“As long as Alvin is around,” Simon observes at one point, “we’ll always be in trouble.” Three chipmunks making trouble – mixing mayhem, mischief and music – has created this family-friendly franchise: three prior movies that have earned over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. It was inevitable there would be a fourth. If you’ve seen any of the prior ones, you know what to expect in this one: mindless, harmless fun in a live-action world where everyone takes computer-generated talking critters for granted. Once again, the plot is simple and the acting overdone — but there’s nothing in here to embarrass anyone. It has enough energy to keep parents and grandparents awake — and enough slapstick to keep the very young kids engaged. It’s all silly in a sometimes lazy way, but it also delivers sweet life-lessons in small doses. And these chaos-loving chipmunks are always just minutes from launching into another tail-shaking song. Repetitive? You have no idea.
Although the movie delivers few laugh-out-loud moments, there is sweetness in small doses as the storyline deals lightly with abandonment issues, fear of blended families, sympathy for those who’ve lost a parent, and the longing to be loved. But it’s all done so subtly that the young kids in the audience may not even notice. Music does give the movie a sense of pace, but it nearly overwhelms every other aspect of the storyline. And every song has the same beat. The blending of the computer-generated characters into live action scenes is uneven, the chipmunks are sometimes difficult to understand, and product placement is out of control. It lacks fresh ideas, a sense of edge, and a realization that animated story-telling has come a long way since these critters made their first appearance in a novelty Christmas song almost sixty years ago. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore deserve a better movie.