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He'll take Spongebob over The Chipmunks anyday

I had to psych myself up into seeing "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

According to the trailers, it consists of the chipmunks eating eachothers' feces and singing played-out R&B songs in a register so highit hasn't been heard since the death of the last castrato. But it's akids' movie. If it turned out that terrible, and I had to slag on ithere, that'd be like beating up a puppy. Oh sure, I might have fundoing it, but that's not really the kind of thing you want to be seendoing in public.

Speaking of--me, a guy in my 20s, going to see this thing alone? Thatdoesn't look right, either. Well, what can you do. Going tochildren's movies by yourself is exactly like life, I guess: you'reborn, the girl behind the counter sells you a ticket but thinks you'rea chump, some kid's parents give you the evil eye when you sit down,and then you get screeched at by animated rodents for 92 minutes.

After their tree's cut down and propped up as an office Christmastree, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore smuggle themselves out of thebuilding with an unwitting Jason Lee, a struggling songwriter whosework has just been rejected by record exec David Cross.

The chipmunks try to hide in Lee's house, but it isn't long untiltheir trouble- and mess-making catches Lee's attention. Rather thanslaughtering them (man's natural reaction to harmless but obnoxiousanimals), he kicks them outside, but brings them back in when hediscovers they not only talk, they sing, too.

And so begins their musical partnership. In a long montage, thechipmunks rocket to stardom. They pull in so much bank Cross startsto think of the ways they can sell out. But Lee's a musician firstand foremost, and when he says no, they need to focus on the songs,Cross plots to stick a wedge between Lee and the chipmunks and makethem his own.

Now, we had "The Chipmunks" when I was a kid. I remember Alvin wasalways something of a prima donna. But did you ever see that episodeof "The Simpsons" where the network heads decide "Itchy and Scratchy"are old and boring, so they bring in a triple-cool, shades-wearing dognamed Poochie to hip things up and talk in a way that will resonatewith the youth of today?

Well, this new Alvin is Poochie. He throws slang around like a cornerkid, busts out fresh pop songs, and generally acts like the world'ssaddest thing: the ideal of a cool kid as written by an adult whoisn't. Crazy thing is, Jon Vitti wrote "The Chipmunk's" story andco-wrote its script. Fellow commentary nerds will recognize him as along-time writer for "The Simpsons"--he actually worked there theseason they wrote the Poochie episode! Damn. Just damn. To misquotethe prophet Treebeard, a "Simpsons" writer should know better.

Much less grating are Theodore and Simon, who stick pretty close totheir classic personalities. They even have a couple funny lines.I'll take a cartoon over some freak-looking CG vermin any day of theweek, but they're animated well, too, full of energy and obliviousanarchy that sometimes pays out with a lively scene.

All too rarely, though. More often "The Chipmunks" suffers from anacute lack of personality. Lee acts like he blew his whole paycheckon horse tranquilizers. The story's so old it's like what you'd getif the dudes who wrote the Bible watched a couple hours of VH1. Alvinand too many of their songs are just shadows of what you see on MTV.

You know though, "The Chipmunks" really isn't the cinematic Hindenburgit looked like it was going to be. Low expectations might be workingin its favor, but its emotional core was competent and its obviousadmiration for the original show keeps it grounded. It's just thatwhen the chipmunks are watching "Spongebob," something that happenstwo or three times during the movie, you can't help but be remindedhow creative and entertaining the good kid's programs can be.

Grade: C

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