Family films are often terrible. I mean, let’s just get that out in the open. It’s not exactly a secret, but it’s still something that we all tend to ignore or use as a way to explain away a lot of really awful movies. The thought “Of course it’s no Academy Award winner, it’s just a family movie!” is a crutch that a lot of us lean on all the time. Those of us with kids know all too well that we sometimes need to wade through hours and hours of truly horrible movies just to keep our little ones entertained, and why not? If it keeps your child happy and quiet for a few hours, then mission accomplished. The only problem with that logic is that we often find ourselves shackled to the couch to watch these movies WITH our children, in an effort to spend more “quality time” with them. So, while our children laugh hysterically at the four hundredth consecutive fart joke, we adults sit in stunned silence while screaming internally.
Let me assure you, the Alvin & The Chipmunks series of films is no different. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Alvin & The Chipmunks. The cartoon was good, the animated movie was fun, and who hasn’t drunkenly shouted “ME, I WANT A HULA HOOP” while The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) played at an office Christmas party? No. My beef is not with the vocally talented chipmunks themselves. These movies, however, are enough to make you want to punch a woodland animal in it’s tiny fuzzy face, whether it can sing or not.
This entry into the Chipmunk Trilogy (that’s three. three of these movies exist) begins with the chipmunks as bona fide rock stars. They perform at a charity event (benefiting what, they never explain) in Paris, everything goes smoothly and absolutely nothing wacky happens at all. JUST KIDDING. Alvin showboats, even though Dave tells him not to, and he ends up knocking down a giant cutout of himself, which strikes Dave in the head and sends him flying across the stage and into a huge pile of electrical equipment (Before you ask, yes, Dave shouted “AAAAAAAALLLVIIIIIIINN!” while he flew through the air). Dave ends up in the hospital, because Alvin is a furry little asshole, and he tells the chipmunks that they’ll be living with his Aunt Jackie (bonus points if that name made you think of Roseanne, too) until he recovers. He also tells them that, while he’s laid up in a French hospital for a few weeks, he wants them to have a normal childhood (ignoring the fact that they’re rodents and not children). Why, he’s even arranged for them to attend high school!
Chipmunks attending a high school? What could possibly go wrong?!
The chipmunks return to America and meet up with Aunt Jackie (who, in a disappointing turn of events, is not portrayed by character actress Laurie Metcalf), Dave’s wheelchair-ridden aunt, who in turn introduces them to her grand son Toby (portrayed by Chuck Bartowski himself, Zachary Levi). Things go off without a hitch and the boys live a life of normalcy until Dave fully recovers and comes home. GOTCHA AGAIN. No, Toby ends up accidentally sending his grandmother (who is in a wheelchair, remember) down a flight of stairs, after which she gets run over by a baggage cart (family fun!). So, with both Dave and Aunt Jackie laid up with serious injuries, it’s up to the accident-prone, video game addicted loser Toby to save the day!
Meanwhile, Ian Hawke (David Cross reprising his role from the first movie, and one of the only good points of this whole mess, because he is David Cross), the once prominent record company executive who first signed the Chipmunks to JETT Records has lost his job, his home, and his dignity, as he is reduced to living in the basement of the JETT Records building. He’s brushing his teeth in the company fountain outside when a Fed-Ex envelope falls from the sky and tumbles around making muffled high pitched noises. The envelope bursts open and out pop the Chipettes! Sure, when a handful of chipmunks mail themselves in an airtight envelope, it’s a mode of travel. But when I do it, it’s animal cruelty and a restraining order from the envelope’s recipient (you will love me someday, Jon Bon Jovi, I swear it).
Hawke brings the girls up to his “penthouse office” (a desk on the roof) and they sing for him. He immediately shits his pants with joy, thinking that this is his chance to make back the fortune he lost by lying to the Chipmunks. He begins by lying to the Chipettes, saying he can’t get the girls a chance to meet the Chipmunks because they abandoned him once they gained fame, rather than telling them that they abandoned him when he tried to separate them from the only family they knew in an attempt to make as much money off of them as possible.
Back at the Seville household, the Chipmunks start their first day of school. This goes about as well as you’d expect it to. When they finally make it to class, they take the attention of all the girls away from the star football player, who doesn’t much care for them.
From this point on, it’s very much a high school comedy but with rodents as the leads, as the big dumb jock football players all try to make the Chipmunks pay for stealing their girls (guys, if your girl can be “stolen” by a four-inch tall talking rat, she wasn’t really your girl to begin with). The boys learn the value of living a normal life away from the glitz and glamor of showbiz, the Chipettes have a musical showdown with the boys at a talent competition, Toby learns the value of family over video games (a lesson I’ve yet to learn, myself), and not once does anyone question a group of forest creatures attending a human high school.
Look, for what it is, this movie is not all bad. There are a lot of great names attached to it, which you could see as a bad thing, I suppose. Like “Oh man, that person is in this movie? How sad for them.” Zachary Levi, David Cross, Amy Poehler, Jason Lee. You could look at it as this being a blatant cash grab for them, or you could look at it from the non cynical point of view (is that a thing that exists?) of maybe they just wanted to make a fun family movie for their kids. Whatever the reason for the existence of these films, the truth is, they do exist. The sooner we all get used to that, the sooner we can move on and live our lives. Do I recommend seeing these movies? No, I don’t, because I don’t hate you. But the fact of the matter is this: Your children will probably go apeshit for these movies, and you probably love them more than you love your own sanity, which means you’ll more than likely end up seeing them anyway. Yay parenthood!