Alvin and the Chipmunks
Directed by Tim Hill
Written by Jon Vitti
Starring Jason Lee, Justin Long, David Cross, Cameron Richardson and Jane Lynch
Watch your feet; block your ears. Those helium-sucking chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore, inexplicable winners of five Grammys (three more than the Rolling Stones), are back. And, Lord have mercy, they're performing black dance music! Surprise, surprise, though, the first, mostly non-singing half of the new Chipmunks movie is pretty funny and absolutely adult-friendly.
As for children's entertainment needs, well, having seen both The Golden Compass and Alvin and the Chipmunks with a full theatre of four- to 12-year-olds, this reviewer is honour-bound to report that Alvin wins the kids' vote, paws down. Youngsters whooped it up with the singing rodents, but sat with drooping smiles through the prestigious Nicole Kidman picture, as if enduring a museum trip with their parents.
Much of the credit for the film's early success belongs to screenwriter Jon Vitti, a veteran scribbler on The Simpsons. His set-up here is fast and unexpectedly cheeky. Alvin, Simon and Theodore are busy chipmunking away nuts for winter on a fir tree cut down for a Christmas lobby display. Dave (Jason Lee), a struggling songwriter, is kicked out of his agent's office and inadvertently brings the fleeing 'munks home in a muffin tray.
At first, Dave scares the chipmunks, who plan to murder him. "We need garbage bags and disinfectant," Alvin shouts. But Dave and the little guys grow on each other, despite the chipmunks' urge to stack syrup-drenched frozen waffles under carpets and sofas. (They're hibernating, remember.) Funny stuff. Even an early song works: When Dave kicks the Chipmunks out of his house, the orphans stand pressed against the windowsill, crooning the fifties doo-wop classic Only You like a forlorn prison choir.
The film is also properly respectful to classic cartoons and the era that gave birth to the Chipmunks. Dave's address is 1958, the year that the Chipmunks made their first hit, The Witch Doctor. In an early scene, the Chipmunks amaze Dave with their intricately woven harmonies, but clam up when auditioning for an agent. The sequence pays homage to Chuck Jones's classic 1955 cartoon, One Froggy Evening.
But just when you start thinking, hey, this isn't bad at all, Alvin and the Chipmunks begins to come apart like an unwatered Christmas tree. What happens is a Chipmunks song goes No. 1. They become stars, pried away from Dave by his sinister agent ( Arrested Development's David Cross). The last third of the movie is the Chipmunks on tour, backed by a churning funk band. Except they're singing the same stuff that made the Chipmunks a public menace in the fifties. That's right - ooo eee, oo ah, ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang - The Witch Doctor.
Worse still, these hip-hop chipmunks aren't even filmable. You've got regulation-height dancers and musicians backing a singing group the size of kids' mittens. By the end of the movie, even the Chipmunks' youngest fans will find themselves wishing that Alvin and the boys would get back to where they once belonged: a tree.