Songs, Silliness and Greater Stakes Characterize The Chipmunks' Squeakquel
- Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Ready or not, a squeaky chipmunk version (performed by The Chipettes, the latest addition to the chipmunk universe) of Beyoncé's smash hit "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" is heading to a theater near you just in time for your Christmas viewing.
Even with pop music at the center of the squeakquel (incidentally, try saying that without giggling), however, the filmmakers behind the second big-screen installment of Alvin and the Chipmunks kept the cultural references to a minimum and chose to make a family flick that's really all about the kids.
Two years after Alvin and the Chipmunks' big-screen debut, the furry rodents who've been a familiar staple on Saturday morning TV in the ‘80s, face a slew of new challenges.
But instead of serving up a heart-tuggingly sentimental, been-there-heard-that story, though, writers Jon Vitty, Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel hoped to raise the stakes by addressing a few relatable struggles, namely being the new pre-teen ‘munks on the school block and choosing popularity over loyalty, something that Alvin faces when deciding between football or joining his brothers in a charity concert he agreed to.
Zachary Levi Embraces His Inner Juvenile
Picking up (more or less) where the Chipmunks' last adventures ended, most of the original movie's actors and vocal talents reprised their roles. Under the savvy management of their loving human daddy Dave Seville (Jason Lee), the Chipmunk siblings Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) have never been more successful.
Always the show-off, Alvin still hogs the spotlight whenever he can, even if he's overshadowing his brothers in the process. Unfortunately his ham-like tendencies cause problems very early into the story with Alvin accidentally incapacitating Dave.
Turns out, or at least it's the scuttlebutt in Hollywood, that Lee had scheduling conflicts, so the writers wisely took a new direction. Enter Zachary Levi (TV's Chuck) as Toby, Dave's videogame-obsessed younger cousin who now acts as the Chipmunks' caregiver.
"Toby is kind of juvenile, immature, and he thinks he's funny, but he really isn't. He's only getting by on charm," says Levi. "When it comes to Toby though, I've had friends that were just like him in my life, and I was a little like Toby in my own life. In fact, I still have a little Toby in me, so I tried to draw from all of that."
Toby also don't have much luck with the ladies or being anything resembling cool, something Levi says he could somewhat relate to as well.
"You know, my high school experience was pretty good, I enjoyed it. Middle school on the other hand was not great. But the more people I talk to in life, the more I feel like that is everyone's experience," Levi says. Middle school is a weird in-between spot and kids are evil, and I don't know why. I was cool with the cool kids in elementary school, but once we get to the middle school there's no time for me because they have other people they need to be cool with. So, it was not cool; it was very uncool. I actually walked around half a day with a loogie on my back. Some kid spit on me and I didn't even know."
Now Introducing … The Chipettes
Much like the Chipmunks were in their first big screen outing, the Chipettes (voiced by Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler and Anna Faris, respectively) were also lured with the promise of widespread fame by disgraced former record exec Ian Cross (David Cross).
And certainly they have the pipes for stardom and winsome charisma to boot, something that quickly won Applegate over. "They are just so adorable and that's why I wanted to do this, I wanted to be a part of something that is going to be around forever," says Applegate. "I loved the first Chipmunk movie, so I was really excited to be a part of it. I think they did a really good job of making these Chipettes modern and different than they have been previously."
For Poehler, who made Eleanor (Theodore's female doppleganger) come to life, it was all about the hair. "I absolutely loved Eleanor's hairstyle, it was so cute," says Poehler. "I also like her little story because she's the shortest. She's told to act taller, so Eleanor's story is about just being yourself. I'm a sucker for that. I'll take a 'be yourself' story any day. So when I first saw her I was just so excited, because when you record you are just seeing a sort of flesh-colored weird blob that you record to."
As for the recording itself, both Applegate and Poehler admit the process was a little unusual.
"We recorded separately, and it's strange because you do each line for about 10 minutes because you are trying to get it slow enough and yet have it sound like a normal conversation. It's a very bizarre technique," Applegate shares. "I thought you just talked and they would mess with your voice afterwards, but that's not the case. You have to literally [ talks in a high-pitched voice ] talk like this. And when something is funny you have to say, ‘Yaaaaaay!' [ slow and drawn out high-pitched voice ]. But it comes out like, ‘Yay!'"
Leaving a Legacy
For Chipmunk creator, singer/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian Sr., the latest installment was very fulfilling to work on. Out to prove "these aren't your parent's Chipmunks," Bagdasarian says the latest installment has a bigger look, bigger musical numbers, more fun, deeper emotion and more action—including a motorcycle chase, helicopters and Alvin playing football.
"The theme of family was there in the first film, but where the first film was about a family coming together, Janice [ Karman, the film's producer ] wanted to explore the brothers splitting apart as well as their ultimate reunion."
For families, it also offers an opportunity to bond vis-à-vis a furry trio that's stood the test of time. "With 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks, we set out to capture three generations of Chipmunk fans: those who grew up with The Chipmunks in the ‘80s, their kids and even those who remember The Chipmunks from the ‘60s. We just felt that if we made a good movie that had something for everyone, we would have a big audience."
Opening in theaters on December 23, 2009, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is rated PG for some mild rude humor.
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