Branson Reese’s review published on Letterboxd:
I was born in 1988 which means I watched the Chipmunks TV show from the 80s in syndication during the 90s with dutiful regularity. It was never my favorite (Rocko’s Modern Life) nor was it my least favorite (Scooby Doo, which was just constantly on) but it was always hanging out towards the back of the middle of the pack like how I approached my own academic career.
This movie does something special that a lot of ABC sitcoms of the era also did: it makes going on vacation look fucking unreal; the best possible thing you could ever do. ABC sitcoms tended to send their characters off to Disney World where they’d all get swept up in the magic of the kingdom and have storylines they never would’ve thought possible back home. To this day the idea of going to Disney World with my friends sounds thrilling even though I know the reality would be an expensive headache where we mostly stand stationary between two families with uniquely toxic dynamics.
Alvin and the Chimpunks’ Great Balloon Adventure -or whatever the fuck this is called- eschews Disney World for the far more rewarding entire earth. These chipmunks aren’t trying to sell me anything, they’re simply trying to engage in the unique cultural menagerie our dying planet has to offer. During the Boys and Girls of Rock n Roll musical number they gleefully dance on headless statues, recontextualizing them to fit their shallow needs. What was once a statue of Dionysus, god of wine and revelry is now a sight gag to remind us that Theodore is the fat one. Good.
Movie versions of TV shows are almost universally poorly received. This makes sense because they’re all bad except Beavis and Butthead do America which is great and the Munsters one which is fine. Addams Family doesn’t count because it’s not the cast of the TV show. But I think there’s something to movie adaptations that transcends good and bad: it feels like these characters you’ve grown to know in a way only television allows have walked out into a bigger, more dangerous world. The stakes of a weekly cartoon and the stakes of a film are drastically different. Whereas before the characters were usually learning simple lessons, now they could die. That’s potentially very exciting and you’d think it would’ve led to some better stuff.
It’s tempting to review this entirely through the lens of nostalgia but what I’d actually be reviewing is how nice it felt to be six and not have accidentally trained my body to stop taking deep breaths. The movie itself is mostly forgettable but it does offer a few things up that I think are interesting and worthy of note:
1- The animation in this is beautiful. The chipmunks & chipettes are what they are in terms of design, but this movie really is an argument for the Richard Williams school of “anything can be made to move beautifully.” They were originally extremely early sixties UPA style limited animation characters who looked bad but not unappealing. Charming, I guess? But their eighties redesign is garish and wrong. They've been given dimensions they never earned and made cloyingly cute. This is to say nothing of the Chipettes, needlessly sexualized monsters who exaggerate all of the problems with the 80s chipmunks and seem designed entirely as mates for the boys. Honestly disgusting. But the animation! Jesus these characters move well! There’s an almost Disney-level squash and stretch to these characters that gives them a weight and realism they’d never see again.
2- This movie is unbelievably sexually charged. Just horny as shit. What the fuck happened here? I know I just said the animation was incredible but good animation is a morally neutral thing. It’s craft, plain and simple. Here, it’s been used to make the disgusting argument that the Chipmunks and Chipettes are about to pop and could explode into a suck and fuck fest at the drop of a hat. It’s no wonder that that meme of “which chipmunk gettin the best brain?” meme is going around. When you plant a seed it tends to sprout.
3- I may have overestimated how many interesting things were going on in this movie.