Children’s entertainment is produced either with aims of interacting or aims of distracting. The Beauty And The Beasts, the Mister Rogers‘ Neighborhoods, the Wall-Es, they interact with the audience. They tell stories of love and loss, of loneliness and ultimate redemption. They don’t talk down or pander, cop out or gloss over. They’re enchanting and timeless, peopled with damsels and Dalmatians, doing Grinchy, Scroogy things, to infinity, beyond Neverland. Those are the interactors. Then there’s the distracters. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is a distracter. It conveys none of the aforementioned emotions, nor does it attempt; that being said, it does distract, which, I guess, is a noble job in the same way as cleaning bird shit off your car.
Alvin, Theodore and Simon (Justin Long, Jesse McCartney, Matthew Gray Gubler) are world famous singing sensations. Also, they’re eight inch tall rodents reliant upon Dave (Jason Lee) for food, clothing and shelter. Dave is a human being. This presents a problem after Dave is hospitalized thanks to a freak guitar prop malfunction. He arranges for his popcorn-dispensing Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten) to take the chipmunks on. This presents a problem after Aunt Jackie is hospitalized thanks to a freak wheelchair staircase accident. She arranges for her video game-loving twenty-something Toby (Zachary Levi) to take the chipmunks on. This presents a problem after twenty-something Toby is wildly incompetent thanks to his wildly incompetent personality. Thus, as in so many of these sordid, miscreant behavior cases, it’s left to the schools to handle Alvin, Simon and Theodore, which, by God, is a wild stroke of luck since their new school must win a singing competition to keep the music department afloat.
In most corners of the burrow it would be tempting, almost natural to assume, as singing chipmunks, that Alvin, Simon and Theodore would have a stranglehold on this whole Battle of the Bands thing. Unfortunately, the villainous Ian Hawk (David Cross) is back with his own group of singing chipmunks, The Chipettes (Anna Farris, Amy Poehler, Christina Applegate). They’re in love with Alvin, Simon, and Theodore and hellbent on winning that singing competition because Ian told them to. Ian is also a human being. Of course, nonsense is afoot. That‘s always the case with chipmunks, I guess. Alvin joins the football team. One of the Chipettes gets her rearend stuck in a mail slot. Dave dances with crutches. Ian gyrates to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”. Pure comedy bronze, all of it.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is a distracter. It’s a cigar-smoking, suited monkey dancing in the circus backroom. It’s nine dollar per hour and a half babysitting for the mom who encourages Bratz dolls over reading, for the dad who thinks at least they’re doing something. It’s time, not necessarily time wasted, just time, time neither harmful nor helpful, haunting nor hysterical. I smiled a few times, noted references to Dodgeball and Apocalypse Now, appreciated a scene where a dog destroyed a television. I was adequately distracted; so, I guess, well played?
Like Dave and Ian, I am a human being; furthermore, I am a human being who views not only my own time but that of my friends and family as valuable, non-renewable assets. In accordance with this viewpoint, I would never advise my friends or family to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. In its place, I would tell them take that hour and a half to read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, to rent The Lion King, to climb a tree, to play Scrabble, to scrape their knees, to get dirty, to order from that new pizza place people have been raving about, to tell a girl they love her, to eat a plate full of cookie dough, to throw around the football, to giggle without modesty, to try a cartwheel for the first time in ten years, to bond over an old Beatles record, to pet a dog, to use their time as more than a mere distraction, to interact with someone, something or themselves.
But most of you aren’t my friends or family. You’re good people looking for something to do with your children. And while I still cannot advise you to go see Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, I cannot really advise against going either. That’s the thing about mindless distractions. One of ’em every now and again won’t harm anyone.
Author’s Note: The woman sitting next to me laughed like Charlie Chaplin himself rose from the grave and tried to eat her shoe. I suppose it’s entirely possible she is correct and this Squeakquel is the funniest film ever made. You deserve to know all the facts. Still, I’m pretty sure she’s just flat-out wrong.