By Donald Munro
If you’ve managed to make it through the past 50 years without experiencing the peculiar helium twang of these relentlessly chipper animated rodents, then your American-kitsch quotient is teetering in the low teens. Reaction to the music of these singing critters over the years falls into roughly three camps: You think it’s kind of cute; you wince but are able to handle The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late); or you would rather remove three sets of chipmunk vocal cords without anesthetic than listen to one more note.
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The response to Alvin and the Chipmunks, which remains faithful to the sound of the original characters invented by the late Ross Bagdasarian in the 1950s, likely will fall along similar lines.
Yes, the movie is juvenile and occasionally stupid. When Alvin, Simon and little Theodore (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) find themselves homeless after their tree in the forest is felled, they wind up pestering the heck out of a struggling Los Angeles musician named Dave Seville, played by Jason Lee. (This was the stage name of Bagdasarian, who recorded the original Chipmunks voices.) Dave discovers the critters can sing. Three stars are born.
Why does the movie (sort of) work? Certainly not because of Lee, who is about as believable playing opposite empty space as a propped-up piece of cardboard. And much of the Chipmunks’ music itself is forgettable, except for that line about Hula-Hoops, alas, which will stay with you whether you want it to or not.
But there’s something endearing at work here. The level of humor is aimed solidly at the under-10 demographic, complete with poop jokes and domestic mayhem. Although the Chipmunks sing a few hip-hop songs, the three cuddly characters remain young at heart.