Although I did come close to falling asleep somewhere during the third act of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, I fought off unconsciousness out of respect for my date. Not that he had been interested in my opinion when we were at home deciding what movie to go see.
Me: “Happy Feet 2?”
Me: “Anything but Chipmunks.”
I know: I’m the parent, I should get to decide. I do actually make decisions, all the time, decisions he hates. Take the dog out, please. Turn off the TV it’s been on for nine hours, please. But when it comes to finding a movie to Popcorn Whisper about, the ones I’m dreading can provide more material than the ones I glide through without a hitch.
That’s what I said on Twitter shortly after coming home from the theater. I feel like I should amend this Tweet, though, because it’s lazy parent snobbery. Here’s the secret of how I made it through this movie: by unplugging my mind.
Don’t even think about the plot. Don’t even think about why Jason Lee, who was brilliant as the voice of Syndrome in The Incredibles, would do a third Chipmunk movie on a cruise ship, playing a character based on a guy that got angry on a novelty record* in 1958. Johnny Depp made four movies based on an animatronic drunk, so it’s time that we move, as a nation, beyond positing thin source material as an insurmountable obstacle to getting shit done. Of course Jason Lee needs to eat, so he needs to work, and he made it through Chipwrecked with his integrity intact, God bless him. I can only think that he managed to play the dad role respectably because (a) the whole movie wasn’t on his back, it was up to the animators to make it work; (b) his director, Mike Mitchell (who did Sky High, which is great), didn’t force him to smile too much or give him a love interest, and (c) his costars, David Cross and Jenny Slate, were allowed to be angry/funny. Lee also got an impressive list of chipmunk-voiced costars (Amy Poehler, Justin Long, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate) even though their voices were made digitally unrecognizable. If they’d given everyone helium before recording the chipmunk dialog, some nuance might have come through? That’s how it worked at my 14th birthday party.
David Cross has come out and publicly said that Chipwrecked was the “most unpleasant experience” of his entire career, and not just because he spent the whole movie in a pelican suit. (Cross was kinder about the first two Chipmunk films, and famously defended his right to do a mainstream movie because artistic integrity won’t pay for a house.)
Of course, we have to look at the plot eventually. There was some James Bond shtick with Alvin in a tuxedo jacket in the ship’s casino; the girl chipmunks got into some sort of salsa dance-off with some bitchy Latina ladies with amazing bootys, but chipmunk legs are way too short to make me seriously believe that they were the better dancers. Jason Lee continued to be overtaxed by his responsibilities as a “parent” of six overactive rodents, everyone got chipwrecked, and then the Cast Away and Indiana Jones references started popping up. There was some nice role reversal where the pretty girl discovered that when times get tough she could be the smart girl, and the smart boy overcame his fears as the result of a spider bite. The human male and female leads did not I REPEAT: DID NOT fall in love, David Cross had a funny speech, everyone got rescued, the end.
What matters to me most, of course, is that my son found the whole thing adorable. The fact that on the brink of teenagerhood he is totally secure in his love for cute, furry little animals gives me the reassurance I need that letting him play Halo once in awhile hasn’t turned his brain into macho-flavored brain-paste.
* If you have a minute, it’s fun to listen to the B side of that record, which I loved even more than the Chipmunks as a kid.