Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (US - BD RA)
Gabe lets out a sigh and loses 88 minutes of his life to singing rodents...
The Chipmunks, an international musical sensation made up of three normal sized speaking chipmunks, are playing a benefit concert in Paris when their human guardian Dave (Jason Lee) is badly injured in a brutal backstage accident. An additional twist of fate puts the boys in the care of Dave’s slacker cousin Toby (Zachary Levi), who puts the boys in normal human high school. Meanwhile, the Chipmunks’ evil ex-manager Ian Hawke (David Cross) is left desolate following the events of the first film (I assume). Lucky for him there are three more singing chipmunks in the world, and they’re girls.
Three characters die in the first ten minutes Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Well not really. Dave survives his massive trauma, Alvin is not put permanently to sleep by a human dosage of sedative, and Aunt Whatsherface survives tumbling down stairs in her wheelchair and being hit by a luggage cart (she’s super elderly, by the way). But imagine if this particularly empty children’s film had offed three characters in the first few minutes? With a little gallows humour, and the death count of something like, I don’t know, twenty-three, the Squeakquel might’ve actually been an enjoyable movie. As is, the humour here is broken rather rigorously into three categories – jokes about characters savagely injuring themselves, jokes about the main characters being tiny (I actually kind of respect the scale choice, simply because child sized chipmunks would be disturbing), and the sounds of pop hits as sung by extremely high-pitched voices. There’s also one fart joke, and one harsh hit to the balls. Much funnier than this intended comedy are the sad performances churned out by actors I’m pretty sure aren’t in desperate need of coke money at this time (though I worry about David Cross). And why do we need A-List actors to voice the CG characters? Their voices are so processed it doesn’t matter.
But who can really blame actors for looking for wide-scale coverage, and the film’s technical aspects are effective enough (a few of the action scenes employ intricate, one take camera work), but the screenplay is so lazy and derivative it raises slightly homicidal feelings. Apparently it took four people to rip-off every ‘80s high school movie trope, and one of them was Fox animation standby Jon Vitti, who after The Simpsons, The Critic, King of the Hill, Ice Age and Robots apparently doesn’t give a chipmunk’s ass about earning his likely astronomical pay check anymore (can’t really blame him). The writers snag a few plot points from Dream Girls too, for good measure, and I’m assuming replay about half the original film (I didn’t see it). Apathetic parents will theoretically be happy enough with the story’s moral stance, and there are a few little chuckles found in Theodore’s pseudo-arc (the Meerkat Manor angle is a little outdated, but it’s almost clever). The CG is pretty good from the standpoint of character animation (the sexuality infused into the Chipettes’ dances is pretty disturbing), though the CG characters never really meld with the scenes. Unlike G-Force, or other recent talking animal movies, photo-realistic results don’t really seem to be the point.
The movie is trying, but it certainly looks spectacular in 1080p high definition. Some of the brighter outside shoots, specifically shots which establish locations, feature the slightest hint of edge enhancement, but for the most part the utter clarity is impressive, and the compositions are bright and colourful enough to mix well with the clearly CG animated creatures. There is more grain than expected, but there aren’t any noticeable compression artefacts, and the deep set details (when not pertaining to Chipmunk scale, which features shallower focus) are nearly as sharp as the fine hairs on the ECU CG rodent heads. The transfer’s overall cartoony colour quality is the big story, and impresses on the same levels as recent fully animated HD transfers. The poppy primary and secondary colours that make up the Chipmunk costumes are bright and full, without sacrificing the fine details and textures. There’s an itty bitty bit of blooming during the widest shots on the most colourful edges, but the quantity to quality ratio is superb. Minus some very minor blemishes this would be a perfect transfer.
