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CW's Review of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

rated it: posted: Dec 24, 2009
Reviews: 51 | Reviewing Ninja
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(The following review is edited for spoilers and content. A full, uncensored review is posted here.)

I’ve found that entertaining movies make me eat popcorn very quickly. Although 2012 was chock full of problems, I consumed a decent sized bag of popcorn during the first 3/5 of the movie. I had fun making fun of the movie. A similar thing happened with The Princess and the Frog, I consumed a lot of popcorn while enjoying a refreshingly new Disney movie. But it’s the truly entertaining movies that make me set the popcorn aside, and by the time I was finished watching Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, including the secret post-credits end scene, I still had some popcorn left. The Squeakquel is much shorter than 2012 was, yes, but I also bought a much smaller bag of popcorn, one that I should’ve been able to burn through rather quickly. I also barely touched the drink I purchased. But be warned: although I found it to be entertaining, I can see how this movie can also suck.

This movie is pretty much a high school musical. Er, a musical set in a high school. There, that sounds better. It even has a plot that could’ve been rewritten slightly to accommodate a completely human cast and retitled High School Musical 4. In the end, it’s a standard happy ending for all, where all the bad guys of the movie get their just desserts and all the good guys live happily ever after (at least until they announce a third movie).

By now, it’s very clear to me that this and the previous movie represent a complete reboot in the Chipmunks continuity, just like what Star Trek, Casino Royale and Batman Begins did to their respective continuities; not just an updated remake like The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven and The Thomas Crown Affair. And yet this movie felt like an extended episode of the 80’s series, whereas the 2007 movie felt more like a veiled criticism of the music industry disguised as a Chipmunks movie.

Those who have seen the original series (or maybe just the first movie) know how ridiculous some of the stories could be. The 80’s series had its moments, but the first movie set the precedent: would you really expect a bunch of kids, especially famous ones like the Chipmunks and the Chipettes, to be able to take care of themselves while they’re on their way around the world piloting a pair of hot air balloons? Hot Air Henry had all sorts of problems during his short, accidental flight. Not to mention that it would be all over the entertainment news if they did.

Even on their albums, the Chipmunks demonstrated a capability to do ridiculous and amazing things. They never showed much interest in school, so when the roof was being fixed for some reason that wasn’t specified, the boys sang “I Love A Rainy Night” and somehow summoned a thunderstorm that was so severe, it caused probably the worst flooding their hometown had ever seen, all within the span of a couple minutes. They even swiped a rocket and managed to launch it without anyone able to stop them and sang “Rocket Man” when Dave wanted them to return it. And while singing “Ho Ho Ho”, they seemed to demonstrate a psychic ability to simultaneously come up with the same improvised lyrics (either that, or they secretly rewrote the lyrics while Dave wasn’t looking) and sing them perfectly in three part harmony.

For the 2007 movie, a more down to earth story was written, although you still had to stretch logic in order to make it work, and you had to try your best to ignore the way Ian made all music producers look bad. Whoever wrote the movie must’ve been fired or something, because like I said before, the writing for the Squeakquel resembles some of the old 80’s material while remaining set within the new, updated Chipmunks universe.

Case in point, the Squeakquel opens at a Chipmunks charity concert, where Alvin’s over the top antics cause a Bret Michaels moment for poor Dave Seville: a stage prop drops down and whacks him on the head, putting him out of commission for the majority of the movie (I wonder if Jason Lee had a prior engagement, but was still available to film five or six scenes for the movie, three of which included the Dave Seville trademark “Aaaaaaalviiiin!”). Then, right before the boys are to go with their Aunt Jackie (although I would say she’s more of a great aunt, if she’s Dave’s aunt), she takes a tumble, backwards, down a flight of airport stairs in her wheelchair. By now, with both responsible people in the hospital through no fault of their own, the irresponsible Toby Seville (Dave’s cousin) is all that’s left to take care of the Chipmunks, but he can’t be bothered because all he’d rather do is sit around all day playing DS, Wii and Xbox 360 games. Simon’s supposedly in charge, but although he’s much more mature now, he’s hardly shown being in charge of anything. There are maybe one or two scenes where he shows that he’s trying - including one scene where he makes a disparaging comment about one of Toby’s food habits, but given that the Chipmunks did a similar thing with waffles in the 2007 movie, it makes him seem slightly hypocritical - but for the majority of the movie, he just gets into conflicts with Alvin over how he chooses to use his time.

Speaking of video games: just like in the 2007 movie, the Squeakquel contains obvious product placement. At one point, the camera pans across a room, and in the background are various gaming paraphernalia, including an issue of a magazine that clearly states that there’s an article on Fallout 3 inside of it, and the camera waits until the audience has had enough time to notice and read it before changing focus. Also, Alvin and Toby play Wii Bowling in a scene that closely resembles every Wii gamer’s worst nightmare. And everyone seems to have iPhones this time around.

I felt the character of Toby seemed to be just a rehash of Dave from the first movie. Toby was awkward with love just like Dave, except even more so. At one point, his clumsiness caused him to break a drum and then flee the room. Then, at the end, he managed to get the girl anyway. Toby manages to get through the movie without changing much, though. I have no doubt that after the events of the Squeakquel, he’ll probably fall back to his old gaming ways.

