Alvin and the Chipmunks may not be award-winning entertainment, but it’s a harmless and serviceable family film that kids will enjoy. The chipmunks are cute too. Based off the popular characters who have had at various points starred in their own TV show, hit record, and comic book, these little CGI forest critters find themselves in the middle of live-action Los Angeles after their tree is cut down. They wind up in the home of Dave Seville (Jason Lee), a struggling songwriter with a dead-end day job and a flame for his neighbor and ex, Claire (Cameron Richardson).
Dave’s new living arrangements aren’t ideal to say the least, but he discovers his tiny houseguests can sing and talk and agrees to let them stay. Plus, they’re just kids and he’s not going to throw them out into the street. When Ian (David Cross), a record producer, gets wind of them, he immediately signs them on with plans of turning them into international singing sensations.
Stardom is hard work though, and the trio can’t just eat ice cream and play with chipmunk launchers all day. You could say there’s a warning about childhood fame. Ian manipulates them into thinking Dave doesn’t care and takes advantage of their singing ambitions. Before long, they’re sleeping through recording sessions and losing their voices. Meanwhile, Dave is trying to rescue his chipmunks. After making clear that they share no more than a human/small-talking-pet relationship, he realizes that maybe the little guys are his family after all. Ever the one for cuddly furball interactions, my favorite scene is when tiny, tubby Theodore curls up in Dave’s bed after a nightmare. Makes me long to be an old chipmunk lady instead of an old cat lady.
For better or worse, those saccharine moments don’t pop up too often, and though there’s a warm undertone to the story, the film has a sterile quality overall. The franchise seems like it was remade simply because everything is these days, and the movie makes no effort to try to anything new. It’s satisfied with the novelty of anthropomorphic chipmunks and a loosely compelling plot. It’s enough that Simon, Alvin, and Theodore sing a few current hits and revisit some old ones, get into unexpected trouble only for Dave to bail them out, and generally act adorable with their squeaky voices (Matthew Gray Gubler, Justin Long, and Jesse McCartney). You might as well pop in your old VHS tapes, or more likely find a DVD or visit a streaming site.
Some of the ennui comes from the human characters and actors, who don’t entirely buy into the whole concept. Lee lacks the childlike enthusiasm for the material that someone like Jason Segel had for The Muppets remake. The latter’s wholehearted engagement with his felt puppet costars contributed to the freshness and energy of that movie. This film could use more spirit from Lee and Cross, a lazy phone-in villain, instead of relying on the relentless perkiness of its diminutive stars.
“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by Alvin and the Chipmunks:
Prod: Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian
Dir: Tim Hill
Writer: Jon Vitti, Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi
Cast: Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney
Time: 92 min
Country: United States