This ain’t your Dad’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and, come to think of it, it shouldn’t be your children’s either. The movie has its moments, but the gratuitous exploitation of the characters is enough to send fans away gagging.
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007, Blu-ray)
Directors: Tim Hill
Producers: Karen Rosenfelt
Writers: Jon Vitti (screenplay) and Will McRobb (screenplay) & Chris Viscardi (screenplay) Jon Vitti (story) Ross Bagdasarian (characters Alvin and the Chipmunks)
Features: * Two Featurettes * DTS-HD 5.1
Jason Lee ... Dave Seville
David Cross ... Ian Hawke
Cameron Richardson ... Claire Wilson
Justin Long ... Alvin (voice)
Jane Lynch ... Gail
Matthew Gray Gubler ... Simon (voice)
Jesse McCartney ... Theodore (voice)
Alvin and the Chipmunks Blu-ray Review
A few years ago, I was treated, if you can call it that, to the abysmal live action adaptation of the popular Jim Davis comic strip, “Garfield.” It was a wretched film with little replay value that borrowed elements, but not the heart and spirit, of the original comic strip, or the original cartoon series—a series I’d grown up watching. It felt like a mockery rather than a truly honest adaptation of the material.
So, I wasn’t too excited to learn that the same producers were behind the live action adaptation of the world famous high pitched singing group, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Again, like “Garfield,” I’d grown up, like generations before and after me, listening to the “Chipmunks” and watching their cartoon series. The idea of a live action film was certainly appealing, particularly during today’s CG-infused world. But could these producers take the material and churn out a decent adaptation, or would it be the same sort of bastardization we saw with “Garfield?”
Sadly, it’s the latter.
The film updates the “Chipmunks” legend with Simon, Theodore and Alvin moving from the mountains of California to a small apartment. There, they meet Dave Seville (Jason Lee), an aspiring out-of-work song writer who’s in need of some inspiration. Once he learns that these small rodents can sing, he begins to feel inspired and writes, “The Chipmunk Song,” the most famous of all Chipmunk renditions. But when a nasty record producer (the sleazy David Cross) sees their talent, he decides to exploit them, turning the cute and fuzzy trio into a musty boy band with little originality.
And that’s where the film takes a deadly turn. It goes from a somewhat crass and illogical, but sincere and sweet kid’s film, into an abomination as the Chipmunks become boy band stars. They dance around on stage with a bunch of hoochies. They rap. Simon changes his signature glasses so they’re trendy and all that was sweet and innocent is lost. There’s even a moment where drugs, in the form of coffee, are introduced to the trio. It’s just sick.
It seems like all irony is lost on the filmmakers, who can’t seem to realize they’ve done the exact same thing to their film as the record producer does to the characters on-screen--they’ve taken a cute and lovable trio of chipmunks and turned them into an unholy exploitation of what they once were. Reworking the old songs into rap and pop renditions was bad enough, but that’s at least in keeping with the “Chipmunks” style. Giving children this sort of story is just wrong. Where’s the innocence of the original characters? Where’s the sense of adventure?
It doesn’t help that the film is incoherently written as well. The film is scripted by veteran comedy writers Jon Vitti, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi. All three of those writers have worked on solid material in the past which leads me to believe that much of what they wrote was discarded. It’s also possible that the irony of the story was intact with their original draft, but was just lost in the translation.
Regardless, setting a Christmas movie in L.A. is never a good idea. There’s no snow. It’s not cold and it never feels like Christmas there. But that minor flaw is the least of the scripts problems. Dave Seville’s character is just poorly written. He’s a down-and-out song writer living in what is probably a $3000 a month apartment. He has a day job, but loses it within minutes of his introduction. So again, how is he affording such a nice pad? A quick explanation—something like he once wrote a good song, but hasn’t had a hit, could explain why he’s independently wealthy while giving him motivation to write another hit song.
Of course, it a kid’s movie so some leeway is allowed, like the scene where Dave gives Simon his glasses. He grabs them off of a Santa toy and somehow they’re the right prescription. It’s a kid’s film, so I’ll let it slip. I only mention it because later in the film David Cross’s character gives Simon new glasses and they’re not the right prescription. Huh?
