Followers of my blog (all two of you!) may remember my previously voiced criticism and discontent over news of the live-action adaptation of Alvin and the Chipmunks. I understand the dilemma of trying to remold something that was popular many years ago to something that bears relevance to the culture and society of today, while still trying to keep the “essence” of that thing in tact. But what can I say? It’s a segment of my childhood that is so ingrained into my memories that the mere thought of Hollywood potentially ruining the formerly popular franchise was just exasperating and yet, I’m guilty to admit, somewhat intriguing. I wanted to see what they came up with and if my worst fears would come true.
Alvin and the Chipmunks starts off with the back story of how the chipmunks came into Dave Seville’s (Jason Lee) life. The film opens on a snowy forest, where we see the [CGI created] chipmunks singing Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” on top of an evergreen tree and storing away food for the winter when suddenly, the tree they are perched upon is chopped down. With the chipmunks still hidden within the branches, the tree is transported into the lobby of JETT Records where it will serve as the Christmas tree and also, coincidentally, where Dave Seville is scheduled for a meeting. Dave meets with Ian (David Cross), a JETT executive, to go over a new song he has written but Ian informs him that he will never find any Justins or Britneys to sing that song because, frankly, it sucks. Dejected and rejected, he leaves the building but on his way out, he steals a huge basket of muffins. Kind of getting his comeuppance for the blow to his ego in the form of baked goods. And just as Dave is making his way out of the lobby, the chipmunks have gotten out from the tree and are making their big escape. They spot the muffin basket and jump right in. Long story short, and a rendition of “Funky Town” later, they become a part of Dave Seville’s life.
Blasphemy, I say!
As other Chipmunk aficionados will attest, that does NOT hold true to the origin of the Chipmunks tale. Not by a long shot! Those familiar with the cartoon will remember that the chipmunks’ mother had to abandon her three babies one winter because she had to leave her home in the forest and they would not survive if she brought them along. So with their best interest at heart and with much sorrow, she left them on the doorstop of Dave Seville, a man who was kind to the forest animals. She had intended to come back for them in the spring but she saw how happy they were with him, so decided it was best to leave them in their new home. Even years later, I still distinctly remember that scene of the mother chipmunk leaving Alvin, Simon and Theodore on the doorstep and me, a wee youngin’, getting all weepy over the sentimentality of the whole thing. I can understand changing some parts of the “Chipmunk-verse” to adapt to the audience of today, but to rewrite history so much that it somehow loses its authenticity and what made the story heartwarming? Not impressed.
Speaking of Chipmunk performed songs, besides “Funky Town” and “Bad Day”, Alvin and the Chipmunks also sang the classic songs fans of the television show will remember, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” and “Witch Doctor“. The first rendition of “The Chipmunk Song” sung along to the piano was similar to the original version but then eventually, after being put on JETT Records, it was completely remixed to reflect the songs of today’s top 40 with the end result being this, errr, Fall Out Boy-esque ditty. And don’t get me started on what they did to “Witch Doctor”. It’s now, like, some sort of lame Kidz Bop fusion of Pussycat Dolls meets The Black Eyed Peas on a lot of helium! Apparently I am the only one who finds these remakes somewhat disturbing because those Youtube comments from the kiddies are almost all positive. Maybe I’m just too old for this. I guess this is just one of the ways the movie makers were trying to make the Chipmunks “cool” for the youth of today. In any case, those Chipmunk songs, man are they hard to get out of your head after listening to them. It’s worst than getting that darn Chumbawamba song out of your head (you know the one!).
And even more creepy was hearing Alvin say “what’s up, playa” in the movie. That just felt offputting, even though I know Alvin is the cooler, “rebel chipmunk” and in today’s world, I suppose that would equate to using “gangsta speak”. But the 10 year old inside of me couldn’t help but cringe upon hearing that.
Another one of my qualms about the movie may be a bit hard to explain but perhaps if you were a fan of the television show, you would know what I am talking about. In the cartoon, it was explicitly understood that the chipmunks were, well, chipmunks but it was also implicitly understood that they were like deformed children due to their stature and somewhat similar appearance. I mean really now, they were as big as regular kids when compared to Dave! As you see from the picture to your left, they really just look like chubby cheeked children with strange hair ‘dos that matches their skintone and with an unfortunate wardrobe of nightgowns. With this perception and frame of reference, I took in the stories when I was young. Now, it’s actual (CGI’d) chipmunks that are the size of regular chipmunks (i.e. really small as opposed to the giant, kid-sized Chipmunks I am used to) alongside actual humans and real scenery. With the live-action adaptation, it’s really a suspension of belief and reality when taking in the story whereas before, it was simply preposterous all around and that was fine because it was just a cartoon, if that makes ANY sense at all. In other words, it was just a different experience back then, regardless of the age difference.
It was, however, nice to see David Cross in the movie as Ian the evil music exec who steals the Chipmunks away from Dave. But maybe I am just too used to seeing him as Tobias Fünke, former analrapist turned actor, to be able to see him as anything “evil”. (Sidenote: I really miss Arrested Development!) The quirkiness he brought to the storyline was a nice added touch to the movie and made it that much more entertaining.
Alvin and the Chipmunks is surely a movie targeted at a brand new generation, a generation who, according to the Youtube comments, are not familiar with the “old school” Alvin and the Chipmunks and thus have nothing to compare the movie to. It’s definitely not for those of us who are looking for a nostalgic experience that lets us reminisce on our wistful childhood memories. Ultimately, if it’s an audience that’s purely watching the movie without any preconceived notions about what exactly the Chipmunks were in its heyday, it is actually quite enjoyable. However, if you are one of those children of the ’80s who watched Alvin and the Chipmunks so much as a kid that you will immediately start singing along to the theme the second you hear the familiar riffs, then this 2007 version of Alvin and the Chipmunks will be rather disappointing.