I fondly remember growing up watching "Alvin and the Chipmunks" on Saturday morning cartoons and listening to a cassette tape I had bought featuring the singing chipmunks. I cannot recall a single song that was included on that cassette tape. However, Dave Seville's shouting "ALVIN!" will forever be embedded in my collection memory from my youth. The music and adventures of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were very much part of my growing up. They were funny, musical and I could relate to many of the episodes from my own growing up. Through my formative years, I was unaware of the history of the Alvin, Simon and Theodore. The five Grammy Awards and early history during the late Fifties and Sixties were unknown to me at the time and I always looked at the "Chipmunks" as something from my generation.
The singing trio created by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. is revisited and re-imagined for a new generation with the 2007 feature film "Alvin and the Chipmunks." This new feature pays homage to the 1958 song "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" that began the career of Alvin and his two brothers. It also borrows from some of the humor and character development that was brought about by the television show that entertained me as a youngster. Directed by Tim Hill and co-produced by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., the new take on "Alvin and the Chipmunks" holds just true enough to not disenfranchise those of us in our early thirties and late twenties that grew up enjoying Dave Seville's singing chipmunks, but the new film digs into the music and hip-hop environment that should fulfill the interests of today's younger audience.
The film begins by providing the backstory for Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney). They live in a large pine tree in the forest and find themselves being annoyed by their daily survival. Through a few twists of fate, the three find themselves in the care of a struggling musician, Dave Seville (Jason Lee). Seville is a person who can barely keep himself together and care for himself. His career as an advertising person is in jeopardy and he is unable to convince his friend and record label executive Ian Hawke (David Cross) from buying one of his songs. The girl he desires, Claire (Cameron Richardson), doesn't want to see him any more after patiently hoping that he would grow up. The last thing Seville wanted or needed was a family and he finds three adolescent chipmunks who can talk and sing.
The story moves along and follows the ups and downs of Seville's relationship with the trio of chipmunks and their musical careers. Seville initially finds the chipmunks to be nothing more than bothersome to his daily life. They sabotage his career, attempts at rekindling romance with Claire and trash his apartment. He is interested in their musical talents, but an agreement made between Seville and chipmunk enters shaky ground when the three find stage fright. Eventually, the chipmunks are heard and ‘Uncle' Ian instantly signs Alvin, Simon and Theodore after hearing "The Chipmunk Song." Soon, Ian works against Dave to be the one who benefits the most from the superstar status of the three singing chipmunks and causes a huge rift between Dave Seville and Alvin, Simon and Theodore.
I thought the first forty minutes of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" was pure entertainment. It reminded me greatly of my childhood and the three chipmunks that I grew up watching. Alvin was the eager and ‘awesome' leader of the three and the first to find trouble. Simon is the smart and visually impaired brother who typically gets into less trouble than his siblings and Theodore just eats himself into trouble and being the youngest of the three, he is naïve to the world. The music, the humor and the story of the chipmunks all fit neatly into the images I had engraved into my memory as to how I remembered the chipmunks. I enjoyed the backstory that explained how the three chipmunks came into the life of Dave Seville and while I remember Dave as being a little more ‘together,' I certainly enjoyed the always entertaining Jason Lee as the new Dave Seville.
The second half of the film was passable entertainment, but I found myself just hoping for Dave and the Chipmunks to get back into a relationship far more similar to how the film began. The theme of the second half revolved around corporate greed grabbing hold of our beloved striped rodents and looked into the insane schedule of a superstar in today's musical environment. When you have three characters who are fully able to get into enough trouble on their own, I didn't particularly feel an outside force was needed to provide story and mayhem for the film. They could have stretched out the rise to fame of Alvin, Simon and Theodore and had the three sabotage a few more days in the life of Dave without the need for the story arc of ‘Uncle' Ian.
As a whole, the film was pretty good entertainment. I had to take some time and think about the entire picture, because my initial impression was that the second half was nowhere near as entertaining as the first half of the film and I wasn't pleased with the unevenness of the feature film. After thinking about the picture after a little bit, I'm somewhat forgiving to the time when Dave and Alvin were separated by the luster of being a celebrity. The film became too big and too noisy and truly lost the essence of what made the creations of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. so special. The filmmakers and writer Jon Vitti nailed the first forty five minutes and I was pleasantly surprised by the film, but the second half was a hip-hop mess that thrust the Chipmunks into the new millennium, but I'm not sure this is where they shine the most.
