First things first.
I refuse, absolutely refuse, to refer to this film as "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." If this slight really bothers you, then go read Ebert.
I don't care.
For this review, the film shall be not so affectionately known as "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2," a sequel of sorts to the surprisingly successful 2007 film that introduced the squeaky-voiced warblers to an entirely new generation.
Unfortunately, while 2007's "Alvin and the Chipmunks" was an entertaining and endearing throwback to the Chipmunks of yesteryear likely to appeal to adults and children alike, the sequel is aimed much more squarely at the kiddie crowd, though screenwriters Jon Vitti, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger do toss in a few pop culture tidbits for adults paying attention.
In "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2," the original cast returns, though Jason Lee's more of a bit player when the befuddled Dave Seville finds himself stuck in a Paris hospital thanks to the mischievous antics of his three rodent charges. In his place, is a 20something distant cousin, Toby (Zachary Levi), a slacker whose caretaking skills leave much to be desired. With Dave down-and-out, the three Chipmunks are sent to high school under the adoring and watchful eye of Principal Rubin (Wendie Malick). Before long, their previously disgraced record exec Ian (David Cross) is back in the picture and has his eyes set on a comeback of sorts courtesy of a female trio of warbling chipmunks, the Chipettes named Eleanor (Amy Poehler), Brittany (Christina Applegate) and Jeanette (Anna Faris).
There will be the inevitable showdown between the Chipettes and the Chipmunks, but "Alvin & The Chipmunks" opts for a family friendly approach rather than simply the formulaic vocal battle scenes. Alvin (Justin Long), always the attention-seeker, ends up off in his own world and lets down Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) leading to lessons about the importance of family and loyalty and other important life lessons.
While Betty Thomas has always seemed to be a bit of a paint-by-numbers director, her energetic and enthusiastic approach keeps things hopping here and, as was true in the original, the blend of CGI with live action works quite nicely. While the minimal presence of Jason Lee hurts the film, and Zachary Levi is definitely not his acting equal, David Cross again delights as the smarmy radio exec and Wendie Malick goes deliciously over the top as the Chipmunks' eerily adoring high school principal.
While "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2" largely avoids the fate of, say, a "Garfield 2," it lacks the original's charm and consistent, if somewhat slight, humor. The humor in "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2" is a touch more mean-spirited at times and, as well, a large portion of the film's physical humor falls rather flat. In place of the original's innocent spirit, "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2" too often falls back on silliness that is neither innocent nor, for that matter, particularly entertaining.
Yet, Thomas does a nice job of balancing the silly, squeaky tones of the Chipmunks and Chipettes with live-action performances that often go just as over the top as their animated counterparts. While this approach may not work for everyone, it avoids a disturbing contrast between animation and live action and, in the end, makes the entire film feel more seamless and cohesive.
Not quite as entertaining as its original, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" is entertaining enough to be a rewarding alternative for families looking for positive ways to spend time together over the holiday weekend. Coming in the shadow of James Cameron's "Avatar," don't be too surprised if Alvin, Simon and Theodore find a way to squeak by the over-hyped "Avatar" at the box-office over the holiday weekend.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic