by Mel Valentin
The month of December brings the usual mix of potential blockbusters (e.g., "I Am Legend," "The Golden Compass," Oscar bait dramas ("Juno,' "Atonement," "The Kite Runner," "The Savages") or even musicals ("Sweeney Todd"), and, of course, family-oriented films like "Alvin and the Chipmunks," a live-action/computer animated comedy based on the novelty recording act and animated series. By the usual standards for comedies aimed at preteens and their families, "Alvin and the Chipmunks," is bland and inoffensive. It’s also forgettable, disposable filmmaking, 180 degrees from what Pixar, even on a bad day, has produced over the last fifteen years (e.g., "Ratatouille," "Cars," "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story I and II").Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), a talking, singing chipmunk, and his siblings, the nerdy Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and the jovial, rotund Theodore (Jesse McCartney), live not-so-quietly in an unnamed forest, frantically gathering nuts for the coming winter. When tree cutters knock down the tree they call home, they follow the tree to a Christmas tree lot and later to the corporate headquarters of Jett Records. Struggling composer David Seville (Jason Lee) arrives at Jett Records with his latest song just as the Christmas tree arrives. He hopes one-time friend-turned-music-executive Ian Hawke (David Cross) will represent him. Hawke turns him down. As a parting gift, Seville takes basket of muffins. What he doesn’t know is that Alvin, Simon, and Theodore have hitched a ride in the basket.
"Strictly for wee children and their bored parents."
Dave later gets a rude awakening when he discovers his three guests. He’s even more surprised when he discovers they can talk. Surprise turns to shock when he learns they can sing. Dave seizes on the idea of writing songs specifically for the chipmunks. Eventually, Hawke becomes the chipmunks’ promoter. Their records become hits. They become celebrities. Dave tries to juggle spending time with his ex-girlfriend, Claire (Cameron Richardson), a photographer for a local paper, with surrogate parenthood to the mischievous trio. Straining under his new-found responsibilities, Dave inadvertently sends the chipmunks into the arms of the greedy, rapacious Hawke.
Typical for the genre, whatever themes a film’s producers want to push are usually pretty obvious, the better for even the youngest children to understand. The family-first, fun-second message isn’t particularly objectionable, but it’s not unique either. Children are expected to identify with Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as they enjoy the many perks of being rock star/celebrities, fulfilling every whim or desire, playing with their shiny new toys to their hearts’ content, eating candy and ice cream until they get sick, and staying up as late as they want. Of course, this kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy can only go so far before they’re forced to choose between the “good” (i.e., Seville) and the “bad” (Hawke) authority figures. No surprise as to who “wins,” but that’s par for the course.
Themes aside, parents looking for guidance on Alvin and the Chipmunks will want the answer to a more basic question: will it entertain their children for its 90-minute running time? The answer is a qualified yes. While small children will get a kick out of the slapstick humor, the verbal jokes tend to be hit or miss, even taking into account the target demographic for Alvin and the Chipmunks. Director Tim Hill and his screenwriters, Jon Vitti and Will McRobb, deserve credit for keeping the toilet humor to a minimum (all of two jokes), but they also deserve the blame for a patchy script that often sidesteps the basic rudiments of storytelling (i.e., character development, coherence, logic) in exchange for putting the chipmunks onscreen as often as possible singing and dancing to pop tunes (including, yes, rap).Whatever its faults, the inoffensive storyline, “cute” characters, breezy humor, and nostalgia factor bring it just past the recommendation/non-recommendation line, at least for parents hoping for a Saturday afternoon reprieve from the constant attention needed where small children are involved. If all that makes "Alvin and the Chipmunks" sound like negligible, passable (barely) family-oriented fare, then that’s because it is.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16815&reviewer=402
originally posted: 12/14/07 14:17:29