Ever since Alvin and his brothers debuted in 1958, movie, TV, and music producers have been able to count on the money-making combination of precocious animated rodents, kid-friendly plot lines and, most importantly, chart-topping pop music delivered in those trademark chipmunk vocals. The latest installment in the adventure is Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, the follow-up to 2007's hugely successful live-action/animation offering. To parents, the film is likely to feel like an innocuous but somewhat lazy cash grab, but kids (especially younger ones) will laugh and thrill on cue to the munks' latest exploits.
This story begins where the previous film ends; Alvin, Theodore, and Simon are world-touring mega-pop stars in the tender but exasperated care of their adoptive father Dave (Jason Lee). When Alvin's on-stage shenanigans land Dave in a Paris hospital, Dave decides his young charges need some regular life to combat their growing rock star egos. He sends them home for a dose of normalcy, complete with enrollment at the local high school. Of course, three tiny woodland creatures attempting to study, socialize, play dodge ball, and negotiate hallways with hundreds of full-sized (and heavy-footed) teenagers is anything but "normal." But this film, like the last one, wrings a lot of humor and charm from the idea that these three talented chipmunks are both an extraordinary novelty and also, psychologically, a lot like you and me (or our misbehaving children).
Life at home in Dave's absence does not go entirely as planned. The aunt who had agreed to care for the chipmunks is injured while picking them up at the hospital, leaving Dave's videogame-obsessed man-child cousin, Toby (Zachary Levi), officially in charge. Toby is benign but ineffectual, so the critters are essentially left to their own devices. The challenges they face include foraging dinner in the kitchen's barren cupboards, surviving attacks of high school bullies jealous of their popularity, and coping with Alvin's mushrooming ego as he discovers his abilities as a high school varsity football player. (I would comment here on the credibility of a six-inch rodent playing football, but as said rodent is already attending a human high school, a certain suspension of disbelief is assumed.)
In due course the munks are returned to their musical context, when the school's tightly wound principal Dr. Rubin (Wendie Malick) reveals that she is a closet fan and asks the trio to represent the school in a district music competition. Victory is assured until a new musical act arrives on the scene—three talented female chipmunks known as "The Chipettes" (voiced by Amy Poehler, Christian Applegate, and Anna Faris). Alvin, Theodore and Simon are less threatened than delighted—each finds his estrogen-ized counterpart, and love is in the air.
Unfortunately, villainous Ian Hawke (David Cross) is in the mix as well. The greedy record exec (who ruthlessly commandeered the chipmunks in the first film) is trying to claw his way back from professional ruin by managing the Chipettes and exploiting the girls just the way he did the boys. His machinations threaten to undo all six lovable creatures, unless Toby can man up, Alvin can put others first, and the chipmunks can collectively outsmart Ian.
The Squeakquel screening I attended was jammed pack with children, and they seemed uniformly enthusiastic about the movie. The filmmakers have made certain that not one of the film's 88 zippy minutes lags, and they've peppered the story with can't-miss gags (predictably involving flatulence and crotch injuries in the two instances that provoked the greatest laughter). When emotional content is required, the camera lingers on Theodore's tear-filled eyes just long enough to illicit empathetic "aws"—and then races on to the next diversion. And, as in the last film, the decision to have the chipmunks perform only the hottest Top 40 hits insures a hip factor that young kids seem to enjoy.
So perhaps it doesn't matter to the average seven-year-old that The Squeakquel squeaks by on the thinnest of human characters. Dave, traditionally the homosapiens centerpiece of all the chipmunk stories, is barely in this film, and compared to simpleton Toby, the last film's Dave begins to seem like a deeply nuanced character study. The bullies in this film behave highly erratically, moving incomprehensibly between good-natured ribbing and homicidal menace with little provocation. And the "let's-put-on-a-show" storylines in The Squeakquel make the High School Musical scenes they ape look like high art.
Of course, originality, coherent plotlines, and developed characters are probably asking a lot of a movie about singing rodents. Families looking for a pleasant diversion will get what they pay for with The Squeakquel. Like the catchy but ultimately empty pop ditties the chipmunks sing, this film is harmless, entertaining and disposable. In other words, it's another hit.Discussion starters
- Alvin's need for attention makes him funny and entertaining, but also sometimes inconsiderate of—or even dangerous to—others. Are you or your friends "life of the party" types? How do you balance having fun and thinking about others?
- Toby's shyness has kept him from getting to know the girl he likes or doing much with his life. Can you relate? What are some good ways to get past feeling awkward socially?
- Dave felt the chipmunks should have time away from the spotlight to live real life. Do you think fame is always unhealthy?
- Ian's desire for success made him fall into the same old patterns of using other people (and animals). Is it possible to be a good businessperson and still put the needs of others first?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is rated PG for some mild rude humor. Other than some scatological humor (one extended flatulence joke and a scene in which a villain receives an injury to his crotch), it's fairly wholesome. Some parents may find The Chipettes' wardrobe and dance moves to be a silly but annoying endorsement of the suggestive physicality that dominates much of today's pop music. There are one or two usages of the Lord's name in vain, and a few almost-curses (in which a character's dialogue trails off before the objectionable word is spoken).
Photos © 20th Century Fox
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