I mentioned that Simon’s much more mature now. In fact, all three Chipmunks act more mature in the Squeakquel. They’ve definitely grown up a lot since the 2007 movie, where Simon stated that they’re just kids. Despite how much the boys get on Dave’s nerves, he’s obviously been a good influence on them. At least Dave doesn’t have to worry about being reminded of the size of Theodore’s butt anymore.

He might have to worry about Ian Hawke, though. In the 2007 movie, Ian seemed modeled after former boy-band manager Lou Pearlman. Since 2007, Pearlman has been convicted and jailed for various offenses related to one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in American history. Ian, however, seems to have had better luck, for he’s merely homeless. Apparently, when you get caught lip syncing, public backlash is random. No one cared that Boney M did it, since the practice was common at the time it was discovered. When Milli Vanilli did it, it was suddenly an unforgivable crime, even though the same guy was behind both Milli Vanilli and Boney M. When the Chipmunks let the cat out of the bag at the end of the 2007 movie, it apparently hasn’t hurt their music career, but Ian Hawke has ended up practically bankrupt, for he eats out of Dumpsters while living in the basement of Jett Records, and surreptitiously brushes his teeth when he thinks no one is watching. Somehow, though, he can gain access to video recording equipment and a computer with an Internet connection long enough to upload videos to YouTube.

But this brings up a good point: the universe that the Chipmunks exist in is full of holes if you think about it. Everyone is willing to accept singing chipmunks, except when it’s convenient to the plot that you don’t accept singing chipmunks. Singing chipmunks have freakish upper body strength, even more so than certain mathematics nerds. There are other intelligent animals other than chipmunks, but they’re few and far between. Music becomes popular very, very quickly, and if you upload something to any kind of public network, you can get everyone’s attention with minimal effort (...okay, I’m willing to concede this point in light of evidence supporting the statement). Fans of the Chipmunks act just like fans of any other group, to the point where some fans obviously have romantic interests towards them.

That is not to say that these are critical problems within the old series or the new continuity. A universe with singing chipmunks must’ve gone through significant societal changes since the original debut of the band, and what is taboo to us might not be taboo to them. It’s not unusual in a universe like this to go on a race around the world through potentially treacherous conditions (old continuity), or to threaten other sentient creatures with consumption (new continuity; the more I think about that, the more angry and horrible I feel at what the Chipettes were threatened with). You can get away with almost stepping on your fellow classmates and it’s okay because they’re short enough that it’s a hazard of living.

It’s a good thing they updated the designs of both the Chipmunks and the Chipettes. Just like when the Chipmunks were introduced in the 2007 movie, the Chipettes are completely naked (with fur, of course) when they’re first shown, and later given clothing to wear in order to fit in. In their original design, the Chipettes looked more like little girls than chipmunks, and naked little girls would’ve been hard to get past any kind of sensor. Plus, I prefer how they look now as fully chipmunk girls rather than the weird mostly-human designs from the 80’s. Just like with their 80’s designs, they were able to keep each Chipette distinctive. You can easily tell Brittany from her sisters, Jeanette and Eleanor. It could’ve been because I was really young at the time, or it could’ve been because the Chipettes weren’t seen as often as the Chipmunks, but I could never remember the names of the Chipettes until the Squeakquel was announced. It helped that the individual names of the Chipmunks were mentioned in the theme song to their cartoon, and so every week their names were re-enforced in my mind, but no such luck with the Chipettes.

At least this movie did something that the 2007 movie didn’t: instead of handwaving such a detail as unimportant, it explained how three chipmunks could escape from a locked cage. It also did what the other two movies didn’t do, and put the focus on cover versions of popular songs rather than new music. The Chipmunks may have gotten their start singing original material, but it’s become the trademark of both the Chipmunks and the Chipettes to cover other artists, and both the original Adventure and the 2007 movie contained very few cover songs. I mean, seriously. Wooly Bully?! That’s the best they could do in 1987? Even the 2008 album contained a lot of original material, including a new Christmas song that’s as good or possibly better than their original Christmas song. The majority of the music you hear in the Squeakquel are cover songs, but it’s as if someone picked up the Billboard top 40 list for a random week during the summer of 2009 and chose a bunch of songs from it, then picked a few of the most overdone songs ever to round out the list (if you’re wondering, it’s an automatic half a point off for the presence of We Are Family), and wrote a couple original songs so that they could pretend they put a little effort into it (although the plot didn’t really call for new music anyway). Not only that, but the soundtrack contains a bonus track that they obviously couldn’t find a way to fit it into a movie already stuffed with music.

Despite the problems I can see within the movie and the franchise in general, it was very entertaining and full of laughs. I think an enjoyable time was had by everyone who saw the movie, despite everyone trying to leave during the credits. Myself, I’m hoping there’s a third movie, but at the same time I hope they only do one if there’s a good idea behind it, something much like this movie was, one that acted like it belonged with the old material while remaining firmly within the new canon. One that was fun and funny to watch, with enjoyable characters (although Toby should probably go) and (mostly) decent music.

So there you go: this is not the kind of movie you go to if you’re looking for something intelligent. It’s eye candy, pure and simple. Entertainment only. My recommendation is a conditional one: if you don’t mind watching a cartoon script filmed in live action, then go ahead and watch the movie. By all means, if you’re babysitting the kids, take them and they’ll enjoy it immensely. If you’re a hardcore Chipmunks fan and own all their albums, even the hard to find ones, you might like the Squeakquel if you liked the 2007 movie. For everyone else... at least there’s The Chipmunk Adventure.