In the beginning of animation there was God, and God was Walt Disney. One day, Walt the father stretched out his finger at his greatest creation, Toon. This encounter birthed a strange and bastard genre, what Fredrick S. Litten called “Mixed Pictures.” Walt’s Alice’s Wonderland (1923) was the first of these hybrids, which certainly mind-fracked thousands of kid’s brains by seeing animated toons interacting with “real” people onscreen.
The subgenre hit creative high’s during Ralph Bakshi’s films of the 70’s, then hit an apex with 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and finally hitting rock-bottom, along with Bakshi, in 1992 with his film Cool World. Now there’s further evidence that the subgenre isn’t going anywhere: the Chipmunk franchise has latched onto it. As if two films about the Chipmunks weren’t enough, the braintrust of 20th Century Fox decided to release a third installment of Alvin and the Chipmunks. These pitch-shifted rodents are CGI rendered, interacting with former 90’s prankster gangsters Jason Lee and David Cross, playing caretaker Dave and villain Ian Hawke.
In our glorious year of 2011 we bear witness to Walt’s dream of being the Isaac Asimov of animation fully reduced to a supercomputer’s nocturnal emission. Chipwrecked finds Alvin (voiced by Justin Long) and his furry frenemies, Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), Theadore (Jesse McCartney) and their fur-friends, Jeanette (Anna Faris), Eleanor (Amy Poehler), and Brittany (Christina Applegate) stranded on a desert island. This film is more interested in referencing Survivor than Lord of the Flies. And why not? Who wants to watch an animated film that resembles Shakespeare? Well, maybe the Japanese, who have a history of taking their animated films seriously (See Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, or Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away). This isAmerica, we love watching fat people falling down, handsome men dressing as ugly women, and fart jokes by animated squirrels with sideways hats.
There’s no excuse for a film like this to be in theaters. At some point, during storyboarding, shooting, or post-production someone should have realized they forgot to add some heart into this picture. I guess everyone was too busy collecting a check, especially David Cross, who has made a living berating the hell out of these types of movies and should know better. Kids entertainment doesn’t have to be this insulting; just look at the latest Muppet movie for an example.
Luckily, this film doesn’t have as much singing as the previous two installments. We do get to hear the Chipmunks drop pop cultural acorns. Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Wilson the volleyball, Gollum and others get the auto-tuned treatment as the punch lines of many a failed joke. Gaga is an appropriate reference for this film, which delivers more past and present pop pastiche than Seth Rogen when drunk sexting.
Some people will say hey, “It’s the damn Chipmunks, go easy!” To them I say, movies are expensive and time is precious. Why waste both? Instead, wait for the next Pixar gem or Netflix some foreign animated films. Spending two hours in the dark with the Chipmunks is like making it rain in the club with the grocery money, you can’t afford to. Will the Chipmunks meet back up with Dave, survive the islands secrets and return home unscathed? Of course, it’s viewer’s brains that get left behind.