Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
- Directed by Betty Thomas
- Written by Jon Vitti, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
- Starring Jason Lee, Zachary Levi and David Cross
- Classification: G
As shrill, partly-animated musicals about singing vermin go, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel really isn't all that bad.
The new movie follows the 2007 Alvin and the Chipmunks , designed as a foundation story about the Chipmunks' beginnings, which earned a startling $360-million (U.S.) at the box office. What they lack in bass boost, the Chipmunks make up for in brand recognition.
In the new movie, you'll see the occasional shot of the street address where the animated Chipmunks live with their human guardian and manager, David Seville (Jason Lee). The number is 1958, the year that songwriter Ross Bagdasarian released the first Chipmunks' novelty record The Chipmunk Song (Don't Be Late) , which became a No. 1 hit and earned three Grammy Awards, including for its engineering.
A half-century later, the Chipmunks' speeded-up vocals don't seem so cutting edge - Auto-Tuner technology could make a hair-dryer sound melodic. The movie's nods to Kate Perry and Britney Spears feel suspiciously like audio engineers' in-jokes.
Still, kids love it. At the screening I attended, the movie's mixture of shrill ejaculations and brutal slapstick was magic for the intended demographic. Every time an adult ended up in traction or broke wind, the three-year-olds in the audience were freshly ecstatic.
Director Betty Thomas ( A Very Brady Christmas ) begins with a rock 'n' roll stage show, with the Chipmunks (mischievous Alvin, intellectual Theodore and timid Simon) trilling through a cover of Van Halen's version of the Kinks' You Really Got Me . Alvin's grandstanding causes a stage mishap which leaves Seville hospitalized.
Before he passes out on his hospital bed, Seville sends the Chipmunks back to school, where they experience normal teenaged life. They get picked on by jocks, endear themselves to cute girls and have a chance to save the school's music program in a battle-of-the-bands' competition.
The valiant or desperate adult actors, who smile and wiggle their eyebrows at the animated creatures, are Wendie Malick as a high-school principal, Zachary Levi as the Chipmunks' temporary caretaker, and David Cross as their villainous former manager, Ian Hawke. This time, Hawke discovers a rival group, the Chipettes (surely the Chipmunkettes?), a tail-shaking trio of sexed-up females who resemble a small, furry incarnation of Destiny's Child.
Their interspecies burlesque routines feel bizarre, as do the script's random pop-culture references ( Green Acres ? Taxi Driver ?). Thankfully kids of all ages can enjoy the sight of a homely man in a dress or a mean kid getting a wedgie.
What's astonishing, to adult eyes, is the way the preschooler audience was completely comfortable in a world where the humans and CGI characters interact. Truly, it's a small paw step from Alvin to Avatar.