The Chipmunk Conundrum

Alvin and the Chipmunks/ Rated PG/ Running Time: 92mins

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel/ Rated PG/ Running Time: 88mins

And now we hit the point where I have a crisis of confidence.  I tried to avoid the following.  I wanted to procrastinate until it was forgotten.  However, I made a promise to my kids.  I will just apologize now, because I told them we would discuss “Alvin and the Chipmunks”. 

Unfortunately after two weeks of banging my head against the keyboard, I came up with only one true statement, “Alvin and the Chipmunks is a movie, one that my children have watched many many times.”   I can add that it is a popular series, with the two movies grossing over $800 million at the worldwide box office.  That level of success should make it easy to write a few intelligent paragraphs on The Chipmunks cultural significance.  However, I’m not that good.  So, on that note, I relinquish control of this essay, turning to higher authorities, Amanda (age 4) and Colby (age 6).

Colby:  “I like when Alvin throws the Wii at the TV.”  “I love when Dave slipped on the skateboard.” 

The Chipmunks are Alvin, the troublemaker, Simon, the brains, and Theodore, the naïve.  They sing and make records with a chap named Dave Seville, who acts as their guardian and manager.  They harass him and wreak havoc on his belongings until he snaps and delights the audience with his trademark bellow, “AAAAAAAALLLLLLVINNNNNN!!!!!”  The second movie, “The Squeakquel”, didn’t add much to the formula, just The Chipettes, the female doppelgangers of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. 

I mentioned they break things, right?  Destruction of property permeates all cartoons and slapstick comedy.  Watching animated chipmunks destroy a kitchen is another example in this long tradition.  It would be easy to say only kids want to destroy, but who are we kidding?  Breaking things is very cathartic.  Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to do it in everyday life.  So we need the movies to let us vicariously destroy. 

That’s also the reason so many kid’s movies have potty talk.  The movies are filled with words that kids know they can’t say, and parents know they can’t stop them from saying.  My wife says that nothing lights up my daughter’s eyes more than when she says the word “butt”.  Nobody needs to watch a chipmunk discuss bodily functions or lament the fact that he was “dutch ovened”, but potty talk is inevitable.  I may not like it, but since I can not completely suppress it, a movie like this gives the kids a relatively innocent outlet.

Amanda: “I like when they dance.”  “I like the concert” 

The music is the essence of the Chipmunks’ popularity and what differentiates them from other characters.  They recorded their first novelty song, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”, in 1958 and it has been in heavy holiday rotation ever since.  That means their high pitched versions of popular songs, TV shows, and movies have haunted the childhoods of people aged six to sixty.  They are the first introduction to pop songs for many kids.  In the late 70’s, they taught me about Blondie and Billy Joel.  However, The Chipmunks are one of those things that we definitely outgrow.  Today, nostalgia alone can’t keep me from covering my ears when they come on the radio. 

Amanda and Colby:  “I love love love this movie.”  “It’s cool.”  “It’s so cool and awesome.”  “It’s funny”  “So funny”  “The other one’s so funny too.” 

That pretty much sums it up doesn’t it?  The kids love it, it does not matter one bit if I like it or not.  What about quality?  With summer around the corner, the blogs are full of articles seeped in anger over needless sequels, remakes and reboots and the audiences who mindlessly accept whatever is doled out.  My answer to all of this outrage, does it really matter?

I am not apathetic.  I concede that seeing the resources thrown at some of the crap out there can be frustrating to a struggling filmmaker with a truly marvelous idea.  But, I also live by a few rules.  One, if something is really good, it will be found.  Two, if for some reason it is not found, don’t make excuses, make it yourself.  Three, and perhaps most important for your sanity, no matter how much you complain you will not get rid of the crap, kids love crap.

However, let’s not call “Alvin and the Chipmunks” crap.  Nobody wishes to touch crap, and although box office numbers are not a gauge of quality, they are some measure of popularity.  No one can dispute that The Chipmunks are popular.  They are part of childhood.  Really they are no different than sugar cereals, nutritiously hollow, but oh so tasty.  If your kids live solely on Trix or Fruity Pebbles, they are traveling a road to serious health issues.  If they only watch “Alvin and the Chipmunks”, enlightenment is not at the end of their path.  But that is ok.  Kids can’t only eat vegetables, sometimes they need to be allowed to have ice cream for dinner.  (And for the record, I enjoyed the movies more than I thought I would.)

Whats Your Favorite “Crappy” Childhood Movie?

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