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The Chipmunk Conundrum

May 17, 2010

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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Welcome

March 29, 2010

Welcome to Family Movie Night where every week I will discuss a film I have shared with my kids.  My plan is to provide non-traditional reviews, focusing on my overall perception of the film and how it affects the kids rather than opining on the overall quality of a film.  There are plenty of other places on the web to find more conventional critiques.  A few that I find helpful are:

Rotten Tomatoes – aggregates reviews of many of the top critics in the US.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com

Roger Ebert – Siskel & Ebert were very instrumental in my formative years as a film fan.  Ebert continues to be a prolific and entertaining writer.  In addition, he has a searchable database of his reviews dating back to 1967.

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com

I will also defer to better sites to recommend age appropriateness.  Every kid and every family is different and what may be fine for some could be unacceptable to others.  I find Common Sense Media does a rather good job of cataloging of the themes, language, sex, and violence found in a movie.  While they give an age rating for many films, I suggest you go the next step and look at the details that led them to give a film a specific rating to determine if it is something you are comfortable watching.  The link to their site is:

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/

I will attempt to span genres and time periods in my posts, discussing classics, near classics, and movies I probably thought were classics when I was young.

I am a child of the 70’s and 80’s and grew up on live action Disney films, but I promise not to subject you to lengthy discussions of either Apple Dumpling Gang films (although the Shaggy D.A. is not out of the question).  I welcome suggestions from anyone reading, as I am always looking for new films to try out on the family.   I would also love to hear how your family reacts to movies I write about.

As this is Family Movie Night, I will talk about movies we can watch at home.  An outing to the theater is one of my favorite activities with the kids, but since my wife and I also have a baby that means one of us will be left at home.  Watching a movie at home is something we can all do together. 

The advent of the internet and On Demand has led to a nearly infinite number of options in how we consume our movies at home.  My favorite method remains Netflix with more and more of the movies I watch coming through their instant service. 

www.netflix.com

Their basic service will allow you to watch an unlimited number of movies per month through your laptop or TV via one of many devices that will stream.  The Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii all allow you to watch Netflix.  I use a Roku player rather than the Xbox, mainly because the Roku is smaller and is easily transportable from room to room.  All you need is a wireless connection and Netflix subscription and you are ready to go.

www.roku.com

I look forward to joining you on this journey.  I want to introduce my kids to some of the great movies in history, some of the films that affected me deeply and shaped me.  But it’s not just about what I want to teach them, because I’ve found I learn more about my kids from sharing this time with them.  I learn what makes them laugh and what makes them dance.  I learn what inspires them and makes them cringe in fear.  I learn what makes them cry and what makes them smile.   I get to know them a little bit deeper than I did before.  We all remember when we first saw Star Wars or the Wizard of Oz or the Sound of Music and we remember who we were with.  I want my kids to look back on these times and smile when they remember that they saw them with me.