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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Chipmunks, Now and Then

The new Alvin and the Chipmunks film has been out for awhile. Let's just say the reviews aren't as positive as they could be. I haven't seen Leonard Maltin's review personally but the rumours are that he has called for the cast and crew of the film to be burnt at the stake.

The Telegraph offers a slightly more positive review, in that there are no calls for violence or for the the director to be forced to change his name to "I. Suck."

As any American over 40 can tell you, the Chipmunks are a national institution dating from the 50's and 60's. The original charm was hearing the high-pitched wailing of Christmas songs just an octave below that of Mariah Carey, punctuated by the annoyed sheparding voice of David Seville (the original creator of the "group."1) In the 60's, the Chipmunks found renewed popularity, as drug-addled hippies listened intently, convinced that these ultra-soprano rodents were just the Beatles after a particularly nasty LSD trip. For example, Alvin's (Paul, if he were actually still alive) harmonica obsession was just a metaphor for middle-America's addiction to cheap consumer goods and the narcissistic trappings of fame. ("It's a present, Dave [Ringo]... from me to me!")

Of course, no one took them seriously because their answer to this moral and social crisis was to permanently bake their brains on acid, pot, and any other drugs they could lay their little hands on, all whilst shagging at a rate that would make Wilt Chamberlain and Tom Jones look like Trappist monks.

Anyway, the Chipmunks were middle-America through and through. However, the times have clearly changed. Not only are the new Chipmunks complete crap, but they are quite different in many other ways. Here's a handy guide to sort them out.

The Chipmunks, Now and Then

Now: The Chipmunks are drug-free, alcohol-free, and smoke-free2
Then: Simon was a 3-pack a day Camel man, Theodore preferred Jim Beam, and Alvin's nickname was "Little Doobie."

Now: A typical Chipmunks pop cover would be "Funkytown" or any number of Michael Bolton songs.
Then: A typical Chipmunks pop cover would be Paul Anka's "You're Having My Baby."

Now: The Chipmunks sing music for Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Eid, and Festivus.
Then: The Chipmunks regularly put out albums of Christmas music, sticking to mostly secular songs to avoid the drop in sales that any sincere religious feeling might precipitate.

Now: The Chipmunks engage in light-hearted banter, accompanied by the occasional farting jokes.
Then: Farting was unacceptible as public entertainment (except in Vegas), so the Chipmunks confined their comic repertoire to Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce bits and Groucho Marx's naughtier routines. Also, Alvin was a magnificent Jerry Lewis impersonator.

Now: The Chipmunks are digitally animated using sophisticated computer effects and voiced using the latest in digital audio synthesis.
Then: The Chipmunks were small cardboard cutouts that Dave Seville strapped to three of his fingers and waved about as he sang in a helium-enhanced voice.

Now: The Chipmunks dress in hip-hop fashion, sporting baggy trousers, sideways baseball caps, and mountains of "bling."
Then: The Chipmunks dressed like Harold Lloyd in The Freshman

Now: The Chipmunks are on the big screen, panned and ridiculed as has-been, cretinous, animated duds.
Then: The Chipmunks were international recording stars, had their own television programme, and at one point were each married to Liz Taylor.

1. Dave Seville used to get top billing in the group, until Alvin became a breakout star after his duet with Cher on the hit "I Got You Babe." Don't let anyone tell you that was Sonny Bono. Alvin had to drink rotgut for 3 days straight to get his voice that low...And you thought it was Cher singing the high parts.

2. And apparently humour free.

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