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Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Blu-ray Review)

29 Mar, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/30/10
Box Office $218.7 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 two-DVD set, $39.99 Blu-ray]
Rated ‘PG’ for some mild rude humor.
Stars Jason Lee, David Cross, Zachary Levi, Wendie Malick.
Voices of Justin Long, Christina Applegate, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris.

This isn’t exactly a conventional “pick” — though I suppose it could be if you’re 5 — but its release this week does provide an opportunity to reflect on just how amazingly long the Chipmunks have been with us and lining the Bagdasarian family coffers.

I don’t remember what Dick Clark specifically used to call his “rate the record” segment on “American Bandstand,” but I actually saw the 1958 broadcast where David Seville’s “The Chipmunk Song” underwhelmed the voting teens. You never know about these things: I’ve seen a preserved 1957 kinescope of Washington, D.C’s then rival “The Milt Grant Show” in which some audio atrocity that may never have even been played again beat Johnny Mathis’s “It’s Not for Me To Say” (not only a subsequent smash but also a durable standard). But in the case of Song, OK: it did not have a good beat, and you couldn’t dance to it. You couldn’t even cop a feel to it.

No matter. Dick reminded his naive audience that Seville’s somewhat comparable “Witch Doctor” (pause here for an “ooh eeh ooh ah aah”) had busted the charts the previous spring — and then predicted that this follow-up recording (on Liberty Records, home of Eddie Cochran) would be just as big. Which it was — as a Christmas-1958 “wax” alternative to “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale (pause here for some “pa rum pump um pum”).

David Seville was a pseudonym for Ross Bagdasarian, previously known for co-writing Rosemary Clooney’s first huge smash (“Come-on-a My House”) and for playing the Greenwich Village songwriter who’s one of James Stewart’s more benign spying targets in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Ross Bagdasarian Jr. is the producer of this squeakquel (a word I’ll never remember how to spell) and of its 2007 predecessor Alvin and the Chipmunks, both of which did $217 million at North American box offices (though this one did even better in foreign markets). Capitalism has been having a tough go of it lately … but, really.

Betty Thomas directed this follow-up, which presumably makes her the only person to have directed both the Chipmunks and (in 1996’s Private Parts) Howard Stern. The sense of humor displayed here may be primitive, but one can argue it exists: I, for one, find the idea of pop stars Alvin, Simon and Theodore entering high school and being badgered by the movies’ standard issue of jock bullies at least passably amusing. At least, this isn’t another saga about musicians being lonely on the road and popping pills Johnny Cash style.

Disinterred here from the 1983 “Chipmunks” TV series are the Chipettes (another word that’s hard to remember how to spell). The boys’ former agent/manager (David Cross) no longer represents them, and he spots this girl group (voices of Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) with consumer potential. Again, for those who are 5.

This is one of the unintended by-products of the MPAA ratings system: the fact that there are specifically movies for the 5-year-old mindset. By the time I was between 5 and 6, I was immersed in Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Martin & Lewis on TV and had seen The Greatest Show on Earth in theaters plus a lot of Westerns (and those final Roy Rogers theatricals were and are surprisingly brutal). This said, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox — also just out from Alvin’s distributor (uh, Fox) — would have been very much to my taste, though it’s possible I’m being overly quaint. Today, a lot of 5-year-olds have probably sneaked several Kevin Smith movies in the privacy of their home on DVD — and are wondering what the deuce Jason Lee (as David) is doing playing straight man to rodents. Or at least rodents not named Jay and Silent Bob.

The costlier DVD/Blu-ray Squeak-Along editions predictably milk it some with added featurettes whose titles include “Meet the Chipettes” and “Shake Your Groove Thing!” Coming to theaters in December 2011, is Alvin and the Chipmunks 3D – along with, given that concept, a probable resurgence in LSD.


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