Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mini Movie Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks

Those of us who watched the original television series of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" will agree that a big-screen adaptation of the adventures of our favorite rock star vermin certainly had potential. With the creative chops of "Simpsons" writer Jon Vitti, the film seemed destined for greatness, or at least watchability.

Unfortunately, Vitti and his team made the bewildering decision to shoot much of the film in zero gravity. A little over half of the scenes of the movie take place in null gravity, and the lack of a satisfactory explanation for this occurrence gives the film an unpleasantly-surreal flavor. Sometimes the transitions are jarring: in one scene, for example, floundering songwriter Dave Seville has scheduled a meeting with a record exec after discovering the chipmunks' singing ability. His efforts to showcase the critters and cut an album deal are tainted by the cinematography: the drive to the record studio is uneventful, but the subsequent "waiting room" scene scans like an "Apollo 13" deleted scene: dotted with floating copies of "Time", bamboo chairs and a very-peeved receptionist. I'm as big a fan of physics as the next guy, but this is just ridiculous.

The voice-acting is spot-on, of course, for the first two-thirds or so of the film. Those familiar with the American Union of Voice Actors strike will recall that Fox was forced to bring in scab voice actors for some of the final scenes (due to the looser rules of the AUVA, scab actors are permitted for the purposes of finishing a film but not for new projects). I just wish that they had found more suitable voices - hearing Gilbert Gottfried voice all three chipmunks for the final few acts is fun for a few minutes, but quickly becomes jarring through his unsuccessful attempts to disguise his voice to accommodate three different characters. Scenes where the chipmunks speak with each other are particularly offsetting as it becomes clear that Gil shot all of his lines in one take.

Even the Goofy cartoon preceding the film is hit-or-miss; the animation is strong, and most of the slapstick humor is funny, but Disney's decision to indulge in a fairly strong bit of scatalogical humor for the toon's final seconds limits the cartoon's appeal, particularly for parents concerned for their children's viewing habits (another question: will the soon-to-be-infamous "colostomy bag" scene makes it onto the Chipmunks DVD as a special feature?).

I have now watched the film several times and cannot help but think that the movie would have benefited from more traditional methods: full gravity in all scenes, and consistent voice-acting throughout. Were those points respected I could forgive some of the more serious plot missteps of the film (the creepy "persistent imaginary friend" subplot, all-bluegrass soundtrack and inexplicable appearance of Cruella de Vil as the principal villain). Those intending to watch the film should decide carefully if they will still enjoy the film despite these significant issues.

FINAL GRADE: J+ and throw on a star and a quarter for good measure

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