The Chipmunks began life oddly enough as a singing group, of sorts. They were the brainchild of struggling songwriter Ross Bagdasarian and were named after the three chief executives at Liberty records. His own alter ego David Seville’s name came from his World War II Army station in Spain. The Chipmunks first appeared in a 1958 record called The Witch Doctor, but wouldn’t officially become The Chipmunks until later that year when The Chipmunks Christmas Song was released. It is for that Christmas music that I most remember the group. They first appeared as puppets on The Ed Sullivan Show. Alvin and the boys got their own television show in 1961. When Ross died in 1972, the Chipmunks would continue on under the guidance of his son. In 1983 The Chipmunks had yet another popular cartoon show and had appeared in countless specials and films. Today they are pretty much a hallmark at the holidays, and a Christmas song collection just wouldn’t be complete without them.
With the level of computer generated technology we have today, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone at all that the ‘munks would make their way to a feature film using state of the art computer graphics. The first film enjoyed a pretty sweet run, raking in well over $200 million at the domestic box. When you consider the just under $60 million budget, a sequel was just as irresistible as the Chipmunks themselves. That was 2007. Two years later The Squeakquel pulled in almost the same exact box on a slightly higher budget. A 2011 3D film is already begun, so this will not be the last you’re going to see of those loveable musical rodents.
The film starts as the guys are rocking out in a worldwide charity concert from Paris. The fans are groovin’ to the boys and, of course, Alvin (Long) gets carried away and the resulting carnage puts Dave (Lee) in traction and a hospital bed for the foreseeable future. Now the boys are going to need somewhere to stay, and Dave decides it will be Aunt Jackie (Joosten) who the boys refer to affectionately as Popcorn Jackie because she always gives them tins of popcorn. The boys are not Jackie’s only house guest. Her grandson Toby (Levi) can’t seem to find any ambition outside of his video game tournaments. But it turns out that Toby shares something in common with the Chipmunks. He’s just as clumsy, and just as dangerous. They can’t even get out of the airport before Aunt Jackie is in traction as well. Now who’s going to take care of the boys? It’s Toby. Toby does manage to muddle through and gets the boys registered in high school just like Dave wanted.
In school the boys are pretty popular with the girls. That’s not exactly going down so well with the jocks on campus, who are far more used to monopolizing the attention of the school’s fairer sex. Alvin ends up making himself the center of attention and never fails to disappoint brothers Simon (Gubler) and Theodore (McCartney).
Meanwhile three female chipmunks have tracked down Ian (Cross), the boys’ old abusive manager. The girls call themselves The Chipettes and want Ian to give them the crack at stardom he gave the Chipmunks. Ian sees dollar signs and a chance to get back in the game, but more importantly, a chance to get back at Alvin and his brothers. Brittany (Applegate), Eleanor (Poehler) and Jeanette (Faris) have just as much talent and end up in a school music competition with The Chipmunks to represent the school for a $25,000 prize for the school’s music department.
Don’t look for anything brilliant or even all that smart here. The film is populated with the standard obvious plots, sight gags, cuteness, and Chipmunk music that made the franchise pretty much what it has always been. The original Dave, the stage name for Ross Bagdasarian, died in 1972, and Jason Lee takes over the character. He’s not really in this film a whole heck of a lot, so he doesn’t add much here. Of course, they find ways to work in the character’s trademark: Alvinnnnnnnnn! and Alvin’s expected reply, “OK”. You won’t miss Lee, however, because Chuck star Zachary Levi takes over as the stunted Toby who has a lot of growing up to do here. Not surprisingly, this character isn’t that far off from Chuck, and he makes use of a lot of the same body movements and mannerisms here. The computer-generated Chipmunks don’t really look a heck of a lot like their cartoon characters, but it should be expected that those designs likely would not work as CG in a live action environment. The introduction of the Chipettes, who originally entered this universe back in 1982, is the next evolutionary step in this incarnation of the franchise. There’s toilet humor, but it’s kept down a little. The music’s actually pretty good, and there’s not so much of it that it gets too sappy.
Finally, I should say a word or two about the blending of live action and computer animation here. It’s a huge step up from the first film. The interactions are pretty much seamless. The animators and set designers did a great job of matching lighting and shadow elements to make it feel like the characters really are on the screen.
The Squeakquel is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is created via an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at about 27 mbps. This is a very bright film from the lighting to the colors. There is a huge usage of primary colors in the film, and they look absolutely reference both in live action and computer generated elements. The print is in pristine condition. Detail and sharpness combine to give you a lot of detail here. It is particularly impressive on the animated characters. The fur looks pretty good as does the texture of their trademark clothing. Black levels are deep and provide plenty of shadow definition at all times. It’s a solid image presentation. It’s got plenty of new toy gloss and shine to hold the kids’ interest.
The DTS-HD Master Audio presentation brings those musical numbers to life. Let’s face it. That’s where a lossless audio is going to shine in a film like this. The rest is really comic dialog and not near as impressive. The dynamic quality of the tunes really does stand out here. I was particularly impressed with the crisp highs, so essential to a sped up Chipmunk sound. The boys’ voices have come a long way since 1958.
This is a three disc release. You get the film and extras on a Blu-ray disc. There is a standard DVD version and a digital copy of the film.
All of this is in HD.
Music Features: There’s a Music Jukebox and a Sing-along section. You can access the musical numbers a variety of ways here. There’s even a musical trivia pop up option and some music videos.
Alvinnnn! Album Maker: You can design a virtual scrapbook from the film.
Munking History – 50 Years Of Chipmunk Mischief, Mayhem, And Music:(9:21) This is a short retrospective of the franchise. You get some history. Ross Jr. participates, as do the cast and crew of the film. There’s some vintage footage here.
Meet The Chipettes: (8:37) These character profiles on the female chipmunk singers include the voice actresses.
Rockin’ Rising Stars: (6:21) Meet the band Honor Society who provide the on stage back up musicians for The Chipmunks.
Music Mania: (9:04) A closer look at the filming of the music competition at the end of the film.
The Chipmunks – Behind The Squeaking: (9:40) This is a mockumentary. The cast and crew talk about what it’s like working with the famous rodents as if they were real.
A-NUT-omy Of A Scene: (2:39) Stuffed animals were used as stand-ins for the computer generated characters for a rehearsal run on each scene so that sightlines and physical spacing can be established. Then the animation is added in layers. Here’s a cool look at the process.
Meet The Stuffies: (3:09) Another mockumentary, this time profiling those stuffed animal stand-ins.
Shake Your Grove Thing: (8:59) Dance lessons to do some of the moves in the movie.
Come on. Who doesn’t like The Chipmunks? For the most part we’re just talking some harmless entertainment here. For the adults this one might be harder to get into, but it’ll be a riot for the kids. And you might as well admit it. It’s kind of fun to watch your kids, or dare I say grandkids, enjoying a version of something you knew as a kid. That doesn’t mean they’re going to sit and watch your old cartoons, but you never know. I know it will be hard for you to sit there and watch this whole other side of The Chipmunks. You might even be asking yourself, “I wonder what Dave would say if he were here now?”