Friday, January 20, 2012

Still chipper ‘Chipmunks’

(From the Jan. 16-31 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Whether you adored, abhorred, or felt nothing for their first two movies, the squeaky singing sensations are back in “Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked,” which actually isn’t as bland as the trailer suggests.

The big screen versions of the beloved TV cartoon characters are distinct from each other: Alvin is adventurous and reckless; Simon’s the smart one; Theodore is cute and has a big appetite. Their favorite human, Dave (Jason Lee) treats them and their unrelated female counterparts, the Chipettes, like his own kids. The furry little critters are celebrities, almost always winning over listeners with their unique renditions of classic and contemporary pop hits.

That’s pretty much what the first two live-action films were about; whatever relevance they tried to imbue the stories with—assimilation into human society, career exploitation, etc.—are easily forgotten, and don’t really enhance those movies. The merging of CGI rodents with real environments automatically skews sense and logic in this reality, and it often feels like their stories are just filler scenes between energetic music numbers.
But even the novelty seems to have worn off; the Chipmunks’ and Chipettes’ performance of “Bad Romance” in the trailer feels a tad odd, even desperate. Yes, they’ve done pop songs du jour, but the idea of yet another movie with mostly trendy, with-it covers can inspire advanced exhaustion.

Good thing the movie itself has a more coherent story this time. Spending time off at a cruise ship, bored Alvin and company fly a kite, which soon lifts them off and forces them to land on an island. They soon discover that it isn’t uninhabited, as a long-marooned woman (Jenny Slate) welcomes them to her “Castaway”-ish world.

Bespectacled Simon suddenly undergoes a personality shift after being bitten by a spider, changing from the somewhat uptight one into a suave and outgoing French version of himself. Alvin, usually the irresponsible and misbehaving chipmunk, is unhappy with the transformation, and eventually becomes active in getting the Chipmunks and Chipettes organized during their island “vacation.”

“Chipwrecked” has its cartoon characters (voiced by Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate, etc.) performing typically sped-up and cartoonized renditions of old and new-ish songs, including the Go-Gos’ “Vacation,” Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” (although they aptly changed it to “Whip My Tail”), Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” (sans the gender identity enumeration part).

Dave and the Chipmunks’ nemesis, the smarmy ex-record label guy Ian (David Cross), also returns. But he’s not exactly the despicable character that previously menaced the good guys; oddly enough, he’s given the chance to redeem himself in this installment.

Humor-wise, only very young kids will find the characters’ antics funny. It’s a good thing there’s no unnecessary and wince-inducing love angle between the adult human characters this time.

The animated parts and performances are nicely done, as usual. But there’s not much to admire, as the computer-rendered imagery are limited to the characters and some sets. Still, young viewers may find “Chipwrecked” pleasantly diverting, while adults may forget about it even before they leave the cinema. 

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