Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Posted December 21, 2011 by Daniel Hodgson in
While Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked lacks the broad appeal of Up or Toy Story 3, it does make for a decent children’s film, and there are a few brief moments where it talks to the adults.
There’s a difference between a children’s movie and a family movie. Pokemon: The First Movie, is a children’s film—and a horrible one at that—of no interest to adults. Anyone, however, can sit down and watch a Pixar film, regardless of their age, race, gender or nationality, because their films are universal to the human condition. While Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked lacks the broad appeal of Up or Toy Story 3, it does make for a decent children’s film, and there are a few brief moments where it talks to the adults.
Chipwrecked is the third installment of the franchise that combines live actors and backgrounds with CGI adaptations of the musical cartoon characters. Dave Seville (Jason Lee), their manager and adoptive father, takes Chipmunks Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, and Chipettes Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor on a Carnival Cruise vacation. When fun-loving Alvin attempts hang-gliding with a child’s kite, strong winds threaten to carry Alvin off the ship. His friends try to save him, but get carried away as well. Luckily, the currents deposit the critters on a jungle island, inhabited only by castaway Zoe (Jenny Slate), who’s lived alone on the island for years, never having been rescued.
This is actually a good move for the film. The original film was Dave’s story, of how the responsibility of raising children (or in this case, talking-singing chipmunks) forces adults to get their act together for their children’s sake. The upshot is that Dave upstaged the chipmunks in their own movie, the hero coming to the rescue of his poorly behaved charges. Dave is still in Chipwrecked, but there’s less of him, and actor Jason Lee is more comfortable in the cartoony role. Separating Alvin and company from the adults places them center stage, and rightly so. Normally, it falls on brainy Simon to clean up problems caused by Alvin, but when the neuro-toxin from a spider bite causes cautious Simon to become the thrill-seeking romancer “Simone,” it’s Alvin’s turn to be the grown-up and take responsibility for the group. It’s an interesting character arc, and sends a good message to its young target audience.
Overall, this third installment is much improved over the original film. The camera chases after the chipmunks as they scurry across the ground and scramble up jungle trees, giving the film a playful sense of adventure. The camera is usually moving, and it makes the film energetic and surprisingly fun to watch. The story zips along, but I think children could handle a bit more danger and excitement yet, as Chipwrecked feels too safe at times, lacking a strong villain to chase them about the jungle. There isn’t as much singing this time—and it’s a good thing. The choreography is amusing enough though, as the chipmunks toss their almost weightless dance partners into the air in slow motion. Having the chipmunks on their own helps the picture’s visual scale, as the tiny critters tend to disappear when they share the screen with comparatively larger humans, when they’re supposed to be the subjects.
The CGI of the chipmunks are convincing enough, and they have enough pluck and personality to make me forget I’m watching special effects. There are internet culture references aimed at the adults that don’t work, but at least the film is trying to engage me, and I appreciated the effort. Alvin is a fun lead. He’s a high-spirited, mischievous fellow, but he’s not malicious, he’s just trying to have a good time. The characters are simple but earnest, and have a dynamic between them. While I just shrugged at more of it than I’d care to, I got the feeling that Chipwrecked gets just enough right to pave the way for a better family film. I don’t recommend it for adults, but if you have to sit through it with your kids, it’s watchable enough.