Overall, you can't go wrong with "Alvin and the Chipmunks." The first half is well worth the shortcomings of the final half of the film. Jason Lee is very good as Dave Seville and while he didn't quite have the deep and parental voice of Ross Bagdasarian shouting the overly familiar "Alvin," he brought likability to the character. The film shines brightest when Dave discovers the magic of the trio when the first sing "The Chipmunk Song" and I'm very thankful the filmmakers retained that classic as a key part to this film. Once the ‘Chipmunk Sound' went to modern pop and dance, I thought some of the magic was lost, but I remembered back to when I was younger and how I enjoyed hearing the Alvin and the Chipmunks cover some of the songs I liked from the time. I'm sure kids today will love hearing Alvin, Simon and Theodore singing the music of their time. This isn't a great film, but it's a lot of fun and good for fans of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" of all ages.
"Alvin and the Chipmunks" combines photo-realistic CGI effects with a live-action film. Essentially, the three chipmunks are computer generated and the remaining elements of the film were shot with a standard camera. I had expected great things with the Blu-ray release of this film because of the presence that CGI films typically have in high definition. The release didn't disappoint, but it wasn't as visually stunning as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong. It is a good transfer and the colors are nothing less than ‘awesome like Alvin,' but the level of detail seemed a chipmunk hair off. The computer generated chipmunks are the best looking element of the presentation, but compared to the average level of detail as present in the rest of the film, the live-action footage looks dull. My slight disappointment with the transfer could wholly be based upon the contrast between the uber-sharp CGI work and the more commonplace visuals. The disc is mastered in 1.85:1 AVC MPEG-4 and the source materials are clean and the digital mastering is superb.
Let's face it: Alvin and the Chipmunks are historically about the music. Thankfully, Fox delivered the goods with a steller sounding DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 transfer. The film featured a fairly aggressive mix that really comes to life in the second half of the film and while I felt the storytelling was sub-par on the back nine, the sound was quite impressive. From watching the bonus features, I learned that there were at least twenty four tracks of music for each song. It shows and to quote one of the personalities from those bonus materials, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" boasts a "Wall of Sound." The .1 LFE channel pounds heartedly with the pop beats and the rear surrounds are used with nice effect. The high pitched chipmunks sounded superb and dialogue was clear for the trio and their human counterparts. My favorite sounding part of the film was the closing credits and hearing the super-cleaned up version of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." It sounded amazing.
The Blu-ray release of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" could be considered quite thin, even for a chipmunk. Considering a sequel is apparently in the works and the film did pretty good in box-office returns, I was honestly expecting a little more in the value-added content. The disc contains two brief supplements and some promotional material. The first, Chip-Chip-Hooray! Chipmunk History (12:18) finds Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and some others associated with the chipmunks giving a very nice backstory on how the Chipmunk Phenomenon came into being. For being only twelve minutes long, I was quite impressed with the amount of material presented. The second, Hitting the Harmony (8:55) looked at how the chipmunk songs were created. Finally, Fox on Blu-ray includes trailers for "Ice Age: The Meltdown," "Night at the Museum" and "Eragon."
"Alvin and the Chipmunks" could almost be called sacred ground. I grew up enjoying the laughs and music of Alvin, Simon and Theodore. Although Jason Lee was attached, I was leery about the CGI-based chipmunks. However, the film is a good outing for the singing chipmunks and the filmmakers did a pretty good job of bringing the creations of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. to new audiences. I would have kept going with the themes and fun of the first forty five minutes for the whole film, but that is my personal preference and I didn't enjoy the second half of the picture nearly as much as I enjoyed the first half. The Blu-ray release featured good, but uneven visuals. The CGI chipmunks look amazing, but the live-action visuals cannot keep pace. The soundtrack is quite good. The supplements are short, but I enjoyed the two short vignettes on the music and history of "Alvin and the Chipmunks." This is a nice release for the family and should please all but the most die-hard Chipmunk fans.