Blockbusters come in all shapes and sizes – children’s movies are at a premium during the Summer holiday break. The all singing, all dancing, mischievous furry trio who never grow up are back, The Chipmunks. After three consecutive poorly reviewed but hugely popular films, this micro-voiced troupe of Alvin, Theodore and Simon return stirring up trouble around Miami in The Road Chip, out Boxing day.
Originally unleashed as an animated singing group in 1958 created by writer / composer Ross Bagdasarian, the hand drawn non Disney animated high pitched group were considered annoying by many (still are) but gained an instant cult following appearing in their own television series or special guest appearances on talk shows done with old school trick photography.
Surprisingly they also made it to top of the pops spawning a string of records including Chipmunk ago-go (1965) and Chipmunk Punk (1980) which included their versions of My Sharona & Crazy Little thing called Love. A few Christmas collections have also been released over the years that are now collector items.
Their big screen debut came in 1987, A Chipmunk Adventure did big business building new fans looking for an alternative to Care Bares or Muppet movies of the time. Featured in the voice cast is Nancy Cartwright who only a couple of years later would be best known as the voice of Bart Simpson among other beloved Simpsons characters.
Soundtrack film clip spin-offs followed along with ordinary straight to home video titles like Scooby Doo rip-off; The Chipmunks meet Frankenstein, kept hardcore fans happy. However it wasn’t until 2007 that a real dawn of the modern Chipmunk resurrection occurred. Alvin and the Chipmunks exceeded early box office projections and movie analyst expectations with the release of the part animated part live action romp. Former professional Skateboarder and mostly independent film star Jason Lee (Chasing Amy, Almost Famous) took on the lead after a procession of higher profile names such as Bill Murray passed (probably after the pain of accepting Garfield).
Giving respect to the original creation while incorporating modern technology and pop songs, 20th Century Fox had a global critic proof smash on their books. Established actor Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers) recorded the voice of main ‘munk’ Alvin in his own voice later sped up for irritating original effect. During the pre-digital crossover age in the cinema industry where one large heavy film print would usually cater for multiple sessions, the aptly titled The Squeakquel had families lining up around the block. House full signs went up in the Summer of 09 in cinemas all over the country.
The female Chipmunk equivalent harmony group, led by Amy Poehler as Eleanor of The Chipettes, were introduced in a story concerning a cruise ship. Fans of American motor racing identity NASCAR may fondly remember a cameo from their mascot gopher, Digger. 2011 brought on the next installment, a tropical island journey known as Chipwrecked. Despite the worst of critical reactions to date, it’s still the money spinner.
Far from a cinematic highpoint by any stretch, it was obvious that the antics of these singing nutcrackers were the alternative choice to Smurfs who had their very own big screen resurgence around the same time.
Jason Lee having appeared in the entire updated canon upsets his surrogate animated children by entering a new relationship with a partner who already has a child of her own. Madcap sibling rivalry of the chipmunk kind ensues.
With the onslaught of choices for families to take their little ones to the cinema over the holidays, the right decision has to be made – tickets are not cheap. The return of Alvin & the Chipmunks causing mayhem in Miami during Part 4 has enough brand recognition covering generations to make this the pick for essential pre-teen viewing, despite what us critics say.
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.