Review: 'Chipmunks' should go straight to DVD

“Alvin and the Chipmunks” finds the trio lost and further out of their element than the story of the rodents’ move from the woods would suggest. They’re off course by a half-century, or in other words a lot has changed between Alvin Chipmunk and Snoop Dogg.

The live-action/animation production opens with the bushy boys at home storing nuts when the tree in which they live suddenly and without warning falls prey to an ax. There’s no opportunity to evacuate and they find themselves being transported with what was their abode, landing in the lobby of an office building, their living quarters now covered with Christmas lights.

The storyline rewrites the group’s origin and the production of their 1958 real-life hit “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” The track allowed radio audiences to listen in on a session of the band recording what would become a Grammy winner. In addition to the music, the cut, in just a little over two minutes, established their mildly contentious relationship with the studio producer, Dave.

The record’s producer, Ross Bagdasarian, manipulated his recording equipment to speed up the voices and create the chipmunk sound, and later received two Emmys for the Chipmunks’ cartoon TV series. But his real genius laid in endearing his imaginary group–the rebellious Alvin with Theodore and Simon, to a national audience.

The late ‘50s were a time of innocence. Audiences were open to novelty. Dave and his feisty bunch had an aura of family and it struck a chord, so to speak. The idea, in its day, was even a bit radical.

In the new scenario, the Chipmunks, now in the big city, encounter Dave, a down and out songwriter. Following a somewhat rough and tumble beginning, during which the “munks” bring the ways of the forest into the musician’s apartment, they collectively create “The Chipmunk Song.” Acclaim follows. The group goes on tour, egos swell and Dave gets pushed aside in the rush for fame and fortune.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks” amounts to little more than a half-baked effort to put a new face on an old product, roll it out and hope for the best. There’s small faith in evidence even from the filmmakers. It’s the type of release that should go straight to DVD.

If you are nine years old or younger, immune to the television-driven precocious attitudes so prevalent among your peers and undemanding of storylines, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” awaits.

Please thank whoever is responsible for taking you to the theater, for they will also end up watching this. Recognize that you are deeply, if not forever, in their debt.

Grade: D-

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read all of Examiner’s movie reviewers.

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