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Alvin and the Chipmunks - family and children's DVD / television DVD / drama DVD review
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS Rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler
Director: Tim Hill   Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD release: 01 April 2008   Runtime: 92 min. (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD features: Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround - English; Dolby Surround - Spanish, French), Subtitles (English, Spanish), "Chip-Chip-Hooray! Chimpmunk History," "Hitting the Harmony: Chipmunk Music," Alvin and the Chipmunks Soundtrack, Sneak peek at "Horton Hears a Who!"

If the target market for Alvin and the Chipmunks falls in the four-to-seven-year-old range, the producers of this Chipmunk revival film have done their job. My daughters can watch this thing over and over and over and... well, you get the idea.

As a just-about-forty mom, I'm slightly less taken. I was in high school when the 1980's cartoon TV series began, but I didn't mind sitting down to a couple bowls full of sugary breakfast cereal and hanging out with my little sister to watch the three squeaky-voiced rodent brothers make their human "dad" Dave Seville crazy. Back a few more years, I spent afterschool hours listening to a classmate's "Chipmunk Punk" album (which contained no punk, unless you can stretch the definition enough to squeeze in Blondie's "Call Me" or The Cars "Let's Go") on the portable turntable in her pastel-toned bedroom. Their cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Refugee" still gets stuck in my head. You could spin them up to a nearly unintelligible hummingbird buzz if you took the RPM to 45. My point (and, to quote Ellen DeGeneres, I do have one) is that nostalgia can be a pretty tough critic when it comes to re-imaginings. Then again, I never forgave Patrick Stewart for not being William Shatner when it came to Star Trek.

The film's format - combination live action and talking animal CGI - also invites unfortunate comparisons to the underwhelming Garfield - The Movie (Garfield co-producer Michele Imperato and special effects director Alan E. Lorimer were executive producer and special effects coordinator on Chipmunks) - which, to be fair, my kids also profess to really like.

In this iteration of The Chimpunks story, Jason Lee, whose title role in the award-winning My Name Is Earl is a far better showcase for his comedic strength, plays Dave Seville (originally the alter-ego of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian), a struggling songwriter who hooks up with the boys in L.A. after their tree-farm abode is cut down. With house-wrecking capabilities of mythic proportions, the cute rodent trio can drive Dave, er, straight up a tree, but the potential for an interspecies musical hook-up convinces Dave to let the kids settle in. David Cross plays a record executive all too ready to exploit their talent and novelty, and as they catapult to celebrity status and arena-size shows, "Uncle Ian" spoils the boys to turn them against disciplinarian Dave so that he can squeeze ridiculous amounts of money out of them. The question is, can Dave and his erstwhile charges get back to being a family after all the unhealthy glitz and glamour to which they've been exposed?

The 'munks are voiced by some hot young actors. Justin Long (Drew Barrymore's paramour, most recognized currently for his iconic persona in Apple computer commercials) is Alvin; Summerland's Jesse McCartney (who also voices JoJo in Horton Hears a Who!, plays Simon, and Criminal Minds genius Matthew Gray Gubler is Theodore. Not, of course, that any of them sound remotely like themselves in the finished product...

Moments of potty humor, like bespectacled Simon convincing Dave that Theodore hasn't pooped on the couch by popping the "raisin" in his mouth, even had me (much to my chagrin) giggling. The pop/dance/boy-band/hip-hop groove Uncle Ian favors gives the film's music and context a contemporary flavor (Holy "Witch Doctor" remix, Batman!) reflected in the DVD's packaging and marketing materials, and the "value of family" focus provides the moral grounding of the story. As such, it's at least palatable fare for kids and the adults who inevitably end up watching along.
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reviewed by Sharon Schulz-Elsing
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