Let’s say you are an adult male, single. You’re unhappy with your advertising job, but you are a home owner, and you also own a whole bunch of instruments and recording equipment for pursuing your true passion of songwriting. You even have a very good connection – a college friend who runs a huge record label and who’s willing to listen to your demos. Only problem is your music is corny and old-fashioned, and he’s looking for terrible and new-fashioned. Also, you’re lonely because you were Afraid Of Commitment so your model-looking girlfriend left you. Then one day you steal an entire basket of muffins for no reason, and your hearing, eyesight and powers of observation are so off-the-charts terrible that you do not notice three large, talking anthropomorphized chipmunks loudly hanging from and climbing into your basket while you’re carrying it. So they hide in your house and eat a bunch of your food and for some reason you keep not hearing them even though they’re talking at normal volume in the same room as you. But you finally notice them so one of them farts in your face, they break a jar over your head and think they killed you so they discuss disposing of your body.
But when you wake up you throw them out of your house and then you hear them singing. You thought they could only talk but it turns out they can also sing. So what do you do?
If you’re Dave Seville, played by former actor Jason Lee in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, you decide to let the talking chipmunks who were about to dismember your corpse live in your house in exchange for recording your demos. Dave is in contention with GARFIELD’s Jon as the most pathetic portrayal of an adult male ever put on screen. He spends alot of this movie making dopey exaggerated smiles like a children’s show host while failing to quite make eye contact with his animated co-stars. He’s the type of character who mostly gets lines like, “Wait, Clare! Don’t go – I can explain!” and “Hey guys, I have an idea for a new song!” The edgiest thing he says in the movie is when he catches Alvin bathing in his dishwasher and he says, “Clam it, sudsy!”
After the talking chipmunks flood his house, hide syrupy waffles under his rugs and furniture, fill his refrigerator with garbage, get him fired from his job and humiliate him in front of his ex-girlfriend and others, but also record one novelty Christmas song, he decides that he loves them. But his record executive friend (David Cross) tells them Dave called them rats so they go to live with him and go on a world tour. As far as I can tell they only lived with Dave for about two days, but halfway through their world tour he’s still moping around the house reminiscing about the time they threw paper airplanes at his head. See, it’s just like Jon in GARFIELD, the cat insults him all day, flushes the toilet while he’s in the shower, but for some reason Jon bakes the cat lasagna and has him in all his photos.
With Cross the talking chipmunks get a taste of the boy band lifestyle. They get all the materialistic crap they want, wear silver clothes and they have to lip synch. This is supposed to be some kind of indictment of pre-fabricated pop music, because the way they’re living there is so soulless and godless compared to when they had less money but still trashed Dave’s house and took a shit on his couch and recorded that one song he wrote about how Alvin wanted a hula hoop. That was when the music meant something, man. I’m not sure why the filmatists think David Cross is such a bad guy for making chipmunks lip synch shitty music when they themselves make their living by making real human children watch a shitty commercial product like this. Seems a little hypocritical to me.
The writers try to show they’re aware of the absurdity of the concept. When Dave initially tries to throw them out of his house one chipmunk says, “But… we talk.” When he tries to convince Cross that a certain incident will ruin their career Cross says that it won’t because they’re talking chipmunks. When Dave wonders how they (SPOILER) escaped from the villain offscreen one says, “We’re talking chipmunks. We can escape from a cat carrier.” And I’m sure they’d have a similar answer if you asked how they got out of their recording contract at the end and were able to just leave the tour without a multi-million dollar lawsuit bankrupting them and their unemployed guardian.
That’s all fine and good but I’d rather see this kind of awareness from Dave. “Hey Dave, at the end how did you know your trademark was yelling ‘ALVVVINNN!!’ all the time even though that wasn’t really established that much in the movie?”
“I’m a man who raises three talking chipmunks as his sons. I can figure out my own catchphrase.”
See, I can accept talking chipmunks, that’s called suspension of the ol’ disbelief. But I have a harder time accepting the humans in this movie. They’re less believable than the clothes-wearing animals.
I know that compared to Garfield these chipmunks are Mother Teresa, but there’s still no reason to want the little bastards loose in your house. Instead of giving them personality, emotions, motives or something it seems like they just had some storyboard artists draw up all the different things they could jump on, swing from, or catapult across a room. No time to distinguish Alvin from the one with glasses, but wouldn’t it be cute if one of them slid into a bowl and jumped up like a snowboarder? I guess they do make a failed sitcom-style attempt to get Dave laid, but mostly they just ignore anything he says to them, spazz out and wreck shit in his house. Then after a couple days Dave acts like they’ve bonded and starts calling them “my boys.” The movie doesn’t justify this at all, it just needs to get to that plot point where Dave matures and wins back his ex. I mean, you know how it is. Women are always looking for a man who’s ready to have a family, or who puts clothes on forest creatures and pretends they’re his children.
This brings up another mystery of what the fuck was going through somebody’s head when they intentionally sent this fuckin thing out into the universe. Who did they think they were making it for? The comedy is clearly for kids around 5 and under, since aside from a couple semi-funny David Cross lines it’s all a bunch of flying around and smashing things and not much that could actually be considered “jokes” per se. So do they think kids will enjoy the plot, or do they think they’re doing the parents a favor by making it about a loser trying to win back his girlfriend by proving he’s a responsible family man? Do they believe there are parents out there saying, “Well, my kids loved the part where the chipmunk said the poop was a raisin and then had to put it in his mouth, but what I loved was the lesson Dave learned about fatherhood and responsiblity”?
Alot of critics theorized that kids wouldn’t like WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE because it doesn’t have a strong plot. Is this the kind of plot they wanted? Do kids even know what “afraid of commitment” means?
In my opinion the key to a good singing chipmunk movie is to have some kind of internal logic. There is no internal logic to this thing. We learn that other animals do not talk, but there’s no explaining or wondering why these particular chipmunks can talk. The three chipmunks all do the same thing, but for some reason it’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” What did he do to be named the leader? For that matter, what did he do to get Dave yelling his name all the time? They’re all tearing up the house but for some reason it’s only Alvin that gets yelled at.
There’s an old joke that little kids like, it goes like this: a guy’s pants fall down, and his underwear has hearts on it. So if you are a parent and your kid wants to see this movie, that’s cool and I’m sure they will enjoy all the farting and dancing. I don’t blame kids. But I do have to question the adults who spent a year of their lives making this. If your job is to work in movies then you’re lucky and you should show thanks to the universe by at least putting in a minimal amount of effort to try to do a good job. If you don’t want to do that you should be working at a factory or something.
Just because movies like this usually are crap doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to do better. If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well. Let’s see some hustle out there you crumb bums.
I noticed Arnon Milchan was one of the executive producers. So they could’ve advertised it as “From the producer of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and BRAZIL, and the director of GARFIELD: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES.” The director’s name is Tim Hill, his uncle George Roy directed BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and SLAP SHOT. The best thing the nephew did was MUPPETS FROM SPACE. The writers are Jon Vitti (Larry Sanders, Simpsons, King of the Hill), Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi (The Adventures of Pete and Pete). As you can see I looked them up on IMDb, which confirmed my hunch that all four of these men are adult professionals. So I feel they should be held accountable for their actions. They put their names on it. They signed the painting. And I’m sure they cashed the check. They should have to wear a giant A on their shirts.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.