I Was Prepared to Hate “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” and Instead I Had a Good TimeShawn Burns
With the kids home for far, far too long over the holiday break, we decided to use some of our “family time” to sit in a dark room with a bright light and fifty chattering three year olds and their shh-ing parents. That is, we went to the movies!
My daughter has seen and loved both Alvin and the Chipmunks and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and I have, well, seen them. She noticed the posters advertising Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked over the last month and kept announcing: “ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS IS COMING SOON TO THEATERS!!!” Don’t let anyone ever tell you that advertising to kids is a waste of money.
So we took the kids to see this third, possibly eye-bleeding and brain-melting entry, and…I…well…I liked it. Damn.Now, don’t get me wrong: This is a kids’ movie, so I’m not saying I’d rather watch this than Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. But it had a worthwhile little lesson for parents, some good examples (for boys), and some decent writing.
From the get-go, the lesson of the film is “Let go; trust your kids.” Dave, solo-parent of the Chipmunks and Chipettes, has long been contending with Alvin’s…precociousness…. He loses his temper (screaming “Alvin!” as usual) and restricts the chipmunks’ activities because of the trouble they, particularly Alvin, cause on board a cruise ship. His frustration is perpetual, and he butts heads with Alvin in a “Grow up!”–“Stop treating me like a baby!” shouting match. Simon, the brainy, wise voice of reason, comes to Dave in private later and suggests that pulling the reins too tight on a racehorse like Alvin might just cause problems for everybody, while holding them lightly could allow him to show what he is made of. Dave retorts that letting go like that might just see Alvin crash into something. His pessimism and over-protectiveness is familiar.
My own daughter often seems like an Alvin type, and I’ve found myself frustrated and butting heads with her, trying to manage the results of her exuberant engagement with the world and annoyed when she just. won’t. listen. Dave’s pessimism echoes my own: She’ll just hurt herself if I really let her go. The plot of the movie, of course, shows Dave forced to let the chipmunks rise to the occasion (they are shipwrecked…er, chipwrecked on an island and Dave tries to find them while they try to survive) and shows the little squeakers maturing as they find themselves without someone to take care of them. Maybe my daughter would too. Anyone have a desert island I can borrow?
Kids watching Chipwrecked will see chipmunks having fun and causing chaos, but they’ll also see children learning how to confront their fears. Alvin fears being relied-upon, but is forced to accept responsibility when Simon undergoes a personality change (thanks tiny spider bite!). Simon, ever-shy around girls and wary of dangerous activities, learns to embrace his confidence and competence when he is put in a position that requires daring usually only demonstrated by Alvin. And Theodore learns…hmm…I actually can’t remember what Theodore learns. His storyline is mostly a series of jokes about a movie monster he fears after being forced to watch a movie out of his comfort zone early in the film. I guess he embraces the monster concept later, but there’s no big lesson for him.
Unfortunately, the examples for girls fall well short of those offered for boys. If anyone undergoes a change it is Brittany, who develops a bit in an Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) way. Alvin mocks the superficial Brittany as being incapable of building a shelter, so while he trudges along with dogged determination and completes a competently assembled structure, Brittany is used as a joke, magically creating a desert island mansion in the same amount of time. Hooray! Girls can do anything! But I’m not sure how worthwhile that little magic trick is: I’d rather my daughter see Brittany trying harder than achieving some near-impossible goal out of an “I’ll show that boy!” moment of spite. The writing takes girls far less seriously than it does boys, and that’s a shame. I hope my own daughter identifies with Alvin. I suppose that’s the point, though: It’s called Alvin and the Chipmunks, so everything is secondary to Alvin’s story.
Bias in the writing aside, the writing in Chipwrecked was more clever than either of the first two Chipmunks films. Many jokes were for the parents (honeybadger, I’m looking at you) and I have to admit I laughed quite a few times. The writers made good use of the history of desert island films and TV shows (the Castaway reference was hilarious), so that at times Chipwrecked works like a satire of the genre. Theodore has one throwaway line that still makes me laugh to think about: Having seen the horror film “Jungle Monster 4” on the cruise ship, Theodore greets every noise in the jungle with “It’s the Jungle Monster!” except for one hilarious “It’s the Jungle Monster 4!” moment.
It was as light as you’d expect a Chipmunks movie to be, but it didn’t feel lazy. Apart from a story-line involving another castaway and her real reason for being on the island, none of it felt forced. Well, not too forced. For a Chipmunks movie.