Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (review)

Hug a Rodent

When a paralyzed Marine takes part in a daring biological experiment on another planet, he encounters a remarkable alien civilization–

No, wait: that’s Avatar. This movie is about singing cartoon rodents.

Crippling injuries abound, however: Poor Jason Lee, as Dave Seville, the owner/manager/guardian of the little pop star hamsters, is just about dispatched as Squeakquel opens, when Alvin, Simon, and Theodore — rocking out to a Van Halen cover in concert — cause a horrendously Three Stooges-esque accident that lands Dave in a full body cast.

Well, actually, it’s just Alvin who causes it, which causes Dave to scream, “Alllll-viiiin!!” But you knew that already.
It’s kind of a shame that Lee (Jersey Girl, Dreamcatcher) is just about absent from this second outing of the rebooted musical mouse trio, because it was his charm that made the first movie work as well as it did, and made it as ridiculously adorable as it was. Lee clearly believed so profoundly in his invisible costars (or so they would have been to the actor on the set, anyway) that he made it work for us, too. His replacement here — Zachary Levi, from TV’s Chuck, as Dave’s slacker cousin Toby — is fine, but the spin his character takes to distinguish him from Dave is that he’s just not interested in the little critters, and would rather play with his video games, which removes from the center of the movie the surprisingly appealing relationship between man and ’munk. Toby’s just not the kind of guy a little chipmunk like Theodore can cuddle up with when a nightmare wakes him in the middle of the night. Alas, poor Theodore!

Instead, this time out, the chipmunks are sent home from their concert tour as punishment for nearly killing Dave, and worse, are sent to school. And so it all becomes High School Musical with singing squirrels as the boys — Alvin is voiced by Justin Long (Planet 51, Funny People), Simon by Matthew Gray Gubler (The Great Buck Howard, RV), and Theodore by Jesse McCartney (Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!) — get caught up in an interschool competition to raise money for the academic music programs. And they have some new competition themselves from the Chipettes, singing girl chipmunks — Brittany, voiced by Christina Applegate (Surviving Christmas, Wonderland); Jeanette, voiced by Anna Faris (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Observe and Report); and Eleanor, voiced by Amy Poehler (Monsters vs. Aliens, Baby Mama) — sponsored by the evil Jett Records manager they shamed in the last movie (David Cross: Year One, Kung Fu Panda).

It’s not all quite as absurdly endearing as the first film was, but it’s still pretty darn cute, and almost entirely inoffensive, certainly as kids’ movies go. (I don’t generally use the word inoffensive to connote a positive, but it works here.) The chipmunks at least get appropriate “romantic” interests in members of their own species — I confess to being a bit mystified by all the young human girls screaming and swooning over Alvin, Simon, and Theordore: sure, they’re cute, but not like that. But there’s not much reality we’re meant to take from a movie in which Alvin can play high school football and not only not get squashed but become the MVP.

This isn’t going to deeply please anyone over the age of 10, but not much coming out of Hollywood does these days. What is sorta special about Squeakquel is that it isn’t blitheringly stupid, just gently silly. Evil David Cross gets his comeuppance… again. There’s hardly any product placement at all… and the most prominent of it is for Toys for Tots, word of which actually deserves to be spread far and wide. There’s only one instance of crotch-injury humor, which is practically a record low for movies of this type, and only one fart joke… which actually works in context as something other than a prompt to make the just-potty-trained laugh out loud.

Things could be worse.

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