Alvin & Co. take their act to high school

The Chipmunks - Theodore (left), Alvin and Simon - arrive at school, where teens tower over them.
The Chipmunks - Theodore (left), Alvin and Simon - arrive at school, where teens tower over them.
Posted: December 23, 2009

They're back. Those furry, free-range little stars of screen and song.

When the first live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks grossed more than $200 million a couple of years ago, it was inevitable we would have a sequel, or rather, Squeakquel.

Isn't that too cute? So is the movie.

The computer-generated Alvin, Theodore and Simon are going to have to get by on their charm and chittering voices this time, because there's not much else to recommend this follow-up.

After scaling the heights of pop stardom in the preceding film, the guys are marooned here in a dreary domestic setting - living in a modest bungalow with only repeats of Meerkat Manor to amuse themselves.

They're also enrolled in high school, which presents some problems of scale with the chipmunks skittering around on linoleum, trying to avoid getting trampled by towering teens.

Apparently, Jason Lee, who played Dave Seville, the trio's human father figure back in 2007, had better things to do. Because Dave's not here, man.

Not for long, anyway. He shows up briefly in about three scenes.

Our little rodents (who lately resemble gerbils more than woodland critters) are now chaperoned by Dave's klutzy cousin Toby (Zachary Levi). The star of TV's Chuck, Levi is weirdly comfortable interacting with his imaginary castmates.

Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, and Matthew Gray Gubler (of TV's Criminal Minds) return as the voices of Alvin, Theodore and Simon respectively.

Sadly, the lead munk, Alvin, has been neutered in these live-action outings. Instead of being a troublemaking rascal, as he was in all prior incarnations, he's just a wee bit hyper.

This time around, romance is in the air. (Or is that the smell of cedar chips?). Meet the singing Chipettes, the guys' precise counterparts. There's the frisky Brittany (voice of Christina Applegate), the bespectacled Jeanette (Anna Faris), and the chubby Eleanor (Amy Poehler).

The two trios warble well-known pop songs made famous by performers like Beyoncé and Corinne Bailey Rae.

The music is consistently appealing as rendered by the chipmunks' doctored, helium-range voices.

That was the crucial discovery made by Alvin creator Ross Bagdasarian back in the 1950s: that high, wound-up vocals had kick. And it's fueled the franchise ever since.

Less attractive is the suggestive way these squirrelly siblings are now shaking their booties, when you can see it. The nuances of choreography are often lost when the dancers are bite-sized.

There isn't much point in discussing The Squeakquel's plot. It's as if director Betty Thomas (remember her on Hill Street Blues?) and the other makers of this film simply shuffled a deck of index cards containing story elements and threw them up in the air.

The result is a predictable parade of musical numbers (high school singing competitions are popular now, right?), a few bodily-function jokes, a comic villain (David Cross once more), a touch of sweet munky love, and some valuable life lessons to be learned. Sprinkle with specious sentimentality.

The whole thing is rather insipid. But Thomas makes it smoother and more palatable than it deserves to be. The Squeakquel should delight the audience of aughts at which it is aimed.


Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/daveondemand.

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