The Chipmunk Adventure

December 16, 2011

The Chipmunk Adventure is the full-length animated feature starring Alvin and the Chipmunks. Let’s put that another way: This is a cartoon. “Animation” suggests some life and motion. This snoozer has neither.

The animation is on the level of your basic Saturday-morning cartoon. The plotting is a couple of cuts below that. As this opus opens, the mysterious human figure called Dave, who has long been the caretaker of the Chipmunks (since they were invented in 1958 by songwriter Ross Bagdasarian), is preparing to leave for a European vacation. He does just that, which leaves the door open for plenty of Chipmunk mischief.

One day the Chipmunks and their distaff equivalent, the Chipettes (some sort of mutant rodent strain, evidently) are playing video games down at the malt shop when two creepy foreigners offer them lots of money to race around the world in a balloon. Naturally, the munks and ettes accept the offer.

The foreigners are really bad people who are using our gopher-like friends to drop off precious jewels all around the world. So the Chipmunks and Chipettes clamber aboard two competing balloons, and race.

This is the excuse for a bunch of different locales, all of which are sketched in stereotypical strokes (Mexicans grin a lot and shout “Ole!,” third-world tribesmen prepare the boys for ritual execution, etc.).

It’s also the excuse for a variety of songs, which the Chipmunks and Chipettes warble in full helium-throated glory. Now, some of these things are funny when they’re meant as parody, as with the Chipmunk Punk album that brought these cartoon creatures back to popularity a few years ago. But presented straight, as in the film, the songs are pretty excruciating.

One of the most chilling moments I’ve had at a movie recently was Chipette Brittany’s challenge to Alvin: “Wanna bet we can out-rock ‘n roll you?” Which is followed by “The Girls of Rock ‘n Roll.” Put simply, Chipmunk-ese, like French, is not the proper form for rock. It just doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong. The Chipmunks have their spot in popular culture, wherever that might be. But the movie, which was assembled by Bagdasarian’s son, Ross Jr., and Janice Karman, isn’t the vehicle for their squeaky-voiced talents.

First published in the Herald, May 24, 1987

I had completely forgotten that the Chipmunks had a feature film in the Eighties, well before their recent resurgence at the box-office. And this is that.


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