Alvin & the Chipmunks
Meet Frankenstein
Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein USA, 1999.  Rated G.

Cast: (voices of) Ross Bagdasarian, Janice Karman, Michael Bell, Jim Meskiman, Frank Welker
Writer: John Loy
Director: Kathi Castillo

  Grade: C
Kid Grade: B+
Review by Jen Walker

An open letter to parents from Pagoda

A lvin and The Chipmunks haven't changed all that much since I was a kid, singing along to their falsetto rendition of Tom Petty's "Refugee" on their seminal LP, Chipmunk Punk. They're still garbed in full-length turtleneck dresses. They're still on the cutting edge of the music industry. And the exact nature of their relationship with Dave Seville remains a mystery.

Now they're working at a Universal Studios type theme park, performing musical sets for patrons hourly. Although this may violate any number of child labor and/or animal cruelty laws, at least now they're excercising some creative control. No longer content to perform covers of other artists' hits, they've graduated to playing original compositions. Their versatility surpasses even that of radio's current darling, Kid Rock--they master grunge and rap with equal aplomb. In the rap number, Alvin cements his street cred, delivering the line, "Yo, yo, yo, mah bruthah", with startling conviction and ferocity. As if that weren't enough, the trio's dance moves rival those of The Flygirls during Jennifer Lopez's tenure.

I've always thought it a bit unfair that Alvin receives special billing, relegating Simon and Theodore to merely "The Chipmunks." They each offer unique talents, and here, I'd like to give them the credit they deserve. Though Theodore's existence seems to be ruled by his stomach and his obsessive attachment to his teddy bear, he is so much more than a cute, fat baby. He is easily frightened, only because he is so sensitive. That sensitivity, perceived as a cowardly hinderance by some, enables him to connect to others with openness and compassion. While Theodore is the group's conscience, Simon is its voice of reason. Often appearing prudish, due to his proper diction and posture, Simon can let loose and get down and funky when the occasion calls for it. Like many geniuses, he requires spectacles to correct his poor vision. This is unfortunate, simply because it re-enforces cultural stereotypes. Simon's intelligence can't be attributed solely to his eyewear. He studies very hard, and his braininess is due more to his natural sense of curiosity, than to his glasses. Both Simon and Theodore are whole, multi-faceted characters who deserve some recognition.

They will never get it, however, because they are constantly overshadowed by the attention-seeking antics of Alvin. A selfish and narcissistic creature, Alvin is the only chipmunk who deems it necessary to proclaim his identity loudly and boldly, in the form of a huge letter "A," on his wardrobe. Being the frontman of a world-renowned supergroup is not enough to satisfy his monstrous ego. This is demonstrated symbolically in the movie when Alvin drinks Doktor Frankenstein's potion and is transformed into a crazed, rabid rodent. While on the surface, it's hilarious to watch this wild-eyed, whirling dervish wreak havoc, on a deeper level, this display is truly sad. Alvin lacks impulse control, and he lives a life plagued with episodes of spontaneous adventure, followed by intense regret. In his selfish pursuit of pleasure, he disregards the feelings of those around him, leaving them to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Rarely does he stop to listen to Simon's grave warnings, or to console the terrified Theodore. It is only later, after he has been stopped by an outside force, that he realizes his effect on others. Then he sincerely apologizes, but it's too little, too late. We've heard the words, "I'm sorry," so many times from Alvin that we no longer care.

The plot of this film involves the afore-mentioned Doktor Frankenstein and the monster he builds for no known reason. His lab is situated on the grounds of the theme park, and after Alvin & Co. get locked in, the monster is set loose to chase them around. The whole scenario is highly reminiscent of a movie starring another musical supergroup, KISS. I was often struck by the similarities between Alvin & the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. However, Alvin makes no attempt to emulate Gene Simmons, so the movie never degenerates into full-blown plagerism. It's more of an homage than a rip-off.

I'm giving the movie a "C" simply because its success or failure hinges solely on the viewer's individual tolerance for the sound of The Chipmunks' voices. Luckily, I find their heart-felt squeaking endearing, rather than annoying. There is nothing in the movie that I find objectionable for children's viewing, so it's not vital that parents sit through it with their kids. If the pitch and frequency of Theodore's mournful wails send you into siezures, then by all means, allow your children to watch it in another room. I'm not sure why it is that, medically, children are not only immune to obnoxious sounds, but actually enjoy them. If you, as an adult, can handle the audio track of this movie, you will be treated to a fascinating character study. More than that, Alvin & The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein, while an entertaining diversion, is a deep meditation on dysfunctional family relationships.

Review © October 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 by Universal Home Video. All Rights Reserved.