It was in 1958 that the late singer/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian made a few tweaks with his recording gear and created the chipmunk sound that would make Alvin and the Chipmunks a Grammy-winning music industry sensation. Then, in 1961, the prime-time The Alvin Show gave an animated persona to the voices of Alvin, Simon and Theodore, further securing them a place in pop culture history.
It’s unlikely that the new Fox feature Alvin and the Chipmunks will do much to either bolster or harm Bagdasarian’s legacy, which should come as both a relief and a disappointment to fans. Targeted strictly to children between the ages of five and 10, the Tim Hill-directed picture blends CGI animation with live action in much the same fashion as the two lackluster Garfield films and the equally ill-fated The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, albeit with substantially better success.
As scripted by Jon Vitti, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, the story is a by-the-numbers tale that fuses the familiar with the contemporary, following a down-on-his luck songwriter named Dave Seville who accidentally winds up a surrogate father to a trio of mischievous talking chipmunks—Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney)—whom he enlists to sing his songs. There’s a momentary burst of nostalgia surrounding the creation and recording of the famous “ Christmas Don’t Be Late,” which skyrockets them to overnight success, but as the story segues into a cautionary tale of recording industry excess, with Dave and the Chipmunks torn apart by a scheming music exec (David Cross) hell-bent on turning the act into the ultimate boy band, the film veers into formulaic Disney Channel territory.
Even with Bagdasarian family oversight (Ross Bagdasarian Jr. is credited as one of the film’s producers), there’s precious little here for adults—this is first and foremost a film for children, which makes it almost pointless to critique. In the end, children will love it, and adults will just have to suck it up.
Cast: Jason Lee, David Cross and Cameron Richardson
Voices: Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney
Director: Tim Hill
Screenwriters: Jon Vitti and Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi
Producers: Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and Janice Karman
Rating: PG for some mild rude humor
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: December 14, 2007