Alvin, Simon and Theodore deal with the pressures of high school and fluctuations in popularity in this modest, agreeably family-friendly upgrade over the singing-and-dancing chipmunks’ muddled franchise debut. Featuring CGI critters who interact raucously with their live-action human custodians, this movie, akin to bouncy family adventures like the Stuart Little and Garfield franchises before it, heartily aims itself at and mostly successfully connects with a pre-teen demographic.
After Alvin’s overly demonstrative onstage antics land Dave Seville (Jason Lee) in a Parisian hospital, his videogame junkie cousin Toby (Zachary Levi) becomes the chipmunks’ bumbling, reluctant caretaker. Despite the fact that they’re pop music sensations, it is decided that the creatures should go to school. Toby enrolls them at his alma mater, where their principal, Dr. Rubin (Wendie Malick), nurses a peppy crush on them, even as their popularity is threatened by a group of jock bullies.
A trio of female chipmunks looking to become singers airmail themselves to the chipmunks’ disgraced former agent, Ian Hawke (David Cross), meanwhile. Sensing a way to get back into the music industry and strike back at his former charges all at once, Ian misrepresents himself to Brittany, Eleanor and Jeanette — who perfectly mirror Alvin and his fraternal counterparts, one being brash, one brainy, one short and chubby — and stokes their competitive instincts.
It’s hard to swallow some of the narrative plot points here, like the fact that hugely popular entertainers — which the chipmunks are supposed to be — could be instantaneously humbled by a couple doofus teenagers. Small swatches of dialogue, too (most notably including pointlessly empty movie references by Alvin to Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and The Silence of the Lambs), come across as awkward attempts at hipster posturing. Forgetting for a moment how he would even know about them, would Alvin be saying these things because he thought they were funny? And would modern teens even find them at all amusing?
The chief difference between this movie and its predecessor is the former’s unfussy confidence, though. Whereas the first film was full of pat set-ups and unimaginative staging, director Betty Thomas provides the brightly colored sequel with more zip and focus. Chase sequences or other action scenes are shorter, and more tightly choreographed. She’s aided, too, by a story that takes aim at low-hanging fruit. Pared down and mostly stripped free of clumsy attempts at exposition and emotional string-pulling, this sequel presents a story with a simple end point: a $25,000 competition to save a high school’s music program, and possibly restore the chipmunks’ luster. While it’s laughably simplistic, it also helps keep the movie on track.
Lee, the star of the first film, pops up only intermittently, and mostly via telephone calls. Levi gives a broad performance, proving an ineffectual replacement in an admittedly underwritten role. Cross’ repeat turn as the smarmy, manically self-involved Ian is a real treat, though; his chatterbox conniving, as much as any of the effects work, informs the necessary suspension of disbelief this conceit requires. Even kids, after all, want an entertaining villain to root against.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and French and Spanish Dolby digital 2.0 stereo tracks, the latter two of which probably provide much amusement when one is high. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also included. Supplemental bonus features consist of a wide variety of behind-the-scenes material, including featurettes and music videos. There’s a 10-minute segment with self-promoting producer Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., whose namesake father created the Chipmunks, that gets into the history of the critters, from their 1968 song debut to an eventual animated primetime TV show. Voice talent Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate sit for an eight-minute segment on the Chipettes, with producer Janice Karman providing backstory on her 1982 creation of the frisky female counterparts to the Chipmunks.
Nine minute of behind-the-scenes material finds cast members taking part in wearying, in-character interviews, in which they discuss what it’s like working with Alvin, Simon and Theodore, etcetera. This is immediately undercut, of course, by two three-minute tidbits — actually among the most interesting extra material — which get into the animation and interplay of CGI and live-action elements. Animation supervisor Chris Bailey, along with a couple propmasters, provide an overview of how the filmmakers plan and capture a “reference pass,” while a separate segment introduces the “stuffies,” or stuffed versions of chipmunks (often mounted on sticks) that the production uses to help gives actors a reference point for dialogue and reaction. Needless to say, this includes some amusing footage, particularly as it relates to a football scene.
Seven minutes of performance footage from the movie’s opening sequence, featuring Honor Society, is counterbalanced by nine minutes, billed as “music mania,” that focuses on the blowout finale, and includes the cast and producers’ thoughts on the musical segment. On the music video front, there are optional-sing-along versions of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” “We Are Family” and “Shake Your Groove Thing,” though the latter is prefaced with a disgusting belchy intro by Alvin. There are also versions of “You Really Got Me,” by Honor Society, and “The Song,” by Queensberry. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) B (Disc)