In a year that brought us Coraline, Where the Wild Things Are, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Princess and the Frog, and Up, how can you justify the existence of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel as anything less than a mind-numbingly generic brand-name cash grab? It's a shame too, because I honestly like the Chipmunks -- or maybe I liked the Chipmunks. It has been almost twenty-five years since I watched them on television (and in their first feature film, The Chipmunk Adventure). Were they always this boring?
Forcing the Chipmunks to attend an average high school after a taste of rock and roll superstardom could've made for a pretty decent fish-out-of-water comedy (munk-out-of-tree comedy?), but that potential is wasted in favor of an uninspired battle of the bands story, pitting our boys against an all-girl group of chipmunks called the Chipettes. The girls, who are also huge Alvin and the Chipmunks fans, have been taken in by a huckster ex-record exec played by David Cross (giving a startlingly self-aware performance), who favors the "sexiest" Chipette Brittany over bespectacled Jeanette and BBC (Big Beautiful Chipmunk) Eleanor. It's sorta-kinda affecting their overall sisterhood, and that's about as big of a conflict as you're going to get in The Squeakquel.
Jason Lee (as Chipmunk manager-cum-surrogate-father Dave Seville) acquits himself of all this junk by getting injured in the first five minutes of the film (spoiler!), fulfilling whatever contractual obligation he was under and turning the reins over to his fellow NBC sitcom colleague Zachary Levi. Personally, I found all six bleating, auto-tuned computer-generated rodents more believable than Levi playing cousin Toby Seville, a former high school nerd turned jobless video-gaming slacker. Levi's lazy character also completely ruins the dynamic of the group, robbing the rambunctious boys of a beleaguered straight man to play off of, in turn robbing them of one of the very things that makes the Chipmunks work.
Will kids even notice? I think so. While there are plenty of butt-related jokes to make the tykes feel like they're watching something a little edgy (and they're not, trust me -- these butt jokes are totally safe for PG), there's not enough imagination or cleverness for anyone to grab on to, no matter the age. At best, The Squeakquel is a ninety-minute diversion with likeable cartoon characters (Theodore is still my favorite after all these years), but its faux-hipness is wasted on very young children and already glaringly uncool to slightly older ones.
Also wasted is the celebrity voice cast. I'm not sure why you'd hire Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, and Amy Poehler -- all talented comic actors -- to play the Chipettes, then pitch their voices to the point of being unrecognizable and give them nothing funny to say or do. The boys fare a little better by at least having distinct personalities -- something the Chipettes aren't given in this film. (Along with clothes. There are several weirdly uncomfortable scenes where the Chipettes are totally naked. If you're going to put clothes on the Chipmunks, common decency dictates that clothes should be required for the girls as well.)
Director Betty Thomas brings nothing to the table but a steadfast commitment to doing everything half-baked. The Squeakquel is littered with effects work just passable enough to get the job done, short-shrifted pop musical numbers, and aggressively toothless comedy. I was glad to see the boys again, but not in something this dull. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is sqweak.