Friday, December 16, 2011

In Defense of: the Alvin and the Chipmunk films

Today, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is being released in theaters.  I will not be going to see it, but it's fairly safe to assume that a lot of families will be going to check it out this weekend.  There will probably also be a lot of critics bashing the film, and even more snarky people on the internet saying things like "Why, God, why does this movie exist?!" and the like.  I've certainly seen people bashing on the previous two films often enough.  So here's where I tell you the truth and you either give me a fair chance or you don't:  I enjoyed both of the previous Alvin and the Chipmunk films.

My first experience with Alvin and the Chipmunks was on vinyl.  It was an album called Chipmunk Punk.  Despite it's title, it's actually more new wave than punk in genre.  As a young child, this was my first exposure to the songs of bands like The Cars, Blondie, Queen, and The Knack, as well as the solo artists Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty.  I can't possibly tell you how often I played this record, but it was quite a bit.  It also provided me with an extra bit of excitement as I got older and heard the original recordings and recognized them.

Of course my second and largest experience with the Chipmunks was the 80s animated cartoon series.  This was the show that introduced the Chipettes for the very first time.  I'll admit that I have not watched this show since I was small, and I figure there's a pretty good chance that it simply doesn't hold up that well.  But I do have a lot of fond memories of the show and really enjoyed all the characters, enough that I have a fondness for them even to this day.

Those of you who have seen my videos know that my cat Logan is a bit of a pain.  Recently, we have decided his middle name is Alvin, because it's a lot more fun to yell "Aaaaaaaallllllviiiiiiiin!" then it is to yell Logan all the time.

Anyways, let's talk about the movies. Jason Lee plays Dave, and maybe I am biased since I've loved him ever since I first saw him in Chasing Amy, but I think he does a good job.  I'll admit there are moments in the first film where he's having a little trouble talking to these CGI characters that aren't there, but he gets the "Alvin!" yell down perfectly and presents a good down on his luck guy.  David Cross plays the other main human lead, and he's a perfect smarmy jerk.  I'll admit choosing semi-well known actors for the Chipmunks when you're just going to manipulate their voices anyway can seem like a strange choice, but it also may help to give their lines a little more believability than just picking random actors off the street.

The storyline here is incredibly predictable, but it is an exceedingly rare children's film that isn't.  I don't think every children's film needs to be held up to the Disney/Pixar standard.  I've watched a lot of children's movies in my day, and I'm not just talking about the ones I watched in my childhood.   My love of animation has never left me, and I tend to keep up with most of the major releases via rental regardless of the studio involved.  I see the vast majority of these films as fluff. Much like an action movie with a lot of explosions and fight scenes meant to get your adrenaline pumping while you turn your brain off, these kids films give you a sweet heartwarming story with some silly humor and then you move on with your day.  This is exactly what the Alvin and the Chipmunks films are.

I think the first film, while not without its flaws, works as a good tribute to the history of the series.  The Chipmunks attain their fame and fortune singing "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" which is how they were originally introduced to American audiences.   They follow it up with "Witch Doctor" which was originally not a Chipmunk song, but done by the same performer, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.  I'll admit that I hate the "rap" flavoring given this song and most of the rest of the soundtrack, but given the target audience for this film I'm not surprised.  I hate it in the same way that I hate most music from the 2000s, and therefore can't hold it responsible. 

The remainder is all about Dave and the Chipmunks becoming a family and both sides gaining a true appreciation for each other.  Once again, not exactly a groundbreaking concept, but I think it's done well.  I'm also kind of in love with Simon.  It's been too long for me to remember if he's similar to his 80s counterpart, but there's something about his smarts and his sarcasm that make him my favorite of the three.  Alvin is appropriately conceited and daring, and Theodore is absolutely adorable.  I'm not sure what else you could ask for.

I'll admit the sequel is not as strong as the original, but that's about the norm.  Why put the chipmunks in high school when they've never been to school at all?  It's pretty obvious the answer is so they can use those standard high school stress situations.  Jocks being bullies, Alvin playing football, and a talent show competition.  More than anything I just don't care for Zachary Levi's character.  He's too bungling and beyond that one scene where he completely screws up comforting Theodore, he offers nothing to the movie.  But I enjoyed seeing the Chipettes added in to the mix, and found the songs to be overall more enjoyable.


While I won't be rushing out to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked this weekend, I will eventually end up renting it whenever it comes to DVD, and I'll be amused for an hour and a half.  I'm not going to defend the concept, which is basically some kind of ultra silly Gilligan's Island set up.  But once again, children's movie.  These overused concepts and silly humor and pop culture references are a dime a dozen these days. 

So why do people pick on this particular series so hard?

4 comments:

  1. I'm one of the people who pick on the Chipmunks movies.

    I'm a huge fan of the Chipmunks 80's show and the movie parodies they did--Batmunk is probably favorite--and I used to watch their sing-a-long videos a LOT.

    But my hate for the Chipmunk Trilogy is because of the CGI. I don't think I really care if they recast the characters, but I honestly only want to see the chipmunks in 2D animated form.

    I apply the same feelings to Yogi Bear.

    I'm not a huge CGI fan, that's just who I am. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go add Tangled to my Amazon wishlist. (That's a joke, son, a joke!)

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  2. My take? The movie is pretty nostalgic for Americans of our generation. Seeing it modernized and injected with contemporary reference was going to cause backlash regardless of how good the movie was. The fact that the movies didn't turn out all that good only added salt to the wounds.

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  3. So it sounds like, based on both your responses, that this is similar to the Transformers movies, in that people feel like Hollywood ruined their beloved childhood memories. I honestly didn't think that Alvin and the Chipmunks was that well loved to begin with, but it shows what I know...

    And as far as them being CGI, I'm personally okay with it. As much as I love Roger Rabbit, I think it makes more sense to have the CGI/Live action combo rather than a 2D/Live Action combo.. and if you want a full 2D animation theatrical movie, there's always The Chipmunk Adventure.

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  4. I honestly didn't think that Alvin and the Chipmunks was that well loved to begin with

    *shrugs* Alvin and the Chipmunks didn't make it to Russia when I was a kid, so I have no emotional attachment to them one way or another. But most Americans I know remember it warmly.

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