December 16, 2011 in Features

Chipmunks hard to hate, even for parents

Roger Moore Orlando Sentinel

A Sarah Palin joke? A Charlie Sheen wisecrack? Is this a Chipmunks movie or a Letterman monologue?

As current as a Lady Gaga cover, if not quite as relevant, Alvin and the Chipmunks “Munk Up” for their third digitally animated turn on the big screen — “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked,” a “Cast Away” take-off that parks the three chipmunks, their three Chipette counterparts and their human family on a deserted island.

Most adults would sooner gouge their ears out than sit through these kids’ films. But for captive parents in need of a reference point, “Chip-wrecked” is twice as funny as 2009’s “The Squeakquel.” And the return of Jason Lee as Dave Seville, the rodent wrangler who keeps our pop-singing ground squirrels in line, gives the picture a hint of the heart that made 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” work, at least for its intended audience.

This time, the squeakers are off on a cruise before performing at a big international music awards show. And Alvin being Alvin, mischief is made and puns are purloined.

“I like my tails shaken, not stirred,” The Big A (voiced by Justin Long) chirps as he dons a tux and sneaks out to hit the casino.

But that’s nothing compared to the disaster Alvin creates on deck. A kite and hang-gliding accident leads to Chipmunks and Chipettes overboard, with Dave and their disgraced manager, Ian (David Cross), now a lowly costumed ship’s mascot, tumbling in after them.

They wash up on an island, the chipmunks in one pack, the humans in another. Each must find food, find ways to make fire and hope for rescue. Maybe they’ll even find each other.

Simon, “the responsible one,” suffers a spider bite that turns him into a French-accented adventurer who goes by the name “See-MONE.” Thus Alvin finds himself having to be “the responsible one.”

Kids may get the “Cast Away” gags — the rodents meet a longtime island dweller (Jenny Slate) who has made friends out of “Rawlings,” “Dunlop,” “Callaway” gear, where Tom Hanks settled for a volleyball named “Wilson.” Kids probably won’t catch the “Lord of the Flies” references. These are urban chipmunks, so expecting them to know how to rough it is a bit much to ask, even though they’re “used to living in the wild.”

“We used to be used to living in the wild,” Brittany (a helium-voiced Christina Applegate) corrects.

But at least there’s always time for a song, from “Party Rock” and “Bad Romance” to The Go Go’s “Vacation” and the campfire favorite, “Kumbaya.”

The gags — Chipettes having a dance battle with cruise ship passengers from the Jersey Shore — and the jokes are pretty tame, the script relying a bit too heavily on “Oh no you DIDN’T” sass and kick-in-the-groin “Oh, my ACORNS” cracks aimed at 10-and-unders. It’s about what you’d expect from a chipmunks movie directed by the fellow who handled “Surviving Christmas” and “Shrek Forever After” — not much.

But the message — about giving kids responsibility — and the tone make it hard to hate on these “Chip-wrecked” chipmunks. At least they took the time to sum up the whole movie in one Chipette-to-Chipmunk put-down:

“You can make all the jokes you want, Alvin, but you can’t make this interesting.”

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