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The Chipmunk Adventure

Bagdasarian Productions (May 22, 1987), Paramount Home Video (May 23, 2006), single disc, 76 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 likely original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0 Stereo, Rated G, Retail: $14.99

Storyboard:

Alvin And The Chipmunks engage in a race around the world with the Chipettes, but do not realize they are acting as the pawns of smugglers.

The Sweatbox Review:

Back in 1987, I was at that unfortunate stage of life where one largely abandons cartoons. Yes, I was a teenager then, soon to enter my final year of high school, and as such I had little time to give much consideration to cartoons. Homework, girls, and other extracurricular interests took up my time, and because of this I have no memory of The Chipmunk Adventure debuting in theaters in May of that year. Honestly, I have no recollection of this, and yet the movie did gross over 2 million dollars its first weekend, so obviously some people went to see it.

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I can understand why it was made, though. The Alvin And The Chipmunks Saturday morning cartoon had been a great success on NBC since 1983, running new episodes for an impressive seven years. As one of the biggest hits of its time, not to mention having the nostalgic appeal of characters that had been around since the 1950s, it was natural to bring the boys to the big screen. Although I do recall seeing the cartoon show when I was younger, I have to admit to feeling a bit ambivalent about reviewing the movie. Not having any familiarity with it, I figured, “How good could it be?” Little did I know! It turns out that this movie is much beloved by many, and lo and behold I found myself quite impressed when I watched it too.

Just as with the 1980s TV series and the Christmas special that preceded it, the son of Alvin’s creator, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., and his wife Janice Karman produced the movie. Karman was also reluctantly called into service to direct the film after the original director quit the project. Incredibly, they financed the picture themselves, Janice was directing her first feature, they were also still producing the TV show and building a home, and Janice was pregnant all at the same time!! The quality of the film is amazing considering these factors, not to mention the troubled production history that saw them get months behind schedule when the overseas animators failed to produce.

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They chose a big, globetrotting story for their film, which features not only the three brothers (Alvin, Simon, and Theodore) but also their female counterparts the Chipettes (Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor). In this story, the boys’ adoptive dad, Dave Seville, is leaving on a trip to Europe. Alvin is very disappointed that he is not allowed to go with Dave, and mopes with his brothers at an arcade. The Chipettes are there too, and Alvin and Brittany get into a competition typical of their rivalry. They are playing a video game called Around the World in 30 Days, a game in which Alvin can fantasize about traveling to exotic locales. Nearby, two sinister individuals are eavesdropping on the chipmunks.

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Siblings Klaus and Claudia Furschtien are international jewel smugglers with a problem. Their rival Jamal is already familiar with their tricks and their usual deliveryman, so they need a new plan with a new courier. Impressed by the enthusiastic one-upmanship of Alvin and Brittany, Claudia hatches a plan to involve the kids in her diamond smuggling racket. Klaus thinks the idea foolish, but Claudia insists, and makes an offer to all the chipmunks. She presents the idea of a competition— to see which threesome (led by Alvin and Brittany) can circle the globe the fastest. Along the way, the chipmunks will unknowingly deposit diamonds with various contacts, while accepting money in return. It’s ridiculous, and yet— who would ever suspect kids as smugglers, right? It’s brilliant!

What follows is a thrilling race around the world, with stops in several exotic places, and just enough time to spare to sing a few songs. Adding to the danger is their pursuit by agents of Jamal, intent on capturing the diamonds for themselves. Eventually, the paths of the two teams cross in Athens, where they engage in a big, fun rock and roll battle among the Greek ruins. Later, both groups are taken captive by locals— the girls in Egypt, and the boys in a tropical jungle. The two teams will meet again, and naturally must work together to get home and to foil the smugglers.

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This is a bouncy little movie that, while intended to be enjoyed by youngsters can also play well to all ages. The story may not be groundbreaking, but it is a pretty good spin on a classic story. The songs are uniformly good as well, adding plenty of zest to the festivities. (I was a little weirded out by the young Chipettes, garbed in skimpy harem outfits singing “Get Lucky with You” while outfoxing a group of snakes, but perhaps I was reading too much into that.)

The greatest surprise in watching the movie was seeing just how wonderful the animation was. When Bagdasarian and Karman produced the film, they had access to some amazing talent. It was akin to when the big animation studios folded in the 1950s and 1960s, and Hanna-Barbera got to reap the rewards. For the Chipmunks movie, they were able to get top talent from Disney (coming off the flop known as The Black Cauldron) and other places. Looking through the credits, I was astonished to see the name of Disney wonder boy Glen Keane, for example. Though the animation ended up being done all over— the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia— the resulting quality was incredibly good. The characters dance around with a great deal of attitude utilizing exceptionally strong posing, and the designs are much more detailed than I would have expected. These designs also look fairly unique, evoking thoughts of artists as diverse as Peter Chung and Mad’s Mort Drucker. In terms of animation quality, The Chipmunk Adventure is at least as good as any Disney made-for-video offering, and probably rivals or surpasses some of the works of Don Bluth.

This movie is good G-rated fun for everyone, a pleasant surprise that comes off surprisingly fresh for a film made way back in 1987.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

There is only one bonus feature, and it is a minor one. Original Artwork From The Chipmunk Adventure has a few dozen shots of production artwork (including storyboards) and stills from the film. Better than nothing, I suppose. Paramount didn’t even put any trailers on the disc.

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Case Study:

Standard keepcase, with an insert that only advertises a Chipmunks website.

Ink And Paint:

A 4:3 “fullscreen” transfer is included on this single-layer disc. If the film was produced in a wider ratio, I could not tell. The framing looks fine. The storyboards included on the disc look to have been done in the 4:3 ratio as well, so maybe that is an indicator that this is the correct ratio (although is would have likely been matted for theatrical showings.) Other than a fine amount of grain, and the odd bit of dust or scratching, this is a very reasonable video presentation. Compression was done quite well, with little significant aliasing or pixellation.

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Scratch Tracks:

The 5.1 Dolby Digital track was way better than I could have expected. This movie came out almost 20 years ago, yet rivals some of today’s features in the audio department. Though there is little bass present, there are plenty of directional effects that capably utilize all the speakers. I was impressed. For those without 5.1 systems, you will need to select the less impressive but still capable Stereo track. No other languages, nor any subtitles, are offered.

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Final Cut:

This was another fun surprise that I would likely have never watched if I were not a DVD reviewer. I belatedly congratulate Janice Karman on an amazing job bringing this film together and have it look as great as it does. She and Bagdasarian pulled off quite a feat, made more impressive when you read about the history of the production. Despite having to edit the script on the go to accommodate lagging production, and farming out the animation to several studios and many individuals overall, this movie came together quite nicely. The production values are very strong, even though you know that it must have cost a fraction of what today’s features go for. Too bad that Paramount had little in the way of bonus material placed on the disc (a commentary would have been fabulous), but at least the video and audio quality is quite good. The movie is entertaining, so don’t be afraid to watch it with your kid if he or she asks. I can see now why this movie has so many fans.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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