REVIEW: The Song Remains the Same — Excruciating — in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
The billion-dollar Alvin and the Chipmunks film franchise, which turns three this Christmas with Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, is not coy about its M.O., which as far as I can tell is providing a delivery system for highly choreographed chipmunk karaoke. I guess the nut hasn't fallen all that far from the tree: Before they were an animated television series, The Chipmunks were a 1950s kitsch "band" with several No. 1 novelty hits. If the characters' looks and attitudes have been tweaked over the years, The Chipmunks have remained hellishly devoted to reflecting the popular appetites of the time.
As conceived by musician Ross Bagdasarian Sr., The Chipmunks mixed original recordings with covers of Christmas and other genre classics, falling in and out of animated form over the decades with comics, series (I always thought the theme song was the best part of the show in my cartoon-watching days), albums and specials. Legal woes over copyright and creative property have embattled the Bagdasarian clan with their studio overlords at Fox, and today the CGI features (this is the third in four years) pack their trailers with the adorably incongruous spectacle of Alvin and the gang waving their rodent butts to contemporary Top 40. In my own post-cartoon, troublemaking gang, "Top 40" was a secret nickname for the one of our friends with no taste of her own. She sang along to whatever came down the pike every Sunday, regardless. Her other nickname was "11," but that's another story.
In the spirit of enticing my old friend, who last I heard has a little one of her own, these are the artists you will hear covered by Alvin (voiced by Justin Long, although I'm not sure I understand what that means when vocals are this distorted; related: does Autotune itself have a helium app?), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), Theodore (Jesse McCartney), and their girly counterparts Jeannette (Anna Faris), Eleanor (Amy Poehler), and Brittany (Christina Applegate): The Go-Go's ("Vacation"), Gloria Estefan ("Conga"), Rihanna ("S.O.S."), Destiny's Child ("Survivor"), Pink ("Trouble"), Michael Franti ("Say Hey"), Lady Gaga ("Bad Romance"), Katy Perry (I forget), and Iggy Pop ("Real Wild Child"). The catchphrases of the following figures are cited with maximum cheek: Charlie Sheen (last known for his smash hit, "Winning!"), Rachel ("I die") Zoe, and Leonardo DiCaprio ("I'm the king of the world!"). Number of chipmunks who speak fluent chola when necessary: three. Number of Spider-Man/Pepe Le Pew mash-ups I can't really get into: one.
The Chipmunks are actually en route to sing a medley of Top 40 hits at an International Music Awards ceremony when the film begins. There no longer seems to be any pretense of making hits of their own (several songs featured in the first film were original), unless you count those inflicted on their manager/dad Dave, a dapper neuter played by Jason Lee. Poor Dave is knocked tits up on the deck of a cruise ship about two minutes into Chipwrecked, and takes a gravy boat to the crotch shortly thereafter.
It's all the product of Alvin's lovable antics, chronic disobedience that eventually leads the whole gang, including the returning David Cross as malevolent record executive-turned-cruise ship mascot Ian, to wash up on a deserted island. Isolation leads several of the chipmunks to try on different personalities, with Alvin and Simon in particular conducting a kind of swap. The former ultimately vows to be less of a little shit, which is more than I can say for the two elbow-length sisters seated to my right at the Sunday morning screening, a pair who spent the entire 86-minute running time pile-driving each other over which one of them was eating the better share of the popcorn. The devil twins' parents seemed confused and completely ineffectual, and while I don't begrudge Mr. Lee or Mr. Cross their paychecks, the expressions they wore while toiling for them were not dissimilar.
Though not, as rumored, shot in 3-D, Chipwrecked has all the earmarks of a contemporary children's franchise, including Shrek Forever After director Mike Mitchell at the helm. There's just less and less between those earmarks, which means less between the viewer, no matter her age, and the bared gums of the bean counters. It's probably not a coincidence that as the credits rolled I felt a little spoiled myself, felt compelled, in fact, to spend every one of the cherished pennies I would earn from watching Chipwrecked on total and absolute bullshit.
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