Ruby-Spears Productions/DIC Entertainment (1984, 1989, 1995), Paramount (February 10, 2009), single disc, 66 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 fullscreen, Dolby Digital 2.0, Unrated, Retail: $16.99
Lent has finally arrived, and Easter is right around the corner. Stores have already stocked up on chocolate-covered Easter eggs. This also means that Easter-themed DVDs have started to show up in the marketplace. The Mystery of the Easter Chipmunk was originally a Direct-to-Video release back in 1995. Now it has been reissued on DVD just in time for a new-found interest in Alvin and his chipmunk brothers. In this DVD, the Chipmunks participate in one Easter-related adventure, and four others from the 80s TV show.
The Sweatbox Review:
There’s been a lot of renewed interested in Alvin and the Chipmunks, ever since their film came out two years ago in 2007 and became a blockbuster. Paramount, which owns the rights to the show on home video, has been furiously releasing DVD after DVD of their many specials and cartoon episodes. There hasn’t been a full season release yet (8 seasons were produced) and I’m actually surprised to hear that no update on the show has been proposed publicly. Still, it is easy to say that after fifty years since the characters were created for a musical act by the late Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., they are still a relevant part of our cultural identity. After a brief animated series that premiered in 1961, the show was revived two decades later by his son Ross Bagdasarian, Jr.
In 1983, Ruby-Spears Productions updated the musical trio for a new show that would air on NBC. The show starred Alvin and his two brothers, Simon and Theodore, living in the human world with their adult guardian, Dave Seville. The show tackled everyday children’s issues and many of the pressures of being under the spotlight. What ultimately made the show connect with audiences were its three leads which were instantly identifiable to kids around the world. Alvin plays the popular leader who craves the spotlight. Simon is the intellectual brother who is knowledgeable about everything. Finally, there was Theodore who is the more innocent and caring brother. To make the show appeal to young girls, the producers also added The Chipettes, which were female versions of Alvin and Co. The show became a hit with children and was even made into an animated feature film in 1987 with The Chipmunk Adventure. On this release we get four episodes from the show, along with a DTV episode originally released in 1995.
The first episode on this disc is the title episode, The Mystery of the Easter Chipmunk. In this full episode (22 minutes), the Chipmunks meet the real Easter Bunny, Mr. Hoppity. After a brief remark by their grandfather, they begin to think that he might’ve been the original Easter Bunny. Alvin, curious about the implications this has on his family legacy, investigates by interrogating the Easter Bunny’s aunt. She confirms that the Easter Bunny was not the first animal to distribute Easter baskets. Alvin assumes she means the original was his uncle and he exposes this idea to the media, blaming the Easter Bunny for decades of deception. Alvin and his brothers then investigate the matter further, eventually invading the Bunny’s Easter Egg factory. The story culminates in court where Alvin places the Easter Bunny on trial. Overall, this is an average Alvin and the Chipmunks short. I felt that some of the more charming aspects from the television show were missing and this was very much an Alvin episode. We barely got to see the other characters and Alvin came out a bit obsessed. It is not my favorite episode of the show, but I could see kids buying into the Easter spirit.
The second episode is from the second season of the show which aired in 1984, called Snow Wrong. In this episode, a theater is having rehearsals for the parts in a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Chipmunks and the Chipettes all audition for different parts, but it is Brittany that has an eye out for the title role of Snow White. Eventually, she proves she is the best candidate for the role, but the director’s daughter steals the part away from her. Eventually, the situation is reversed, but the daughter does everything possible to keep Brittany from shining in her new role. All of this, only minutes away from show time. This was a cute episode and it establishes Brittany’s character well in place for future seasons. This demonstrates the natural progression of the show when in the later seasons we would see episodes dedicated entirely to the Chipettes.
The third episode is called Special Kind of Champ and it first aired in 1989 for season six of the show. In this episode, Alvin gets in trouble with his gym teacher when he does not try to do his best at track and field. Alvin explains to him that because of his short legs he feels he is incapable of doing well and would rather not try at all. His coach then gives him an ultimatum that in order to pass gym he must train another athlete to be in the Olympics. What Alvin does not know, and later finds out, is that he is going to train a handicapped child to participate in the Special Olympics. At first, Alvin is reluctant, but the kid’s determination and spirit inspires him to do his best and they eventually support one another. In the process, Alvin learns that winning is not everything and that he should also play sports because of how they make him feel. This is a cute episode with a good message. This is certainly one of those episodes where Alvin does seem to learn a lesson from others and it ultimately is a good lesson for kids to learn.
