The life cycle of urban slang:
Stage 1: The miracle of birth. Somewhere in the United States, young African Americans decide to start using “holla” (as in “holler”) to describe talking to each other. “If you need anything, holla at me.”
Stage 2: The use of “holla” spreads and evolves. At some point, a rapper decides to yell it to a crowd, a call for a response. “HOLLA!” It becomes a trademark catchphrase for the Rocafella label. Other rappers like it, want to get in on the action.
Stage 3: Holla becames available for home use. People full of hot air who are in jobs where it’s important to maintain an image of with-it-ness (mostly commercial radio DJs and BET hosts) overuse the term.
Stage 4: White people find out and start using it. They sort of have a sense of what it might mean, but it doesn’t matter because it’s divorced of all context. It’s supposed to automatically denote insider status or “being down.” The meaning of the word “Holla!” is now “I have heard this word, ‘Holla!’ and I can prove it by saying it out loud!”
Final stage: A cartoon animal or elderly person says it in a movie, and that’s supposed to be funny.
In the opening of BABE PIG IN THE CITY, if I remember right, the pig’s innocent curiosity caused an accident that put the farmer in traction. This gave the pig a tremendous guilt and was the motivation for the story: with the farmer unable to work the bank tries to claim his property, and the pig must perform in a fair to try to get some money.
In the opening of ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL Alvin’s egomaniacal stage-hogging causes an accident that puts Dave in traction, and this is just an excuse for Jason Lee to get out of filming for more than one or two days.
The movie seems to admit that its title character is an obnoxious little shit. Over the title he maniacally cackles, “We’re baaaaa-aaaaack!” like he’s taunting the poor sucker parents who took their kids to see this. Shortly after that the hospital staff knocks Alvin unconscious with a sedative to get him out of their hair, and his brother Simon requests another dose.
But I gotta say, this is a far more competent movie than the first one, and that’s kind of disappointing. For squeakquel they got once semi-respectable director Betty Thomas (PRIVATE PARTS, THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, LATE SHIFT) and even cine-nut-tographer Anthony B. Richmond (DON’T LOOK NOW, THE INDIAN RUNNER), and they made it a little saner and more pleasant looking. It’s not improved enough to be an actual good movie, but it makes alot more sense, so unfortunately it’s not BATMAN AND ROBIN to the first one’s BATMAN FOREVER.
This time Simon is portrayed as a nerd, so now all three chipmunks have recognizably different personalities. They made Alvin’s popularity and spotlight hogging a theme, so now it almost makes sense that the group is called “Alvin and the Chipmunks” even though the three of them just do the exact same thing at the same time and there isn’t really a leader. Instead of just having them run around pooping and breaking things this one has more quiet moments and character subplots where they try to be good brothers and what not. Emotional stuff. I mean, in the middle of the most sentimental scene, where Theodore goes looking for adult support after a nightmare, he almost gets suffocated by a fart. But still, they’re obviously making more of an effort to create a passable movie.
Part of the idea of the movie is actually pretty funny too. Since they’re going with this idea of talking chipmunks being treated as human children they might as well go all the way with it, so they send them to high school. It’s kinda funny to see them trying not to get stepped on in the halls, getting attention from human girls, getting picked on by jocks, and especially getting nailed in dodgeball. But then it just turns into a battle of the bands thing because their old nemesis (David Cross) has a new trick up his sleeve: “girl chipmunks.”
This is definitely the crazy fucked up part of the movie: a trio of girl versions of the Chipmunks show up in the mail. There’s no explanation for why these three can talk, since there was no explanation for why the original three could talk. They literally look like the Chipmunks with girl’s hair and eyelashes added, but the two trios are immediately attracted to their opposite gendered doppelgangers. They want to love themselves in drag. I guess you could argue it would be even weirder if they were attracted to girls who looked exactly like their brothers, or that it’s more fucked up that there are human girls screaming lustily for a chipmunk in this movie. But still man, this shit is weird. It’s like Patrick Swayze in ROAD HOUSE dating Patrick Swayze in TO WONG FOO.
I gotta admit, there’s actually a couple pretty funny lines in this one, and sometimes it gets a chuckle just by showing adult professionals treating animals as children, like when the music teacher calls home because she’s worried about a chipmunk seeming depressed and unmotivated. But more often there are scenes of people tripping over things or falling down stairs (including a nice old lady in a wheelchair who’s introduced into the story only to be immediately disposed of by dumping her backwards down some stairs). The biggest headscratcher for me was when Alvin says his friend Digger is gonna help, and then a talking cartoon mole pops out of the ground and says one line and then is never seen or mentioned again. Looking it up on Google I learned that 1. lots of other people had to look that up to figure out what the hell it was 2. it was the mascot for a certain camera used on Fox coverage of NASCAR races but they abandoned it because everybody thought it was stupid. 3. I still don’t think I get it.
