Nickelodeon debuted its new updated take on Alvin and the Chipmunks last week in the U.S., a French-American collaboration that’s been airing internationally for months now. Because if there’s one thing kids these days have been clamoring for, it’s ridiculously high-pitched voices from the mouths of talking chipmunks. It’s as if Nick didn’t already learn their lesson from Fred.
But the Chipmunks, strangely, have a strong enough following, with the three live-action films netting over $525 million (and a fourth on the way) so what do I know? Nick is clearly trying to get into some of that action (a couple years too late, like always), and watching that first week’s run of episodes, a couple of serious, important questions come to mind:
1. What is up With That Title?
Let’s be blunt: the exact title of the show is awful. Do you see how it’s written in the title of this piece? Where the name Alvin is in all caps, contains three N’s, and is followed by three exclamation points? And the rest of the title is just kind of plopped at the end? That is indeed the official title of the show.
I can’t begin to detail everything that’s wrong with it. That deserves a list of its own. I supposed it’s a cute reference to the show’s father figure, Dave, and his constant yelling of his son’s name, but it’s clearly also a reference to our online tendency to toss capitalization, misspellings, and exclamation points onto everything so our messages can be noticed. (The original title was the simple if clumsy The Chipmunks and the Chipettes.) That’s clearly what Nick is trying to do with this show – you know, in lieu of an actual ad campaign.
2. Why Are the Character Designs so Hideous?
Look at those designs. Look at them.
I’ve long accepted modern animated shows, particularly CGI animated shows, possessing bug-eyed, funky-looking designs. But what make these particularly horrendous is that they look as if the artists didn’t know whether to design Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as human little people or anthropomorphic chipmunks and made some vile combination of both.
I mean I’m not saying the original designs were brilliant or anything. Hairy blobs of brown with eyes and distinctive sweaters were all you needed back in 1960. But imagine buying stuffed animals of these guys/girls rodents for your kids. Would you have the stomach to grab that off the shelf?
3. Are All-Original Songs Really the Best Idea?
Sure, the first “official” song from the Chipmunks, their insufferable Christmas song, was a success, but after that, the novelty of their “hardcore” sound was just cutesy squealing covers of various hit songs throughout the years. So there’s was a certain expectation to this show. You would think that viewers who were curious would be primarily jonesing for screeching takes on “OMG” or “Moves Like Jagger.”
Of course, you have to pay for the rights to songs like that, and for a show where the animation is maybe a step above Xavier: Renegade Angel, there’s no way they would drop that kind of cash. In fairness, some of the original songs are, well, not good per se, but aren’t the chalkboard-scratching pabulum you’d expect. Still, missing out on a Chipmunk cover of “All About That Base” feels like a major loss.
4. What is Going on With the Chipettes and Their Household Situation?
The Chipettes, the female doppelgangers to the Chipmunks, were clearly created as a gimmick to appeal to more young girls. In the ’80s version, they were provided with a strangely elaborate backstory where they were raised in some kind of abusive Australian orphanage and then arrived in America, where they got famous and ended up living in a huge mansion, all alone. Of course that comes off really weird, so they were provided a manager named Beatrice Miller. So there is at least some context.
In ALVINNN!!! (ugh) the Chipettes have no such adult figure as far as I can tell. They live by themselves in some kind of magical-looking treehouse and lack any discernible connection to a musical career. Honestly I’m not sure what’s crazier: the idea that these three young children lack a necessary guardian of some sort, or that they’re genuinely mature enough to survive on their own.
5. Why is There a Hole in Alvin’s Shirt?
I’m all about small, endearing details in TV shows. They either can be silly little references to the source materials or fun visual/narrative details to give the internal world more pop as it were. The best details enhance the viewing experience. With that in mind, I can’t help but keep my eye focused on the weird hole on Alvin’s shirt.
This isn’t like a distinct visual indicator of Alvin’s “bad boy” image (more on this in a second); the show also uses the now-dated joke where the characters owns several different versions of the same exact wardrobe. So do you mean to tell me that every outfit Alvin wears has a hole in it? In the exact same place? That they bought a bulk order of ruined shirts and just shrugged their shoulders? Careful, Dave: if the wrong teacher saw that Child Services would be at your door.
6. Who the Hell Is Julie?
I’ll admit I’m not all that well-versed in Chipmunk fandom. A bit of research helped me to figure out the Chipettes’ home situation in the ’80s show. That being said, it’s up to the all new show, regardless of being an adaptation, to take the time to establish the new status quo: new tone, new relationships, and especially new characters.
So who the hell is Julie? She just pops up in random episodes and gives Dave advice and weird stuff. Sure, we can speculate that she’s Dave’s future (or current) romantic interest, but the fact that I had to drop in that parenthetical makes her confusingly suspect. She could be his sister, his cousin, or his therapist. She definitely doesn’t seem like the same Julie from The Squeakquel though; another fact I had to look up because I’m sure as hell ain’t watching those films.
Yet despite all that…
7. Why in the World Am I Enjoying This Show?
Seriously, though: this isn’t that bad of a cartoon. Nick’s scant, lazy marketing – like depicting Alvin as a bad boy – is horribly deceptive. It’s more of a silly, low-key, jokey show of a bunch of kids (Alvin in particular) with over-active imaginations. The show gives its characters distinctive personalities, and even brings more to the Chipettes by designating them with traits beyond being “the Chipmunks, but girls!” They also drop most, if not all, of any pretext of characters trying to date each other, which allow the six to just get into nonsensical mischief, and it works.
I’m not the only one who noticed this: For the entire week, ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks scored record ratings for Nick. Part of that is giving it a consistent time slot; part of that is the surprisingly funny and occasionally deep moments of sincerity. I fear that all Nick will see is that kids love high-pitched voices, so… get ready, Lucas Cruikshank, you’re about to be mo-capped as a small rodent.