Ever seen a kid giggle at someone inhaling a helium balloon? Show them a high-pitched singing chipmunk and you can double that effect. Make that three chipmunks and you’ve hit paydirt - or so seems the general idea. Since The Chipmunk Song made it big in the 1950s, Alvin and co. have had various lucrative incarnations, including two TV cartoon series and several straight-to-video animated features. This latest adventure sees the furry little CG’d creatures cosying up to a live-action Jason Lee, in a story about the evils of commercialism, merchandising and exploiting children. Hmmm.
Hypocrisy aside, Alvin has its charms. Lee is likeable as Dave, the hapless ad exec whose real passion is songwriting - if only he could find the right singers. Cartoonish visual comedy abounds when the chipmunks wind up at Dave’s place and attempt to hide, quickly freezing as he spies their movement and swings round. The ’munks themselves are pretty cute: their nimbly choreographed version of Funky Town is a hoot, and chubby Theodore is bound to elicit “aahhs” as he snuggles up to Dave after having nightmares.
All this, plus the obligatory fart joke, is likely to amuse kids, and there are in-jokes for moviegoing parents, too (“Tell her she completes you, it works!”). But after a pacy start, the narrative descends into over-familiar territory. The chipmunks go on tour and get exhausted, but they seem to take an inordinately long time doing so. This segment also forces the musical numbers on a downward spiral, as the chipmunks swap harmonious pop for jerky hip-hop numbers that don’t suit their shrill tones.
David Cross is well cast as the cynical music exec who schemes to charm the boys away from Dave’s influence, but few other characters go beyond one dimension. The least memorable is Alvin himself, the so-called leader of the pack (voiced by Justin Long, but you wouldn’t really know it). At least Simon has the distinction of wearing specs, and Theodore of being childish and fat.
Overlong and underplotted, Alvin is likely to make children fitfully fidgety, even if they are ultimately won over by their new furry friends. Parents, however, may come out echoing Dave’s early lament: “My life is being sabotaged by talking chipmunks.”