So much squeaking! This is clearly why DTS developed uncompressed HD Master Audio. Clearly. That said, The Squeakquel doesn’t quite compete with your most impressive Blu-rays in terms of sonic force or creative sound design. The concert scene that opens the film features plenty of dynamic sound, and though the reality of the noise is ridiculous, clarity, mix, and LFE impact are all relatively perfect. The other musical moments follow suit, though they’re a little less action oriented. The dialogue track isn’t always consistent. The goofy high pitched quality of the Chipmunk and Chipette vocals don’t really lend themselves to ‘natural’ sounding dialogue, and there are moments where the sound quality changes up a tiny bit mid-scene. The human dialogue has a few similar problems. Surround and directional effects aren’t overwhelming outside the concert scenes, but the buzz of the school hallways is a quiet reminder of the rear channels, and the last act’s little mini-bike/helicopter chase is kind of neat. This means G-Force wins the dumb, half-animated furry creature movie DTS-HD war.
Unfortunately for me this Blu-ray features a sizable collection of extras, beginning with ‘Munk Music Machine’ (11:00, HD), a collection of all eleven of the film’s major musical moments (with an optional continuous repeat mode for torturing parents). There’s no additional footage, these aren’t music videos, but the characters have been animated into some of the Chipmunkless shots. The cutting between songs is shaky, and the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. Kids that can read can watch the film with the ‘Music in a Nutshell: Song Trivia’ track activated. The pop-ups are exclusive to the music, and cover several versions of each song. The ‘A-l-v-i-n-n-n-n!!! Album Maker’ is a little interactive game that lets kids choose from 3 age groups, and 4 album covers, then allows them to snag stills and place them on a paneled layout, with stickers and stuff.
‘Munking History: 50 Years of Chipmunk Mischief, Mayhem and Music’ (9:20, HD) is an almost fascinating look at the history of the Chipmunk franchise. It’s a little to fluffy and devoted to clips to be good, but there’s an interesting story in there somewhere. ‘Meet the Chipettes’ (8:30, HD) explores the both the history of the female versions of the squeaky creatures, and their place in this production. Watching the actresses record their voices at half speed is pretty amusing. ‘Rockin’ Rising Stars’ (6:20, HD) quickly discusses two bands that appear in the background of the film – Honor Society and Charice Pempengco. Apparently these are up-and-coming groups, not established brands like Hannah Montana or The Jonas Brothers. Pempengco does the chipmunk voices without the post-production. ‘Music Mania’ (9:00, HD) takes a look behind the scenes of the film’s climatic battle of the bands type concert, including participating groups, photography, choreography, animation, acting with characters that aren’t there, and practical effects. ‘A-Nut-omy of a Scene’ (2:40, HD) briefly gives us more concerning the strange production process, while ‘Meet the Stuffies’ (3:10, HD) spoofs the stand-in stuffed puppets used for reference passes. ‘The Chipmunks: Behind the Squeaking’ (9:40, HD) is a sort of ‘Behind the Music’ spoof, probably made to sell the film on television.
Things are wrapped up with ‘Shake Your Groove Thing with Rosero’ (9:00, HD), an instructional dance video, five music videos, three with sing-along options (‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)’, ‘We Are Family’, ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’), two without (‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘The Song’), and trailers for other Fox Blu-ray releases.
Much more interesting than this awful movie is the fact that such a bizarre concept like singing chipmunks has endured for half a century. My mother listened to them as a child, I watched their TV series as a child, and now a new generation of children is enjoying them in a live action form. As an adult (who loves animation and children’s entertainment) I can’t really see anything valuable in the concept, but I can’t deny that kind of longevity ( The Squeakquel made a lot of money, and won the Kid’s Choice award). Are there any anthropologists in the house? Ahem. The Blu-ray looks pretty great, sounds pretty solid, and features more extras than expected, some of which are actually entertaining.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 30th March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish and Descriptive Audio English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: 'Munk Music Machine, Music in a Nutshell Song Trivia, A-l-v-i-n-n-n-n!!! Album Maker, Music Videos with Optional Sing-Along, Eight Nutty Featurettes, Trailers, Digital Copy, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Betty Thomas
Cast: Justin Long, Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee, Matthew Gray Gubler
Genre: Comedy and Family
Length: 88 minutes
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