Directed by Janice Karman
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 76 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 English
MSRP: $ 16.99
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Review Date: March 23, 2008
20th Century-Fox’s holiday release of Alvin and the Chipmunks was one of the surprise smash hits of the season. Not surprising in light of that unexpected worldwide success, Paramount has ventured into its vault and pulled out a 1987 traditionally animated Chipmunk film that didn’t do all that much twenty years ago but which might resonate with younger viewers today eager for another Chipmunk tale. The Chipmunk Adventure is about what you’d expect from the period: a fairly low budget affair with a sliver of a story and a lot of music sung by the Chipmunks and their feminine counterparts the Chipettes.
The film finds David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian, the son of the creator of these warbling rodents) off on a business trip to London. He leaves his three “boys” in the care of babysitter Miss Miller (Dody Goodman), but Alvin, Theodore, and Simon are eager to travel, too, and luckily for them, two diamond smugglers have just the trip for them: an around the world race in hot air balloons against the Chipettes (Brittany, Jeanette, Eleanor, all voiced by the film’s director) with the winner receiving $100,000. Little do they know the dolls they have to drop off at checkpoints around the world contain diamonds being smuggled out of the United States, and the dolls they are bringing back as proof they’ve reached certain destinations contain cash.
Of course, all of this is really just an excuse for the animators to place the two teams in various foreign locales (Bermuda, Mexico City, Rome, London, Athens, Cairo, Pisa, even Antarctica) where they interact with the locals, occasionally get into danger (cobras, crocodiles, angry natives), and sing, sing, sing. No fewer than seven song numbers dot the relatively brief running time of the film, and while Alvin, Theodore, and Simon certainly have far more record sales to their credit, the filmmakers scrupulously divide the songs between the two groups with a couple of shared numbers. I also missed the presence of the David Seville character. Without his slow burn of irritation with his mischievous trio, there is no one to keep the guys in check or to serve as the foil for their wacky schemes. I carry fond memories of The Alvin Show from so many years ago presided over by the elder Bagdasarian. Junior’s version, at least the version on view here, just can’t compare.
The animation is nothing special. Done in traditional 2-D as was the custom in 1987, it’s bright and colorful enough for the kids but very simple in design and execution. Disney animators were certainly not fearful for their jobs after seeing this, even at the place Disney was as an animation studio two years before The Little Mermaid. The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective were masterpieces compared to The Chipmunk Adventure.
The film is presented on the disc in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. I did experiment with zooming the picture to see if the image here was native or not, and the image did not seem to be compromised at all, so it‘s likely the DVD image could have been matted to 1.66:1 and anamorphically encoded without incident. However, for purposes of the review, I watched it full frame. The relatively simple animation is bright and colorful to be sure, though there was some dirt spotted during the screening as well as some minor color fluctuations in a few scenes. The film is divided into 12 chapters.
The original Dolby 2.0 stereo track is presented as an alternate choice on the DVD, but I chose the newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for most of the film and was quite pleasantly surprised at its effectiveness. The mixers have used directionialzed dialog throughout the film which greatly aids the movie’s expansiveness, and with the heavy use of music, the rears get some of the instrumentation though most of it is contained in the front soundstage. They’ve worked in some neat back-to-front pans and good discreet sounds during the jungle sequences and overall have done a really fine job modernizing this film for today’s home theaters.
The only bonus feature on the DVD is a step-through art gallery which features storyboards for several sequences, black and white pencil sketches for many characters and their confrontations (some show some striking character design changes from what ends up in the finished film), and some startlingly beautiful color cels which young fans of the stars could print out and frame.
The disc package also contains an expanded CD soundtrack of the songs from the film featuring eleven numbers performed by Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman in their various guises as the six lively chipmunks.
The Chipmunk Adventure is NOT the 20th Century-Fox CGI feature Alvin and the Chipmunks from this past Christmas. (The cover art of this release might lead you to believe otherwise.) If your kids are fond of the rascally rodents, they may enjoy this old-fashioned theatrical adventure of theirs. Otherwise, wait for the other feature to be released soon and give this one a pass.