, 92 min, 2007
Director: Tim Hill
Writers: Jon Vitti (screenplay) and Will McRobb (screenplay) & Chris Viscardi (screenplay), Jon Vitti (story), Ross Bagdasarian (characters Alvin and the Chipmunks)
Stars: Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson
Tim Hill’s Alvin and the Chipmunks is a lively musical biopic which utilizes the oft-tread rise and fall format as a framing device for what becomes a powerful, poignant, ultimately scathing indictment of the music industry as a tool for the quick success and hard demise of young up-and-coming talent.
Jason Lee is Dave Seville, a struggling marketing worker and aspiring song-writer with a rather bleak view on life (his latest song contains words like “death” and very dark imagery). His personal life is also a shambles in the aftermath of being left by Claire (Cameron Richardson), his photographer ex-girlfriend, who feels that he cannot commit to any relationship. Dave is about to find himself committed (under some duress) when fate hands him a challenge: three talking, singing chipmunks (created via cutting edge CGI technology) named Alvin, Simon and Theodore (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney, for those keeping score at home).
At first feeling put-upon and perplexed at this bizarre turn of events, Dave soon comes to create a most innovative business arrangement – he will write a hit song for the chipmunks to sing, and they will help him get a recording contract with Ian Hawk (David Cross), a hit record producer who is looking for something “fresh and original.” Before long, the Chipmunks are sitting on the top of the charts – and stealing Dave’s heart.
Conflict looms on the horizon, however, in the form of false insecurities about being taken advantage of and the harsh drug addiction the Chipmunks’ manager/producer attempts to afflict them with.
The film was directed by Tim Hill (Muppets from Space and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties), and comes to the big screen via the popular 80s animated series created by Ross Bagdasarian. The performances are stunning, from Jason Lee’s astounding transformation from the scruffy, redneck he plays on TV’s My Name is Earl to the clean-shaven, similarly gravely-voiced artist he plays here (though lacking a Southern accent) to the amazing voice work by Long, Gubler and McCartney, who embody the very souls of these furry, lovable little creatures; never has CGI been more convincing.
And what to say about the astonishing, harrowing portrayal by David Cross of the nefarious, two-faced music mogul who attempts to lead the Chipmunks down the prim-rosed path to quick fame only to leave them used up and whored out?
In the end, this is a remarkably effective cautionary tale about the perils of the entertainment industry, an affecting parable, and a shocking expose’ involving drugs, money, animal cruelty, fame, fortune, and child exploitation for profit. Did I mention this is an ideal family film? It’s also one of the year’s very best films!
Note: In the event my sarcasm doesn’t compute (given the one-star grade, how can this be a positive review?!?), I want to be clear here – this is an awful, awful film. It’s not innocuous, or innocent or cute or cuddly or fun. It’s just wrong. It wreaks of a marketing ploy, it is headache-inducingly overdone and it hasn’t a scintilla of entertainment value. From the opening moment of the Chipmunks singing “Bad Day” by Daniel Powder (inescapable for quite some time after its premiere on American Idol a few years back), I knew I would want to kill myself. Soon. But this is exactly the kind of brain-damaged perspective the studio is hoping will suck this up. That said: This is one of the very worst films of 2007. Period.