrecked focuses on the chipmunks’ desperate bid for survival and Dave’s frantic search to rescue them. There are lessons learned, relationships deepened, tails whipped, songs ruined, a subplot about brain poisoning, and the introduction of a new character (Jenny Slate) who is somehow more insane than the dude who lives with six chipmunks.
As Dave, Jason Lee turns in a perfectly serviceable performance, one that relies on him frequently embracing CGI chipmunks and looking alternately pissed off and exhausted beyond measure. It’s perhaps a more challenging piece of work than it looks on screen, because it looks excruciating on screen. As ever, the chipmunks themselves are voiced by recognizable names – Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, and Christina Applegate. Despite apparent star value to attaching such talents, the chipmunks’ voices are so distorted to get that classic chip pitch that they could literally be voiced by anyone. These are the six most throwaway performances of the entire year.
David Cross also returns as the evil Ian, former music mogul turned cruise ship fun director who is bent on avenging his loser life on Dave and the ‘munks. Though Cross spends the entire film in a large, somewhat terrifying pelican costume, he somehow manages to pull off the least embarrassing performance in the entire film. That’s the sort of film Chipwrecked is – a grown man can spend its full runtime toddling around inside a bird suit (underneath which he is naked) and ultimately build a nest to sleep in (easily the funniest gag of the entire film), and that man can still come across as the most professional actor involved with the entire endeavor. These things do not happen every day.
Yet, what is most confounding about Chipwrecked and its two predecessors is that it exists in a world that seems to hinge on absolute lunacy. The film supposes that the Chipmunks and the Chipettes are the two most famous musical groups in the world – not because they are chipmunks or children, but because they are good singers. No one talks about the shtick – again, that they are chipmunks who are also children – instead, they are lauded for their apparent talent. In this way, Chipwrecked is oddly in touch with the current climate of the music industry. Predictably, this means that the Chipmunks and the Chipettes break out some jams – including The Go-Gos’ “Vacation,” Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” and a particularly horrifying rendition of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” (a song that is already horrifying by its very design). There were other songs in the film, including (I am sure of it!) a Lady Gaga tune, but honestly, I was groaning too loudly to truly process the majority of them. However, the three named above give a good idea of the bizarre cross-section of songs the film employs – again, bizarre.
In what can only be a bid to appeal to adults and to make amends for the idiocy of the entire outing, Chipwrecked is also packed with slightly out-of-date references – jokes about Sarah Palin, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the double rainbow guy, The Most Interesting Man in the World, and many more populate the film. These jokes are not funny. Yet, these attempts at adult-friendly chuckles are not alone, as Chipwrecked is clearly designed mainly to appeal to children. Oftentimes, when a studio screens a kid-aimed film for critics, they set the screening at a family-friendly time and allow the press to bring their children. It’s a nice touch by the bigwigs, but it allows grumbly old critics some key insights – mainly, are kids laughing at this? Kids laughed at Chipwrecked, but they didn’t seem taken in by it, delighted by the film, or even especially consumed by it. The kids laughed for the obvious reason – because they were watching all-singing and all-dancing cartoon chipmunks on a giant screen and someone called it a movie.
The Upside: Chipwrecked (apparently) amuses children. David Cross in a bird suit.
The Downside: Everything else.
On the Side: Theodore does exhibit an interesting eye for stylish neck apparel that is functional, attractive, and sentimental. If only Chipwrecked were any of those things.