Like I’ve said in many other reviews, why do kid’s films need to be so incoherent? And why do they feel the need to inject adult humor into children’s films these days? Sure, kids won’t get most of the adult jokes, but Pixar’s done just fine with children’s entertainment for years. There’s hardly any adult material in their films and parents and adults alike enjoy those features. Did “Toy Story” have a cocaine joke that I somehow missed?
Adult humor in a kid’s film seems to only be there to mask just how excruciating the film actually is. The films that tend to use it are often times not the best ones out there. Why can’t producers return to basics though, and give parents and children a decent adventure film that’s worth watching?
We don’t need these sorts of tattered abominations—these bastardizations of our youth. Why do producers think that market demographics need to fit into a picture like “Alvin and the Chipmunks?” The film ended up being a success not because the film was good, or well marketed, but because parents recalled the cute musical renditions and innocence of the title characters. All producers needed to do was provide…and they failed. “Alvin and the Chipmunks” is exploitation at its absolute worst.
Film Report Card:
As entertainment: D
As a film: D
20th Century Fox presents the film in 1.85:1 widescreen at 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 on a single-layer BD25 disc. Like a lot of children’s films that Fox releases, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” is oddly oversaturated with somewhat unnatural flesh tones. I don’t know whether this is done to give the film a little extra color, or whether it’s done to mask CG effects that don’t match the color scheme of the film. Regardless, flesh tones were a bit on the orange side. The film is certainly colorful, but it looks a bit unnatural. The film is quite sharp though with detailed textures popping off the screen. The CG chipmunks also look good. I swear CG is looking more and more like stop motion with every film that comes out, which is a good thing (stop motion has dimensionality to it).
I did notice some noise during busier sequences and a bit of grain during the concert sequences, but both were hardly distracting. Dust and white specks are virtually nonexistent and black levels are well tuned. This isn’t one of Fox’s best new release transfers, but it has its moments.
Fox presents the film in DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio and while I thoroughly expected an expansive, surround heavy track, what I got was a bit more subdued. Sadly, the film is just not as robust and spatially enveloping as I would have liked it to be. It is a decently mixed track with well placed surround effects, but this could have been a truly delightful mix and, as it stands, it’s just ordinary. My guess is that sound design wasn’t a priority given the film’s smaller $50 million dollar budget. CG likely took all priority as the film went into post-production. Still, the mix does have its bright spots. The musical numbers are well done with a nice concert feel that proved rather enjoyable. I just expected more out the mix.
Given how light this film is on extras, I suspect we’ll see a timed special edition re-release of this film just in time for the sequel, which is due next year, I believe. At least, that’s what Fox did with “Garfield,” which saw a special edition just before the sequel.
To be honest, I’m glad the film only sports two short Featurettes. I couldn’t imagine being forced to sit through two or three in-depth audio commentaries or expansive documentaries. That would mean I would need to watch the film again. Both Featurettes are light and fluffy, with one being about the music of the film and the other is a brief history of the characters. Fans should check them out. Others needn’t bother.
This was a major release for Fox as it cost very little ($50 million) and made a lot of cash for the studio (nearly $210 million in the U.S. theatrical run). I expected Fox to offer up a BD-Java based game since this seems like an appropriate title. Alas, no HD exclusives are given. What the heck?!?
“The Fly” gets a BD-Java game, but “Alvin and the Chipmunks” doesn’t? What gives, Fox?
The film is presented in a blue "Elite" case and is pretty consistent with Fox titles.
This ain’t your Dad’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and, come to think of it, it shouldn’t be your children’s either. The movie has its moments, but the gratuitous exploitation of the characters is enough to send fans away gagging. This could have been a great children’s film, but as it stands, it’s just another mediocre addition. The Blu-ray presentation is fairly solid. Bonus features are light. I suspect we’ll see a special edition of this film in the future, but if you’re a hardcore fan and you don’t care about bonus features, this disc will do just fine.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Give it a rent before buying.
On DVD and Blu-ray: April 1st, 2008.
* Add me as a friend on Myspace
* Email Me with Comments, Concerns, Questions and Complaints regarding this review, but please, be nice.
----R. L. Shaffer