‘Chipmunks’ hits kid-friendly note
Don’t call it a comeback. The Chipmunks, those high-frequency crooners of yore, hardly ever went away -- they released music and videos right up until 2004. Now the rambunctious rodents are the latest franchise to get a reboot, bouncing and warbling through multiplexes in “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” a live-action/computer-generated holiday movie aimed straight at kids.
Jason Lee (freshly scrubbed from “My Name Is Earl”) is human friend and father figure Dave, an aspiring songwriter whose uninvited houseguests turn out to be talking, singing, dancing squirrels in search of a home -- and a family. The CG critters make cash register sounds go off in the head of greedy record-label executive Ian (David Cross), who pushes the chipmunk children to the brink with his relentless drive for bigger and bigger success.
For those who grew up with “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” -- and really, who under age 60 didn’t? -- there is something oddly comforting about hearing those 33-at-45-rpm three-part harmonies again. The nods to nostalgia are few, though, and subtle (i.e., Dave’s house number reflects the year of the group’s debut). If anything, it’s the perhaps intentionally cheapened, hyper-produced sound of the trio later in the film that makes one wish for the old versions of their songs. Even the newly recorded but still-sweet a cappella version of their signature tune suffers from a hint of that recent “American Idol” disease of look-at-me-look-at-me oversinging.
One can’t help but feel that accomplished comic actors such as Cross and the always-wonderful Jane Lynch are wasted in their simplistic roles. The action set pieces get tiresome, as adults may find much of the movie, and Dave’s obligatory cry of “Alll-vinnnnn!” feels unmotivated to the point of mechanical.
There is sweetness here, however. The scene in which Dave and the boys decorate the tree is charming, and the Chipmunks’ excited presentation of gifts to their human dad is actually sort of touching. And dang it, the little animated rodents are cute. Not as cute as the uber-rendered daemons of “The Golden Compass,” but they’ll do.
“Alvin and the Chipmunks.” MPAA rating: PG for some mild rude humor. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In wide release.