The fourth episode is called Thinking Cap Trap which aired in the show’s seventh season towards the end of 1989. In this episode, Simon is constantly interrupted by his family members when he is watching his favorite quiz show. Simon gets frustrated that his family is not smart enough to participate on the show as a family. They all seem to rely on his brains to do things in life. Eventually, Simon is fed up and invents a machine that is supposed to charge their brains into being smart. The machine, worn as a cap on their head, works so well that Simon signs the family up for the quiz show. However, on the day of the show, the effects of the cap have worn off and Simon is embarrassed when his family cannot answer basic trivia questions. In the end of the show, Simon even has to rely solely on his family to answer the questions that can win the show. This is my favorite episode on this disc and I like the message at the end of the show. Ultimately, Simon learns that each member of his family is special and knowledgeable about different things.
The last episode on the disc is also from the show’s sixth season and it is called Luck O’ The Chipmunks and it first aired in 1989. In this episode, the Chipmunks are in class when they are introduced to a new student, Mickey O’Dell. Mickey is apparently from Ireland (despite his terrible accent) and loves magic. However, when his tricks do not work, he becomes shunned by the other kids in class. Theodore, however, always with his sensitive heart becomes friends with Mickey who desperately wants to keep him around. In order to impress Theodore, he tells him that he has a leprechaun that appears only to him at his house. Theodore is intrigued and brings his brothers to Mickey’s house to see him. Alvin and Simon both request wishes from the leprechaun. Mickey, desperate to cover his own tracks, decides that he will grant them their wishes and the plot escalates to the rest of the school. Eventually, Mickey has to come out and explain everything to his friends, but not before some amusing close calls. This is my least favorite episode on the disc. It barely focuses on The Chipmunks and the leprechaun plot was just not my favorite. I felt sorry for Mickey, but I felt no need for him to make up this elaborate plot about a leprechaun. Also, I could’ve used a better voice characterization for the kid. This episode is a good example of how the show became towards the end of its run when writers started to run out of good ideas.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There is very little on this disc in terms of special features. We are only treated to a preview for more Alvin and the Chipmunks DVDs, including some holiday favorites.
The show comes in a very basic black keepcase with no inserts. On the cover of the DVD is a modernized look of the main characters. The Easter Rabbit, however, does look a bit angry which is very different than what he is on the episode.
Ink And Paint:
I have a few issues with the quality of the picture of this release. It is clear that these episodes were directly transferred from video with no cleanup or maintenance. The first thing that caught my eye were the cell shadows noticeable in the first few frames. They were quite distracting. The episodes from the actual 80s show, were noticeably fuzzy and contained some grain. Each episode was approximately 11 minutes with the main feature clocking in at nearly 22 minutes. I thought it was very interesting to compare the animation style from the first seasons from the later seasons. In Snow Wrong we get a different character design than in the later seasons. The characters became more polished, and actually they became increasingly more Caucasian (Alvin even got blue eyes in later seasons). The change in character animation is due to the first five seasons being animated by Ruby-Spears while the later seasons were animated by both DIC Entertainment and briefly for Murakami Wolf-Swenson Productions (first half of season six). This DVD is being released with intact opening and end credits. All episodes are in 1.33:1, original aspect ratio.
The show is being released with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. No subtitles or alternative audio tracks are included.
I am a fan of the show, Alvin and the Chipmunks. It is an intrinsic part of my childhood, but these are not my favorite episodes. Parents looking for an Easter-themed DVD won’t be disappointed by the main story, but the other episodes are a mix of good and bad episodes. All of this ultimately makes it an average release. With no additional features and minimal barebones technical specs, I find it hard to really recommend this DVD. However, it is what it is. I’m glad the show is getting some renewed interest. I only wish that Paramount would release a bigger pack of episodes like a best-of package.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?