Movie News & Reviews

Chipmunks are back as cuddly cute as ever

We should all have pets like this: warm, furry, cuddly listeners, who just happen to take care of themselves -- and talk!

In this slight, yet musically accurate tribute to the hit group of the '60s cartoon series, director Tim Hill makes clear this squeaky trio was (yes, such broad-appeal acts are pretty much long gone), the ultimate family entertainment. And with some modern funk mixed in with the homespun homilies, this comforting confection once again aims for audiences of all ages.

Dave (a contagiously cheery and patient Jason Lee) is hapless and put upon; yet he remains perennially upbeat and unruffled. When he loses his job (What is it about ordinary nice guys -- think Tom Hanks, Albert Brooks, et al. -- getting dumped by their ad agency bosses?!?), lonely Dave devotes himself to his first love: songwriting. Failing on that front as well, he gets angry with the world and withdraws.

After tossing his audio equipment out the door in frustration, Dave encounters three small creatures munching through the cupboards of his cozy, too-inviting-for-a-carefree-bachelor home.

Within days, "the brothers" have not only wreaked havoc on the place, but also endeared themselves to both Dave and the entire audience. And yes, for those old enough to recall the antics of the TV series: in keeping with tradition, we get to see Dave just ruffled enough to screech, "Aaaal-vinnn!"

Alvin (voiced with enthusiastic charm by "Ed" vet Justin Long) is the wild, boisterous and fun brother, always eager to explore and join the action.

Simon (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler), the eldest brother, is the intellectual one -- thoughtful, and often the practical conscience of the three. Not so subtly, he wears oversize, bottle-bottom spectacles.

Baby brother Theodore (Jesse McCartney) is the roundest and most adorably naive of the bunch, always struggling for inclusion and never quite fully aware of all the mischief his brothers sweep him into.

Together, these chipmunks aren't your ordinary household rodents (a word tossed about with great amusement here); they cook, clean, facilitate romance and, oh yes, sing, which, of course, rescues Dave on the professional front.

With an in at Jett records, Dave brings his talented brood to superproducer and college friend Ian (a marvelous and ebullient David Cross). Upon hearing "the boys" sing, "Uncle Ian" is their new best pal. He proceeds to smother them with gifts as well as every imaginable luxury, all the while pumping Dave for new songs and the chipmunks for hit records. And while Dave protests, "they're just kids," the sudden celebrities are soon overwhelmed and exhausted.

As Dave's friendly ex, the affable Cameron Richardson offers a calming, maternal relief from the hectic nightlife and concert chaos. At first skeptical of her flaky neighbor, she is eventually won over by his newly evident daddy side.

Sure, there will be records and stuffed animals galore. Yet, merchandising tie-ins aside, the chipmunks provide a welcome escape from the gangsters, battlefields and broken homes awaiting us at the multiplex. At the showing I attended, half of the audience was under 12. Many -- even the grown-ups -- emerged singing.

Between the material overload and record business success, the lessons here are just subtle enough to resonate with all ages. Valuing money over family: a dead end. Family and home come first, no matter what.

In these gift-crazed, one-up days of shopping and glitz, that's very refreshing. And just in case your home lacks that furry festive spirit this holiday season: go ahead, check your cupboards.