Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Alvin and the Chipmunks

This movie was actually better than I was expecting. Even with visual effects master Rhythm and Hues taking care of the animated characters, I was not anticipating too much to come from Tim Hill (director of the reprehensible Garfield 2). I was pleasantly surprised with the Chipmunks. The animals were done with much more care, and I even enjoyed the plot a little.

Jason Lee stars as Dave Seville, a struggling songwriter struggling to find his niche. His problems are solved when he comes across three talking (and singing ) chipmunks. They proceed to simultaneously save Dave's career, and dismantle his life. Much to his chagrin, Dave begins to fall for Alvin (Justin Long), Theodore (Jesse McCarthy), and Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and think of them as family. Things go awry, however, when their representative from the record company, the villainous Ian (David Cross) manipulates the chipmunks to his own benefit. Don't worry, I didn't give anything away. You can see this coming within the first ten minutes.

This is, of course, a children's movie, so don't expect much in the way of plot or character development. But surprisingly, you don't have to sit through an hour and a half of awful, awful gags. The previews did not do a fair job marketing this movie. Those made it seem like the premise of the movie was "ha ha, they're chipmunks and they're acting like people." You begin to not even think of them as chipmunks, but as children. This is in part due to the focus places more them as characters, and in part due to the wonderful animation.

The horribly modulated voice acting was the part of the movie that really started to bug me. One thing that remained true to the original chipmunks was the painfully high pitched voices. Dennis DeYoung would be jealous. I don't suppose it would have been right to update the voices when they're already making them a sort of boy band. I just wish they could have been done better.

I found myself debating back and forth about whether they made the right decision about combining live action and animation, or whether it should have been done with pure animation. I think it could have been better with pure animation (god knows Underdog would have been) but they did a fairly decent job seamlessly incorporating the animation into the live action. Part of it may have been because they made the chipmunks look more like actual chipmunks than cartoons (as opposed to the bright orange blob that was Garfield).

I'm always amazed at how the perennially crude David Cross gets cast in family friendly movies. I laugh at every role he plays, though. Come to think of it, Jason Lee, nor Justin Long seem like logical choices for their respective roles. Lee plays the role really straight forward without investing too much in his performance. He's really not the star of the show, and you don't go into children's movies expecting award winning performances anyway. And as for the other three, they're voices are so heavily altered the performances are kind of lost.

This movie isn't a marvelous movie by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn't try to be. Nor is the worst of its kind. It's a mildly fun, well animated children's movie. That's all it is, and don't expect anything more.


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