A new live action movie in December of 2007 seeks to bring a fresh spin to an old children’s classic television show: Alvin and the Chipmunks. The updated version of the musical critters seems to have added some hip-hop flavor to their image, with the chipmunk boys gracing movie posters in hoodies and sunglasses next to a turntable. However, for many, this new updated look may not be the way we want to remember Alvin and the Chipmunks.
This writer can personally recall the cartoons from childhood and I even owned a record featuring tunes such as “Bettie Davis Eyes” and then their country cassette tape featuring renditions of “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” as well as “On the Road Again”, lyrics all changed to fit the target audiences age of course. This is a look back at Alvin In the Chipmunks, from their beginnings to now.
It all began in 1958 when songwriter Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. decided to play with the voice recordings on one of his albums. Ross took on the persona of David Seville and created the song “Witch Doctor” on which he tinkered with the speed of the recording to make sections of his voice sound high and squeaky. The song went “Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla, bing-bang” to the top of the record charts and upon noticing children were particularly fond of the new sound, Bagdasarian had a new idea for characters.
In that same year “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” was born with Bagdasarian bringing to life the voices of his three Chipmunk characters: Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. This song also went to number one on the Billboard Music Charts, earned three Grammy nominations, and paved the way for The Chipmunks animated future.
The very first Chipmunk series was called: The Alvin Show and ran from 1961-1962, with the three chipmunks and their human father-like figure David Seville, which was meant to be a caricature of Ross Bagdasarian himself. The show wasn’t as big a hit as the musical endeavors and was therefore canceled after the single season.
In 1972 the Chipmunks creator died from a heart attack, however his son Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. carried on the tradition of the chipmunks, along with his wife Janice Karman. In 1979 NBC began airing the old cartoon episodes and then in 1981 there was a Chipmunks Christmas special aired. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore were once again coming back into mainstream popularity and by 1983 they had a fresh new television cartoon series titled: Alvin and the Chipmunks.
This new incarnation of the show lasted a full eight seasons and along with furthering the adventures of the three boys, introduced a trio of female characters known as the Chipettes. The year 1987 showed just how big the Chipmunks were by them getting their own big screen theatre feature with: The Chipmunk Adventure as directed by Janice Karman.
In 1996 Universal Studios bought the rights to The Chipmunks and they have been released in association with many varied cartoon features. However, Universal was then sued by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and company for breach of contract and to regain control of the rights to the creative property. On December 14th of 2007 the live animated Chipmunks feature is being brought to theatres by 20th Century Fox.
Now, having gone through a brief summary of The Chipmunks and their initial creation, let’s get introduced to the characters.
Alvin: He always wears red and is considered the leader of the Chipmunks. However, he is also always the one with the hare-brained schemes and a bit too wild for his own good often times; and selfish at that. In the 2007 film Alvin is voiced by comedian actor and Mac computer commercial guy: Justin Long
Simon: He always wears blue and is considered the brainy member of the group. He also is always wearing glasses. In the 2007 film Simon is voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler, known for his role on the CBS show Criminal Minds as Dr. Spencer Reid.
Theodore: He always wears green and is the more plump of the brothers. To go along with his weight he has a strong liking for food or food related issues. In the 2007 film version Theodore is voiced by Jesse McCartney known for his singing talents as well as appearing on the television show Summerland.
David Seville: This is the dark haired man who finds the chipmunks and raises them as if they were is own children. Naturally they drive him bonkers with all of the trouble, generally caused by Alvin, making Mr. Seville’s catch phrase the cry of: “Alvvvinnn!!!” In the 2007 film Jason Lee popular from Kevin Smith films as well as his hit NBC show My Name Is Earl is the voice of David.
The Chipmunks have proven themselves as both musical and television icons, with some forays into feature film. The December 2007 film will be not only another notch on their belts of success, but perhaps a revival of the group and a testament to their staying power in the entertainment industry.