Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked isn’t a very good movie. It’s disposable, overly-reliant on stupid cover songs and extremely formulaic. There’s no real emotion, real punch or real purpose for existing. It’s just kind of there, which in a way, is both the whole point and the reason why Chip-Wrecked is ultimately successful. Ten years from now, we’ll remember this as the one where the chipmunks got stranded on an island, and we’ll mistakenly think it was okay even though it kind of sucks. That’s how our brains work, and that’s why this movie will later get more credit retrospectively than it deserves.
We do this with TV sitcoms all the time. Apart from a few great episodes and the ones where something tangible changes, we tend to remember the personalities of the main characters very vividly and the individual plots only in the vaguest of terms. Take the Friends episode The One With Phoebe’s Cookies. I remember watching it. I remember Monica making endless batches that all tasted slightly wrong and a joke about Phoebe’s grandmother ending up in hell. In retrospect, it seems like a great episode, but I couldn’t tell you whether it had a nice flow to it or if all the lines worked. A decade or so later, it’s just the one where they made cookies.
In the world of the Chipmunks, this is the one where they get stranded on the island, but of course, it doesn’t start that way. Dave (Jason Lee) and his band of internationally famous music stars are on their way to a concert. Rather than fly, they’ve decided to take a cruise, but not surprisingly, things go haywire immediately. There’s an incident with a loudspeaker, another with underage gambling and a third with an impromptu dance-off. All leave Dave flustered, the captain of the ship irritated and Ian (David Cross) pleased as punch. That’s right, Ian is back. He’s taken a job as the cruise ship mascot, and his irritation has not lessened since we last saw him get his comeuppance for locking the chipmunks in cages.
Bitter and out for revenge, he sets out to get Alvin and company booted from the ship, but luckily for him, his furry enemies save him the trouble. After Dave falls asleep on the deck, Alvin bribes a fat kid into swapping his kite for a donut. The impromptu parasailing runs afoul thanks to lack of chipmunk upperbody strength, and our heroes are carried over the ocean and onto an island, completely abandoned save for one marooned woman named Zoe (Jenny Slate). She talks to inanimate objects and behaves a bit goofily, but set opposite talking chipmunks, her weirdness get a free pass. She’s fine enough as a stand-in protector, at least until Dave arrives to save the day.
He probably would have gotten there faster too were he not stuck with Ian. Thanks to an utterly bizarre sequence of events, the two men set out together to save the chipmunks. Dave is obviously more invested, but Ian’s dismissive attitude about the fate of the rodents is far more watchable. You can’t have it all. The rest unfolds as you might expect, at least if you were told a volcano and a hidden treasure are involved. They’re used to impart makeshift lessons and offer a sense of panic, the latter of which is very needed for a film that’s sometimes boring.
That dullness will likely irritate some viewers to no end. There are long periods during the second act in which the film really drags. A sense of urgency is notably absent, but honestly, I don’t think anyone else could have done much better. The biggest problem is the subject matter, not the execution. We all know the chipmunks so well by now. Through a television show, a beloved Christmas song and movies, there personalities are as ingrained in us as Joey’s and Rachel’s and Chandler’s. That’s why the whole goal here was to just make another Chipmunks movie. There can’t possibly be any real character growth because to change the chipmunks would be to change what people retrospectively love about them. So, what’s left? You either quit, or you send them on another adventure.
If I have children, at some point in the future, they’ll probably ask me about The Chipmunks. I’ll tell them they were three boy chipmunks and three girl chipmunks who were always getting up to some mischief thanks to their leader Alvin who was kind of an impulsive idiot with a good heart. I’ll tell them they were protected by a middle-aged guy name Dave who got frazzled a lot, they loved hula hoops and one time they got stranded on an island. In that moment, it won’t matter that they weren’t particularly watchable on that island, it’ll only matter that they went there. That’s why Chip-Wrecked is a success that just so happens to suck.