Much to the shock of just about every critic in the world, 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' was the surprise blockbuster of 2007, grossing over $200 million domestically. Such success proves, if nothing else, that Americans have a high tolerance for singing furry animals product-placed into vapid scripts, the kind where the human characters are a complete afterthought. Indeed, the only reason 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' really exists is because millions of kids find farting and belching CGI chipmunks funny. I weep for the future.
I must admit, however that 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' is the kind of movie that turns out to be not half-bad, if only because I expected it to be much worse. Having suffered through a batch of faddish Chipmunks albums in my youth ('Chipmunk Funk,' 'Urban Chipmunk' etc.), I fully expected to slit my wrists by the end of 90 minutes of lame pop songs with sped-up lyrics. It's miraculous, then, that I came away from the movie -- which, to be honest, is not a particularly good one -- at least mildly entertained. That's some kind of cinematic accomplishment, I guess?
The story as such involves one struggling songwriter named Dave Seville (Jason Lee). Apparently, he lives in a world where it is not unusual for chipmunks to talk and sing, so he takes in a trio of them named Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (voiced by Justin Long, Jesse McCartney and Matthew Gray Gubler, respectively). Of course, it turns out the little furballs are really misunderstood musical geniuses, and they soon become overnight popular sensations, the toast of the music world. Of course, any good kids movie also needs a silly villain, so figuring into the remix is an unscrupulous record producer (David Cross), who sets his sights on raiding Seville's discovery and taking all the acclaim for himself. (Figures -- record companies are the root of all evil these days, aren't they?)
Human performances in a movie like this are always secondary. Lee mugs endlessly, and ratchets up the volume level if only to keep up with a bunch of computer-generated chipmunks. He's appealing enough, however, to anchor the wafer-thin narrative, so I guess that's about all you can expect from such a thankless role. Cross is more of a disappointment, as he displayed an edge in his 'Mr. Show' work, but is pretty much neutered here. Cameron Richardson, as Lee's girlfriend, also doesn't register since she is given absolutely nothing to do (apparently, Jennifer Love Hewitt was too busy doing another 'Garfield' movie). How fitting, then, that the best performances is the voice cast led by Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, and Matthew Gray Gubler, even if the effect of the super-sped-up dialogue is like listening to a 33rpm record played back at 45rpm for 90 minutes.
Adding a weird little layer to all of this is the way Seville and the world react to the chipmunks. I know that a movie called 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' is not supposed to be rooted in reality, but neither the script nor the filmmakers attempt to create even a somewhat plausible alternate universe with its own rules and regulations. Instead, the chipmunks immediately know everything about us crazy humans and our pop culture. I also couldn't figure out why Alvin was the star -- sure, he's smarter than the other two, but he's not necessarily more charismatic, so why does he get top billing? Simon and Theodore, you need a new agent -- or your own spin-off.
I suppose I'm asking too many questions of a movie like 'Alvin and the Chipmunks.' It's an obvious corporate product, one designed to pry children away from their lunch money for all sorts of tie-in merchandising. On that level, it succeeds. It's also just so darn cute and relentless (I admit, when Alvin belched the first time, I snickered) that it's no surprise all of America's youths under the age of 8 were enthralled. Yes, 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' is harmless and enjoyable, but I still wish it had set its creative heights a little higher.
'Alvin and the Chipmunks' comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, framed at 1.85:1. It's a colorful and generally appealing presentation, if about as realistic as a CGI chipmunk.
The transfer tarts up the colors, particularly the color-coded outfits worn by Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. Primaries hold firm, however, with a nice vibrancy and stability (if a whiff of noise on the most saturated hues). The source is also pristine, and I enjoyed the rich, inky blacks. As is typical with these CGI/live-action hybrids, however, there is a very unreal quality to the jacked-up contrast that gives everything a digital sheen, which certainly doesn't help natural fleshtones. Detail is often very good if a bit washed out, while depth certainly pops. Fox has also served up a nice 'n' clean AVC encode, so there are no obvious compression issues. I wasn't blown away here, but 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' certainly looks bright and perky.
Fox provides one of their standard-issue DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround tracks (48kHz/24-bit) for the film I didn't love the soundtrack, but it certainly supports the energetic, kid-friendly material just fine.
Surrounds are zippy. Once the chipmunks arrive on the scene, they get into all manner of silly escapades, which are accompanied by nicely directed discrete effects and a lively and sustained presence to the rears. The brain-drilling songs are also very peppy and forceful in the mix, with deep bass and a well-recorded sheen to the rest of the frequency spectrum. Dialogue is also well balanced, so even the forgettable human characters weren't overwhelmed by Alvin and his cohorts. To be honest, nothing about this mix really stands tall with the best soundtracks I've heard on Blu-ray, but I can't imagine the target tyke audience complaining.
For a movie that grossed over $200 million at the domestic box office, this is sure a piss-poor batch of supplements. Alvin and friends, you deserve better. (All of the extras are in full 1080 HD, and include English, French, and Spanish subtitle options.)
'Alvin and the Chipmunks' is a pretty threadbare if mildly entertaining yarn that the kiddies will undoubtedly love. Indeed, your biggest decision when it comes to buying this Blu-ray has nothing to do with the disc's quality -- the video and audio are up to snuff, even if the extras aren't -- but whether you want to suffer through your kids watching this flick a thousand times. I found 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' cute for one viewing, but that was enough.