Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Justin Long, Jane Lynch, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney
Jon Vitti (and story), Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi, Ross Bagdasarian (characters, "Alvin and the Chipmunks")
Here comes trouble.
Struggling songwriter Dave Seville (Jason Lee) opens his home to a talented trio of chipmunks named Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, and they become overnight music sensations. But when a greedy record producer (David Cross) tries to exploit the "boys", Dave must use a little human ingenuity and a lot of 'munk mischief to get his furry family back before it's too late!
$44.307 million on 3475 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 91 min.
Release Date: 4/1/2008
• “Hitting the Harmony” Featurette
• “Chip-Chip-Hooray: Chipmunk History” Featurette
• Previews and Inside Look
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Alvin And The Chipmunks (2007)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 9, 2008)
If you look at the 10 highest grossing flicks of 2007, Alvin and the Chipmunks provides unquestionably the biggest surprise. An unassuming little animation/live-action hybrid update of the old David Seville characters came with little hype among many bigger hitters in the holiday season. Nonetheless, the flick surpassed virtually all expectations and made a stunning $215 million at the box office.
The vagaries of the “family film” market continue to confound me. Some believe audiences are so starved for relatively inoffensive material that almost anything in that category will score big bucks. However, this ignores he reams of quality “family friendly” efforts that tank. What made Alvin different? I have no idea, but something about it really appealed to mass audiences.
The flick introduces us to a trio of chipmunks: Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (voiced by Jesse McCartney). When their home gets cut down to become a Christmas tree, they stay on it and end up delivered to the offices of Jett Records.
Dave Seville (Jason Lee) works as a songwriter, but he seems to have lost his muse. Record exec Ian Hawke (David Cross) – also an old college classmate – tells Dave to give us the cause because songs boast no commercial appeal.
Enter the talents of our homeless chipmunks. They stow away in a muffin basket Dave steals from the record company and freak him out when he discovers them. After a rough start, Dave discovers that the rodents can sing like nobody’s business and he hatches a plan to revive his career. Inspired by their dreams of a happy Christmas, Dave quickly churns out a number called “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Is Here)”. After some snarls, the tune rockets to the top of the charts and the chipmunks become a pop sensation. The movie follows their adventures and the inevitable snags along the way.
We constantly hear about how audiences crave family films. That seems to explain the success of Alvin, though it doesn’t tell us why some flicks of this sort prosper and others tank. What about Alvin turned it into a megahit while other family-oriented pictures bombed?
I’ll be darned if I know. I guess there existed an untapped market for computer animated rodents. Maybe crossover appeal worked here, as adults who grew up with the Chipmunks might want to share the nostalgia with their kids.
Those are some theories, but I really can’t figure out the answer, as I find little here to distinguish Alvin from most other family flicks out there. That makes it neither bad nor good – it’s just “there”, without a whole lot of spark to lead me to figure out why it turned into a smash.
On its own merits, Alvin presents a mildly entertaining spectacle. It throws a lot at us and hopes some of it will stick. Clearly kids will get more of a kick out of the gags than adults will, although the flick tries to fling a few nuggets in the vague direction of the parents in the audience. A few mildly sly references come along for the ride, but the vast majority of the comedy remains aimed firmly at the youngsters.
At least the actors occasionally help make things more palatable for the adults. Cross provides a reasonably weaselly and amusing turn as the sleazy record company exec, and we also find a short but amusing turn from Jane Lynch as Dave’s boss; I wish we got more of her. I like Lee as a presence, though I wouldn’t call him much of an actor; he shows his usual broad work here, and a few small laughs emerge.
Overall, however, Alvin comes across as a bland and forgettable flick. I find it hard to muster much to say about the movie just because it’s so relentlessly ordinary. It creates a minor distraction for 90 minutes and then completely leaves your mind.
Footnote: stick through the end credits for a look at Chipmunks album covers throughout the years.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus D+
Alvin and the Chipmunks appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. No significant issues materialized here.
Only a few minor sharpness concerns appeared. A few shots demonstrated light softness, usually in wider images. The vast majority of the flick looked well-defined and accurate, though. No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained minimal. I saw no source flaws either during this clean presentation.
Though I expected a candy-colored palette for Alvin, the flick actually went with a moderately subdued set of tones. Hues stayed on the natural side, with a mild golden tint to things. Within those parameters, the colors looked fine. Blacks were dark and firm, while shadows appeared clear and well-developed. The mild softness was the main reason this transfer fell to a still strong “B+”.
Not a lot of action came with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Alvin and the Chipmunks. The soundfield stayed pretty subdued through much of the flick. The forward speakers brought out general atmosphere as well as a few minor examples of movement. Elements wound up in logical spots, but they just didn’t have a lot to do. Music showed good stereo imaging, at least, and the surrounds added moderate ambience. This wasn’t what I’d call an active mix, though.
Audio quality was fine though also unexceptional. Speech seemed concise and crisp, without edginess or other issues. Music seemed clear enough, though the score and songs didn’t come with a lot of oomph; low-end was somewhat lackluster. Effects sounded fairly accurate and distinctive, though they also didn’t pack a lot of punch. All of this was good enough for a “B-“, but I wouldn’t call this a memorable mix.
Given the movie’s enormous success, the lack of substantial extras comes as a surprise and a disappointment. A featurette called Hitting the Harmony runs eight minutes, 54 seconds and presents movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and interviews. We hear from executive music director Ali Dee and producer/vocalist Alana Da Fonseca. We learn about the songs for the flick and the recording process. Much of this seems fluffy and promotional, but I really like the bits that show how the do the Chipmunk vocals; it’s a hoot to watch the performers sing in half-time. Those parts alone make “Harmony” worth a look.
Chip-Chip-Hooray: Chipmunk History lasts 12 minutes, 17 seconds and features thoughts from producer Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and producer Janice Karman. Bagdasarian discusses the career of his dad and how the Chipmunks came to exist, and we also hear how the younger Ross resurrected the franchise in the 1980s. We learn a fair amount about how the Chipmunks started and developed over the years.
An ad for Nim’s Island opens the widescreen side of the DVD, while the fullscreen side presents a clip for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and Dr. Doolittle: Talk to the Chief. The disc also includes an Inside Look at Horton Hears a Who on the widescreen side, while the fullscreen version offers trailers for The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising and Garfield’s Fun Fest. No trailer for Alvin appears here, though we do find a promo for the soundtrack album.
Alvin and the Chipmunks became a major left-field hit, but I can’t figure out why. The film offers mild amusement but nothing much to make it stand out from the crowd. The DVD gives us good picture, ordinary audio, and minor extras. This is a decent release for a forgettable movie.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.1666 Stars
| Number of Votes: 18