The third in the series about the singing chipmunks and their exasperated but perpetually forgiving human father is a little brighter and sweeter than its predecessors. It tones down the slapstick and potty humor, meriting a family-friendly G rating.
The mischievous chipmunk trio singing pop songs in high, squeaky voices have been enduringly popular since their Grammy-winning 1958 single “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” the one where Alvin wants a huuuula hoooooooop. Songwriter Ross Bagdasarian used early audiotape technology to find the right speed – slow enough to be intelligible but fast enough for a helium-like sound to give the harmonies some buoyancy. Many recordings and an animated television series later, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. has continued the saga of the chipmunks with live action movies starring Jason Lee as their long-suffering human father, Dave Seville.
Like the previous films, the third in the series relies primarily on recycled pop songs, Alvin’s naughtiness, Dave’s frustration, a silly bad guy (David Cross as Ian), and a couple of grown-up jokes (James Bond and the double rainbow YouTube hit) to keep the parents awake. It benefits from the welcome addition of former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jenny Slate, best known for her viral video and book, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.”
It begins as Dave, the three original chipmunks, and their female counterparts, the Chipettes, board a cruise ship (intrusive product placement alert) for a much-needed vacation (cue the Go-Go’s). As usual, Alvin keeps getting into trouble and Dave keeps apologizing for the chaos Alvin leaves behind. Their old nemesis Ian shows up on the ship, too, in a pelican costume. There’s an amusing nightclub scene on the ship when the Chipettes are challenged to a dance-off to the inescapable earworm “Party Rock.”
When a kite mishap carries the chipmunks out to sea, Dave and Ian go after them via parasail and everyone ends up cast away on a remote island with only one inhabitant, the stranded Zoe (Slate). Yes, time for Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.”
This is the best part of the movie as the chipmunks are pushed outside of their usual personas. When the cautious, bookish Simon is bit by a toxic insect, he has a temporary personality change, announcing he is now a dashing French-accented daredevil. Without Simon to act as leader, Alvin has to stop being “the fun one” and be responsible for taking care of the others. Chipette Jeanette learns that she can be more than “the pretty one” and rely on her intelligence and resourcefulness, especially after they discover hidden treasure, another Chipette is chip-napped, and a volcano starts to erupt.
Top voice talents Justin Long, Jesse McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, and Christina Applegate are wasted as the chipmunks, their sped-up voices unrecognizable. The same could be said for musical numbers. Upbeat tunes by edgy performers like LMFAO, Lady Gaga, and Pink are homogenized into indistinguishable rhythmic buzz. For kids, the familiarity, the silliness, and Dave’s unconditional love even when the chipmunks get into trouble make it appealing. For adults, the best it has to offer are nostalgia and a running time under 90 minutes.
Parents should know that this film has some mild peril, some rude and risky behavior, and brief potty humor.
Family discussion: How did Alvin and Jeanette learn that they could do more than they thought? How does your family assign “roles” and what do you think about yours? Why wouldn’t Dave let Ian eat the necklace?
If you like this, try: the first two Chipmunk movies (rated PG)