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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Alvin and the Chipmunks

My therapist, Suzanne Adams, is a goddess. I think everyone should be in therapy even if they don’t think they need it. Especially if they don’t think they need it. Those are usually the ones who need it the most, if you ask me. They think everyone else in the world has it wrong and they are right about everything. You know the type. You could use them to make diamonds by shoving coal where the Sun doesn’t shine, if you get my meaning, and I know that you do. Sue could have them untwisted in no time, but I’ll bet she wouldn’t accept payment in diamonds, just for hygienic reasons. Anyway, just this past week she told me that she thought it was sweet that I talked to her canine companion as if she were human. I don’t know why this would be considered so unusual. I just assumed all people talked to animals, especially the ones they know on a first name basis. Sue always has her West Highland white terrier, Trudi, at the office with her, and so Trudi inevitably sits in on client sessions. Frankly, if Trudi could talk, she could spill so many secrets it would be scary, but she’s a classy dog (I’ve never seen her lick herself inappropriately in my presence) and so my guess is she would probably also know enough to obey HIPPA regulations and keep her mouth shut about those things she knows and shouldn’t share. I hope.

I’ve loved animals since I was knee high to a pussy cat, and I blame (or thank) Alvin and the Chipmunks for giving me the creative imagination to believe that talking to animals was not only okay but that they just might talk back as well. After all, the Chipmunks did, and I fell in love with them when I was just a wee nipper back in the 1950s. Yes, that’s right. I said it. You do the math. They were first introduced to the world by “Dave Seville” back in 1958. “Dave” was really Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., who chose the stage name “Dave Seville” for obvious reasons. I remember coveting the Chipmunks’ record albums. You remember records, don’t you? Black, round, twice the size of cds and you laid them flat on a phonograph to play them. There were three Chipmunk albums back then. Each had a glossy pastel cover ~ one was blue, one was pink, and one was gold ~ and each cost a walloping .69¢. That was a fortune for a four year old and my parents weren’t about to cough it up, so I had to resort to a life of crime in order get my booty. I rummaged through my father’s pockets, my mother’s purse, and dived into the crevices behind the couch cushions. I struck precious poses for my grandparents, and within a couple of weeks I managed to raise the cash to get the treasures which would gain me status amongst my peers ~ Bozo-watching, semi-toilet-trained day care kiddies. Not that I would EVER let any of those brats touch my Alvin and the Chipmunks record albums. That would be like putting Michael J. Fox in charge of polishing my good crystal. I’m sorry, I know it’s terribly politically incorrect, but it’s also true. Still, those Chipmunks played a very important part in my early years, and I listened to their songs over and over and over until my mother said it was “Witchdoctor” that gave her a brain tumor.

I hadn’t thought about that song in more than 40 years, until last Friday. That’s when I saw Alvin and the Chipmunks at the Essex Cinemas. I was thrilled when we were introduced to the three cute-as-can-be critters of the title. It’s been nearly 46 years since we first saw the chipmunks on tv’s “The Alvin Show”, and the boys are looking better than ever. The CGI process has brought these characters into the human world with a smooth and believable transition that will have you believing in them in no time. Just wait. Shortly after they arrive via their now-chopped-down home which is taken from the forest to a busy office building to be used as a Christmas tree, the chipmunks are put in the dire circumstance of navigating their way through the legs of the many people in the building’s lobby or face the security dog that is chomping at the bit to eat them. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself ducking and leaning in your seat just like I did because you’ll already be convinced those little animated critters could actually be hurt.

Just as they have been for 50 years, Alvin (voiced by Justin Long; Live Free or Die Hard) is the feisty leader of the pack and the one who usually is in trouble for something. His brothers are equally as distinctive. Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler; tv’s “Criminal Minds”), who wears glasses, is the intellectual one and the one with the brain power, and baby brother Theodore
(Jesse McCartney; Keith) is the rotund, cute little tagalong. It doesn’t take long for them to connect with failing songwriter Dave Seville (Jason Lee; tv’s “My Name Is Earl”), who goes from wanting to exterminate the rodents to loving them in the course of the picture. You will too.

Naturally, Dave’s life is a mess. Claire (Cameron Richardson; Rise), the woman he is head-over-heels for thinks he is a jerk, and when he tries to convince her to give him another chance, she does so with the proviso that they be totally honest with one another. That sounds good until he tries to explain that the reason everything went awry on their date was due to “the talking chipmunks that live in his house”. That’s a hard one to swallow, at least it is until the President of Jett Records, Ian Hawke (David Cross; I’m Not There), pretty much kidnaps the boys and makes them into superstars while working them ragged.

For the Chipmunks, the larger story is about family, as they are looking for a father figure because, as Alvin explains, chipmunk parents disappear after a week or so. It’s Dave who is reluctant to commit to this interspecies adoption. This schmuck obviously has never had a pet in his life. I’d adopt the trio in a heartbeat and they could call me “Mom” or anything else they wanted, as long as it wasn’t “Fat Ass.” That might get them turned into road kill, but anything else is forgivable.

As for Dave, his story is about finding his niche in the music business and in life. He seems to be working hard but getting nowhere with his music and the woman he cares about. Both his and the Chipmunks stories seem like very disparate tales, but they do cross paths and do it with a lot of very funny sight gags, a lot of nostalgic (at least for older viewers) music featuring the Chipmunks earlier hits sung with new, updated arrangements, and with some very clever writing for what most would dismiss as “just a kids’ movie.” Perhaps it should be noted that Alvin and the Chipmunks was written by Jon Vitti, who also authored this past summer’s The Simpsons’ Movie, so it should come as no surprise that the script is as good as it is.

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from Alvin and the Chipmunks, but I was looking forward to the idea of seeing my childhood buddies again for old time’s sake. Instead, I came out of the theater feeling like the years had sloughed away and I was a kid again. It was a terrific feeling. It didn’t last long ~ just the rest of that day ~ but it certainly was fun while it lasted. I hadn’t thought about my old friends for decades, but thanks to Alvin and the Chipmunks I can assure you I’ll be smiling a little differently now every time I see a chipmunk in the woods.

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