December 13, 2007

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Alvin and the Chipmunks (PG)
A trio of chipmunks finds a home with an out-of-work songwriter in Alvin and the Chipmunks, a mix of animation (the chipmunks) and live action (everything else) based on that TV show you, admit it, used to watch on Saturday mornings as a kid.

Dave Seville (Jason Lee) works at an advertising firm but his real love is music. He desperately wants to sell his songs so he can ditch the day job, but his attempt at selling a moody emo tune to record company executive Ian (David Cross) falls short. Luckily for Dave, the newly installed Christmas tree he passes in the record company’s lobby is inhabited by a trio of talking, harmonizing chipmunks. They hop a ride on the muffin basket that Dave swiped off an assistant’s desk and wind up in his kitchen, where Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) very much enjoy the available junk food. Dave, naturally, does not enjoy having chipmunks in his home, especially when he finds out that they talk, and puts them outside. Soon, however, he’s won over by their singing abilities and makes a deal with them — they can stay if they’ll sing his songs. The first he writes is “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” which, once the ’Munks get over their shyness about singing to the high-intensity Ian, becomes a big hit. The song makes the Chipmunks stars but Dave — despite his protestations about them not being a family — is fatherly in his attempts to keep his Chipmunks from becoming all tied up in the trappings of fame. Ian, meanwhile, smells furry gold and tries to create a rift between Dave and his wards in order to get the Chipmunks and their earnings all to himself.

“The Chipmunk Song” has always been somewhere just above the barking dog “Jingle Bells” and the Muzak version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” on the list of Christmas songs that make me feel stabby. Surprisingly, though, I was not overwhelmed by unfocused rage upon hearing this song during the movie — it wasn’t until the movie started doing hip-hop remixes of Chipmunks songs that the music really started to grate on my nerves.

Even more surprisingly, though the movie was awash in doody humor, pratfalls and lots of what I’d consider really “big” comedy, I didn’t hate it. Jason Lee is a likeable single-guy-morphing-to-dad character, David Cross is funny as a fast-talking villain and Justin Long (with his voice pitched at dog-whistle level and invisible behind the cartoon Alvin) loses his Apple-shilling smugness. Alvin, Simon and Theodore are sweet enough heroes who mostly keep from being syrupy, babyish or self-consciously kid hip (in that way that makes so many of those Nickelodeon tween shows unwatchably shrill).

The movie moves at a nice clip — if some of the hackier jokes start to feel like too much, don’t worry because they’ll be gone and some gag involving hitting Dave on the head will fill the screen. And some of this fast-moving funny was even funny to me — like milk and cookies left out for Santa, the movie left me little snack-like one-liners about how weird it is to meet chipmunks who talk and sing.

I, of course, and grown-up people like me are mostly irrelevant to the movie’s success. In the theater where I saw this movie, the kids laughed and clapped and seemed to like the songs — which is sometimes the best you can ask of a movie featuring talking animals. As leery as you might be about 90 minutes of very high-pitched singing, this music and its accompanying good-hearted movie is far more tolerable than the barrage of carols you’d face (not to mention the far more garish scenery) during a similar amount of time at the mall. C+

Rated PG for some mild rude humor. Directed by Tim Hill and written by Jon Vitti, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi (from characters created by Ross Bagdasarian), Alvin and the Chipmunks is an hour and 31 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, Dec. 14. The movie is distributed by 20th Century Fox Distribution.