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Non-Review Review: Alvin & The Chipmunks – Chipwrecked

I know it’s not exactly fair to blame Alvin & The Chipmunks, but I feel a bit spoilt by modern family entertainment. It’s easy to point to Pixar’s work, but I’m talking about the general standard of the output from Dreamworks and others like Despicable Me. However, Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked feels like what might have passed for children’s entertainment ten years ago, when it seemed like Disney was the only major American studio capable of producing consistently high-quality entertainment. Alvin and his friends feel out of place in a movie that might have been passable over a decade ago. It doesn’t help that the movie mistakes pop culture references and Lady Gaga songs for relevance.

All at sea?

To be fair, chipmunks are cute. I’m only human – there’s only so much I can resist adorable fluffy animals. Theodore (“the big-boned one”) and Simon are teeth-rottingly cute, and seem like pretty safe bets to support a film like this. However, any appeal of the chipmunks is undermined by Alvin himself, who falls into the role of “the cool one” in the group. Illustrating the core problem with the film, the movie seems to confuse “cool” with “insanely irritating and obnoxious.”

The movie follows Alvin, his associate chipmunks and the female “chipettes”as they embark on a family holiday with Dave, their put-upon owner. Alvin proceeds to engage in a variety of stunts that are increasingly immature, from hijacking the ship’s intercom to crashing a casino to getting his family stranded on a deserted island. Now, the film’s emotional arc tries to make the case that Alvin needs to mature, and he does – but the film ends with Dave also learning to mellow out and let the chipmunk be a chipmunk. And everybody lives happily ever after.

A glass act?

This is the same problem I had with Cars 2, where the offensive and immature Mater managed to receive an apology from Lightning McQueen – clearly McQueen was out-of-line to expect Mater not to be incredibly selfish and unreasonable. It’s one of those stock morals for family films, extolling the virtues of “always being yourself” – and I can’t blame the film for picking that as a starting point. Still, I wonder if it says something about modern culture that we’re so willing to embrace and excuse this sort of reckless and obnoxious behaviour as an expression of a child’s innerself. Perhaps that’s a debate best left for another time.

The film has other issues aside from that. Maybe I’m just too old for this stuff, there’s something distinctly unwholesome about chipmunks singing Lady Gaga. “I want your loving and I want your revenge,” is quite creepy to hear lead characters in a film clearly aimed towards the younger kids out there. I have relatively few problems with some of the innuendo snuck into movies like Puss in Boots, but it just seems strange here. Of course, some of the lyrics in the original Greasewere even more obscene, so perhaps I’m just being oversensitive. And, again, it’s a symptom of a wider issue I have with pop culture saturation for younger kids. It’s not something particular to this movie, though.

When the chips are down...

However, the film makes an increasingly common mistake for these types of films. In an attempt to construct a movie to appeal to the kids of today, the producers seem to equate pop culture references with relevance. So we get Alvin quoting Charlie Sheen’s “winning!”, a tired joke based around Cast Away, and sly references to Lost (“I can’t wait to tell the Others,” one insane castaway remarks). They aren’t exactly clever commentaries or shrewd observations – it’s just an attempt to insert a pop culture concept to get a cheap laugh. It’s strange that the movie goes to such lengths to mock Ian’s name-dropping (on selling the movie rights, he observes, “Kiera Knightley is interested – I’m thinking Fifty Cent for me?”), but then ends up doing exactly the same thing.

It’s a shame, because there are occasional gags that almost work – that are campy and cheesy, but in an endearing sort of way. There’s nothing groundbreakingly original here, but I quite liked moments that saw young Theodore watching a horror film or blowing out the fire keeping the camp warm, because it’s always lights out at bedtime. It’s straight out of the “family film playbook”, but these examples actually work much better than most of the film.

Isn't Dave giving them enough Jason Lee-way?

This ignores the fact that the movie makes little sense if you think about it at all. Elements like a lost treasure are randomly inserted with little foreshadowing. When the time comes to escape, they crew assemble a raft… which somehow involves a carefully-constructed steering wheel. Out of nowhere. Even the basic premise of the film doesn’t hold up. You could make the case that a passenger could fall off the cruiseliner unnoticed, but the ship’s mascot? How is it possible that anybody didn’t miss Ian? I’d think about it, but my brain might start to hurt.

It’s hard to get a sense of performances through the squeaky voiced used for the chipmunks (although Mathew Gray Gubler does the best job of the six actors), but the live action performers don’t distinguish themselves. I love Jason Lee, but here he just seems tired – even his understandable frustration with Alvin seems half-hearted, like he has given up. David Cross does slightly better as Ian, seemingly playing up the “pantomime” approach to the film – I wouldn’t call it “good”, but he seems to be trying a bit better. And Jenny Slade is absolutely terrible (as in “Disney Channel terrible”) as Zoe.

It’s hard to recommend the third Alvin & The Chipmunks film, if only because films have generally grown increasingly respectful of younger viewers in recent years. This feels like a bit of a throwback, a film constructed on the assumption that kids will love anything involving furry animals and Lady Gaga. It just feels like we’ve moved past the stage where we can feed kids this sort of thing and they’ll accept it.

One Response

  1. I love Janet’s solo sos song it was great

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