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Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/1/2008

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/22/2008

Over the past few years, I've noticed two distinct, yet related, phenomena which pertain to movies. First, many, many people (and I'm assuming that these are young people) have either forgotten or have never known what a truly bad movie is. I'm talking about a movie which is out of focus and the characters don't have names. Secondly, the popularity and anonymity (the second being much more detrimental than the first) of the internet has created a generation of online movie critics who want the world to know that every movie that they see "sucks". So, we have a lot of people accusing every movie of being awful when they don't know what awful really is. Last year's Alvin and the Chipmunks became the target of a great deal of scorn (especially when it's box-office total soared). I'm not here to shill for that movie. But, I am here to differentiate between a truly "bad" movie and a mediocre family film.

Alvin and the Chipmunks is an updated version of classic characters which were originally created in 1958 through song and then made their way to animation. This new live-action film begins with the introduction of the three chipmunks, Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (voiced by Jesse McCartney), in their natural habitat. When their tree is chopped down to be used as a Christmas decoration, they find themselves in the lobby of Jett Records. There, they hitch a ride with down-on-his-luck musician Dave Seville (Jason Lee), who has just been rejected by record executive Ian Hawke (David Cross). Back at Dave's apartment, the man is furious and a bit disturbed to meet talking chipmunks, but once he learns that they can sing, he decides to work with them. The Chipmunks record a Christmas song written by Dave, and thanks to the help of Ian, it immediately becomes a smash hit. Dave is happy to have finally made it in the music industry and the Chipmunks are simply having fun with their new life. But, Ian has sinister plans to make the Chipmunks his own and to make as much money as possible with them.

I hate to sound like John Fox, the coach of the Carolina Panthers, but Alvin and the Chipmunks "is what it is". This is simply a middle-of-the-road movie aimed squarely at children with some jokes here and there for grown-ups. The adults in the audience will know the characters from either their original incarnation in the 1950s & 60s, or from their revival in the 1980s. (Where the Chipmunks were doing cover versions of many popular songs.) Kids who have probably never heard of Alvin and the Chipmunks (my children certainly hadn't) will discover characters who embody both the cute and the familiar.

The most successful aspect of Alvin and the Chipmunks is that most any child (or parent) can relate to the core characters. Alvin is the sassy one, who is always getting in trouble because he refuses to follow orders. Simon is the intellectual and analytical one who always has an answer. Theodore, the youngest, is the naive innocent who only wants to see good in the world. Granted, those are stereotypes, but most children will fall into one of those roles and thus will identify with the characters. As for parents, Dave personifies the love 'em one minute, yelling at them the next experience which many parents have with their children. If Alvin and the Chipmunks does anything right, it's the creation of the bond between Dave and the Chipmunks, and only the most cynical in the audience won't smile when Theodore asks if he can sleep with Dave.

The film's problems are related to the unoriginal and predictable story. Alvin and the Chipmunks plays like a greatest hits of movies in this genre and we get all of the high notes -- stranger takes in lost character(s); relationship is formed; someone comes between them; rumors and lies are mistaken for the truth; feelings are hurt; both parties must struggle to be reunited. There isn't a single new idea here, and this really undercuts the film, as the Chipmunks deserve better. Dave's character is underwritten, and Ian is a truly stereotypical villain, despite the presence of the usually solid David Cross. Cameron Richardson plays Claire, Dave's ex-girlfriend who is still in his life for some reason. This sub-plot never makes sense and feels very tacked on. The movie, like so many others of this ilk, also tries too hard to be cool, by, ironically, throwing really lame music at us.

But, none of these plot-holes or hackneyed ideas mattered to my kids when they watched the movie. They loved the Chipmunks and laughed at their shenanigans. And, again, this is what the movie is all about. Youngsters will most likely adore the Chipmunks and find them enthralling, and there's nothing here to seriously tarnish anyone's fond memories of the Chipmunks of days gone by. The movie isn't great, but no one should expect it to be. But, as Ian says in the film, "They're chipmunks who can talk. People will pay to see it."

Alvin and the Chipmunks stuffs its cheeks with DVDs courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD features both the fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is yet another one of those Fox preview discs, so the transfer shows some issues. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and this is important here, as the Chipmunks each sport their signature color. However, artifacting and pixellation abound here, with any sudden movement by a character resulting in a degraded picture. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine. The concert scenes result in some nice surround sound effects from the crowd noise and the in-film music sounds good, as it provides much-needed bass effects. However, for the most part, the audio is limited to the center channel.

The Alvin and the Chipmunks DVD is a two-sided disc, or a "flipper" and the special features are split between the two sides. The fullscreen side features "Chip-Chip-Hooray! Chipmunk History" (12 minutes), which features an interview with Ross Bagdassarian Jr., the son of the Ross Bagdassarian Sr., the creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks. He describes his father's career and how the Chipmunks were created. Although the original Chipmunk music isn't included here, there are clips from the 1960s and the 1980s TV show. There are also comments from producer Janice Karman, who helped revive the Chipmunks in the 80s. The widescreen side contains only one extra as well. "Hitting the Harmony" (9 minutes) is an interview with executive music director Ali Dee and producer Alana Da Fonseca, who describe the work which went into creating the music for the film. We are treated to a great deal of footage showing the duo in the studio working with vocalists and musicians.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has also brought Alvin and the Chipmunks to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the disc offers an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear here, showing no grain (save for some exterior shots in the opening sequence) and no defects from the source materials. The colors are very good, most notably the Chipmunks trademark tones. The picture has a satisfying amount of depth and the image is quite detailed. I did note that some scenes are somewhat dark, however there is no overt artifacting or vide noise present. The Blu-ray Disc carries a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The film's music sounds great on this track -- simply go to the "Witch Doctor" scene and feel that bass. The stereo effects are good and offer a nice amount of detail. The surround effects, especially those of concert crowds, are nicely effective. This isn't exactly a reference transfer, but for a film of this nature, it's perfect.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long