Nostalgia Vs. Reality is an ongoing feature where beloved things from my childhood are looked at today with a critical eye. Today we review 1987’s The Chipmunk Adventure.
Before the recent success of the Alvin and the Chpmunks feature film I had assumed that Alvin, Simon and Theodore were lost to the ages. They seemed to be the type of characters who, while extremely popular in their day, had failed to reinvent themselves for the younger generation. After all, in their 1980’s television series The Chipmunks regularly sang old Michael Jackson and Bruce Springstein songs — not exactly the most timeless children’s entertainment.
So, I pretty much assumed that their feature film debut, The Chipmunk Adventure would be much of the same. Worse yet, the 1980’s is notorious for poor animation, a product of aggressive accounting and a realization that children will watch just about anything. Needless to say my expectations were low.
The Chipmunk Adventure is the story of The Chipmunks, their female counterparts The Chipettes, and a convoluted race around the globe involving hot air balloons, human sacrifice, and international diamond smugglers. The premise itself involves a huge suspension of disbelief, but if you’re willing to believe that anthropomorphic chipmunks exist (and sing pop songs!) then I guess it’s not too difficult to imagine a world where they would be unwittingly used to smuggle jewels across foreign borders.
Besides, the plot itself isn’t important, as it’s just an excuse for our heroes to visit exotic locales and get themselves into comic mischief. Unfortunately, the short length of the film (77 minutes) does not give the characters a chance to interact with these places in any meaningful ways, short of a few sight gags here and there. The only two locations of any significance are the South American jungle, where Theodore is worshipped as a god, and the Middle East, where Brittany finds herself engaged to an Arabian prince.
Perhaps the majority of Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa were cut out of the film due to budget concerns, since it’s very clear that The Chipmunk Adventure was more than just a cheap attempt to cash in on the TV series. A great attention to detail is shown in the animation, and especially in the background and layouts. In fact, this film is actually better produced than most of its’ contemporaries, (An American Tail, for example) which is pretty surprising given the poor reception it received upon its’ release.
The one downside of the film is, arguably, the music. When I was five years old hearing The Chipmunks do their version of “Wooly Bully” must have been hillarious, but right now it’s terribly annoying and makes my head hurt. Aside from the musical numbers, the theatrical score is actually pretty good. It’s obvious that this film has been remastered, since both the audio and video quality is solid. This release definitely highlights some of the strong background work that I would have missed in a poor transfer from the VHS version.
Included in the DVD package is some production artwork from the film, and a music CD containing the movie’s soundtrack. There clearly isn’t a demand for a full CD release of The Chipmunk Adventure soundtrack, but it was a nice touch nonetheless. I can definitely imagine parents popping in the CD to calm down their children during a long car ride.
Overall I found The Chipmunk Adventure to be a pleasant trip down memory lane. I have not yet seen the live-action version starring Jason Lee, but it’s a safe bet that this is The Chipmunks at their very best. The pop songs are a little dated (as are The Chipettes’ leg warmers.) but the humor and charm of the characters clearly shine through.