It was amazing that an excruciatingly irritating novelty act from the fifties became a hit CGI kiddie comedy in 2007, and it will be even more appalling—though much less amazing—if “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” makes a similar splash two years later. But it probably will—a testimony not so much to the deterioration of children’s entertainment (which, true to tell, has always been pretty awful), but to how accustomed we’ve become to lame computer-animated features serving as mainstays in multiplexes and home DVD shelves.
“Squeakquel” tries to build on its predecessor by pretty much replacing its main human star, Jason Lee, who played the Munks’ guardian Dave in the first installment, with an equally dopey but younger counterpart, Toby (Zachary Levi, of TV’s “Chuck”). Toby is Dave’s unreliable cousin, who must take over as the rodent-watcher when Dave’s laid up in a Paris hospital as a result of Alvin’s recklessness and Dave’s Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten), whom he’d tapped as their temporary caretaker, is similarly injured by Toby’s ineptitude. Like the character Levi plays on television, Toby’s a lovable geek who spends his days playing video games and no substitute for Dave.
That leaves the pop-star, helium-voiced chipmunks Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) to fend pretty much for themselves, which is a problem given that they’ve been enrolled in school, where they must deal not only with a stern principal, Dr. Rubin (Wendie Malick), but a campus jock named Ryan (Kevin G. Schmidt), who takes a dislike to them until he finds what a skilled football player Alvin is.
Meanwhile Ian Hawk (David Cross), the disgraced music exec who was the Chipmunks’ villainous agent in the first movie, stumbles on a new meal ticket in the form of three singing chick chipmunks—Brittany (Christina Applegate), Eleanor (Amy Poehler) and Jeanette (Anna Faris)—whom he intends using to destroy the Chipmunks’ career under the name of the Chipettes.
All of which leads to several formulaic problems for the script to sort through. One is Alvin’s decision to become a big man on campus by ditching his brothers for the football team and learning how important family is. Another has to do with a school music contest pitting the Chipmunks against the Chipettes, which naturally morphs into Alvin’s decision to save the girls from Hawk’s evil clutches. And as a sideline, there’s the necessity for Toby to grow up by finally linking up with the school music teacher, Julie (Anjelah Johnson) he’s always loved since his days as the campus punching-bag.
Every one of these threads is worked through with utter predictability. Young kids might not be upset by that, and they’ll probably be pleased with antics of the rambunctious CGI critters and their high-pitched voices. The introduction of the Chipettes might also make girls happy. But anybody above the age of six or so will probably find “Squeakquel” a chore to sit through. Once you’re past the technical efficiency in inserting the chipmunks, both boy and girl, into the live-action footage, there’s not much to like. The direction by Betty Thomas, who hasn’t made a good movie in nearly fifteen years (I’m thinking of “The Brady Bunch Movie”—since then she’s made “Doctor Dolittle,” “I Spy” and “John Tucker Must Die,” among others) is flat, the jokes are dim, the music pure bubble-gum, and the human performers given to the sort of mugging that children can swallow but adults tend to choke on. The most notable offender, of course, is Levi; he isn’t really any worse that Lee was, but he is like a puppy dog anxious to be loved, which quickly grows tiresome. And Cross once again chews up the scenery as the nasty Hawk. One bright spot is the general lack of lowbrow stuff; I counted just one fart gag and a single crotch slam. For a kids’ movie, nowadays, that’s low.
But it’s not much consolation. This “Squeakquel” isn’t much worse than the original, but unfortunately it’s no better.