By the way, “squeakquel” means “sequel” in chipmunk language, not “prequel.” Chipmunks call a “prequel” a “pawquel.”
In the review of the first movie I didn’t talk about the music. It doesn’t make sense that the Chipmunks become huge stadium-playing rock stars just by singing high pitched cover songs, but I guess that’s what the old Chipmunk novelty records mostly were anyway. Except for the Christmas song and that experimental period when they were hanging out with Ornette Coleman and doing a residency at the Knitting Factory and all that stuff.
So not surprisingly the songs in these movies are a new level of crap – taking mostly familiar songs and doing them not only in sped up voices, but with vocal arrangements for the American Idol/High School Musical type of tacky vocal theatrics and robot voiced studio tricks. Alvin even sounds auto-tuned sometimes in this one! Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of a singing chipmunk? If he can’t stay in tune without computers he could be just any chipmunk off the streets.
But there’s something kind of hilariously awful about the girl chipmunks singing the song “Single Ladies” by Beyonce and doing the dance from the video. I’m rarely up on popular music and that was a song I had heard of without actually hearing it, but I did see whichever award show that was where Kanye West interrupted the teenage country singer and told her she didn’t deserve the award because Beyonce made “one of the best videos of all time. OF ALL TIME.” With that kind of acclaim I had to look it up on the youtube or whatever.
Well, it’s no “Smooth Criminal” that’s for sure, but it’s a catchy as hell song and a cool video, the way it’s all done like it’s one continuous shot with them doing this weird dance and all this. I like it. However, I do not feel that it is appropriate material for teenage singing chipmunks. They are much too young to be singing about “if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” I mean god forbid the boy Chipmunks take that to heart and get married at that young age. You really think a talking chipmunk who has everything he wants, never had to work a day in his life and has only just now begun school should settle down with the first exact girl duplicate of himself that he meets? I think that would be a big mistake. He needs to live more, he needs to meet more people and animals, he needs to sew his wild nuts with some of those human girls that were flirting with him. Only then will he know if he truly loves the girl version of himself.
In fact, Dave is their father figure and he didn’t settle down until well into his 30s. I don’t know about chipmunks, but humans tend to follow the patterns set by their parents. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alvin ends up raising three asshole bees or caterpillars or something and calling them a family, to impress Girl Alvin when she thinks he’s not mature enough for her.
Shit, I wonder what happened to their real parents? There could be a serious lawsuit somewhere down the line, those gold digger chipmunk parents might show up and try to cash in on all their success, and take them away from Dave. I don’t know what kind of legal claim he really has to them. It would be like her family in MILLION DOLLAR BABY when they show up. There’s alot of interesting stuff that could happen in the next one, obviously titled ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: PORT OF SQUIRREL NEW ORLEANS. I think they should skip ahead 30 years and have past-their-prime Chipmunks staging a pathetic comeback tour, living in filth because they don’t own any of their publishing, because all they did was sing songs by the Monkees and the Kinks and stuff. And probly Alvin wouldn’t even be in that one, he left the group and was replaced by a different animal like twelve years ago.
Now, I’m not gonna get mad about these movies existing. If kids and stoners want to watch it that’s fine. But it is a little sad that it would be such a huge hit in a year when there’s no shortage of family movies that treat kids and parents with respect and expend huge amounts of effort and artistic expression on them instead of just cynically throwing products at them. UP made more money but otherwise SQUEAKQUEL destroyed them all. As you can see in the chart below there were four beloved instant classic family movies in 2009 that you could add the box office of together to almost equal what SQUEAKQUEL made.
I believe that if a straight to video UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequel can be great then a talking chipmunk movie can be better this. And some of the movies below (which don’t even include all the animated and family movies I heard were good this year, just the ones I happened to see) prove that some people who make these movies take their jobs seriously. So I guess the bad news is that they’re not getting rewarded as well as they should, but the good news is they’re out there.
APPENDIX A: approximate U.S. box office for selected 2009 family films:
UP – $293 million
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL – $218 million
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – $77 million
CORALINE – $75 million
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX – $20 million
PONYO – $15 million
Okay guys, I promise the next review I post will not have talking animals in it. And to reward you for getting this far I want to share an old video by Kanye West (in collaboration with the director of one of the above movies) that’s actually better than that Beyonce video he called the greatest of all time. Is it possible that Kanye was actually being humble?
I guess you can’t embed this one but trust me, it’s worth your three minutes. click here
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.