One of the franchises I have great admiration for is The Chipmunks, or Alvin and The Chipmunks. It’s been around since 1958 when Ross Bagdasarian Sr. came up with a novelty song called “The Witch Doctor.” Realizing he could make funny sounds by speeding up his voice, a tactic cartoon makers had been utilizing for years already, he came up with the Witch Doctor character for the song, but soon decided the voice would be better suited for chipmunks. Other songs followed and so did television. Eventually the characters gained their own personalities, with Alvin becoming the dominant one. This isn’t a franchise I respect because of the quality, but just the longevity and the fact that Bagdasarian never sold out. This has to be one of the longest running, family-owned, franchises in American history. Bagdasarian’s son, Ross Jr., took over following his dad’s death in 1972 and he, along with his wife, Janice Karmen, have retained control over the property ever since. Although as I write this there are rumors that the Bagdasarians are finally looking to offload the franchise for a cool 300 million. They’ve had it for a long time at this point and I don’t really blame them for wanting to cash out and retire, but the franchise will definitely lose a lot of its charm when that happens.
My chipmunks growing up was the 1980s television show Alvin and the Chipmunks. My sister and I loved the theme song probably more than the actual show, but we were regular viewers. We even had some books on tape and rented the animated movie, and when we had grown out of it we moved on. The property went into a semi-dormant state in the 90s as it was mostly relegated to direct-to-video films before coming back as the live-action film property. Now, the license exists on Nickelodeon as Alvinnn!!! and the Chipmunks. It’s a spiritual successor to that 80s show that has been predictably retooled to fit a modern aesthetic. The Chipmunks wear pants now and are presented much smaller than they were in the 80s cartoon (when they were just unexplainably as large as most kids), but still much larger than an ordinary chipmunk. They’re also still shacking up with David Seville who makes music and has the Chipmunks perform his songs. They live in a giant house, but the three brothers are forced to share a bedroom. The dude is making money off of these kid and won’t even grant them their own bedrooms? Something stinks.
The show premiered in 2015 and is presently in its fifth, 26 episode, season. That’s impressive for a Nickelodeon show not named Sponge-Bob, though I feel like this show doesn’t have much reach. My kids have watched it here and there, but it’s not like I see a ton of merch for it. It’s credited mostly to Karman who is given the “Created by” credit and is also the credited director. Other Bagdasarians are still involved as her children are credited as producers and have writing credits, but obviously Ross has stepped back some. He’s still onboard though to voice Dave and the Chipmunks Alvin and Simon, while Karman voices two of the Chipettes and Theodore. The Season 4 finale was dedicated to Christmas, and it’s the only Christmas episode I’m aware of from this show. It didn’t air as the finale though so that it could be timely. How will it measure up to the classic A Chipmunk Christmas? I dubbed that 1981 special the fifth best Christmas special of all time as recently as last year. I don’t expect this one to match that, but in celebration of that one’s 40th anniversary it felt appropriate to look at a modern interpretation of these rodents.
The episode begins in a downtown setting where people are walking around and getting ready for the incoming Christmas holiday. An oversized candy cane is positioned outside a window pining for a video game behind the glass. The candy cane is Alvin (Ross Bagdasarian Jr.) in a costume that appears to be quite difficult to maneuver in. Theodore (Janice Karman), dressed as a Christmas elf, comes strolling up to ask Alvin what he’s doing. Alvin wants this video game (Masters of Zelinda, an obvious Zelda parody), but can’t afford it, and will probably get it for Christmas because this is a Christmas special. As the two walk and talk, we find out this is the first day of their winter recess from school and their surrogate father, Dave, has mandated they spend some of their break helping others. That would apparently mean helping out with some Christmas thing thus explaining the costumes of which Alvin seems resentful of his brother’s more conventional trappings as he falls over in his candy cane one.
In a theater, Dave (Bagdasarian Jr) is watching some kid (I think his name is Kevin and he’s voiced by Karman) dressed as a dancing Christmas tree auditioning for a show. Dave doesn’t seem impressed. Two cops then approach him to basically just gush about Dave overseeing the production, since he is a hit song writer of some renown. They’re hopeful he’ll craft a new hit (hmm, I wonder what it could be…) and he responds in kind that he’s working on one. This just feels like window dressing for a closing musical number, doesn’t it?
Back in town, Alvin has resumed his candy cane duties while Theodore is trying to raise funds or something. A gentleman dressed like an elf (I don’t know who voices him as they just credit the main cast, but I assume it’s someone from the main cast) approaches and inquires what Theodore is doing. It would seem there’s a labor shortage up north and it’s an all hands on deck situation. Theodore laughs him off nervously and resumes his duties, while the elf dude sets his sights on Alvin. He asks about taking his “elf” up north to help Santa. Alvin doesn’t deny guardianship of his little elf, but he does point out that Theodore is already helping Santa by gesturing to some kid dressed as Santa. The elf corrects him by saying Theodore will help the REAL Santa. Alvin seems confused, but never one to miss an opportunity, tells the elf to ask Santa why he still hasn’t received the game he’s been requesting for the past three years? The elf asks if he’s been naughty, and Alvin gets a bit evasive. The elf tells him he’ll be right back and dashes away while Alvin falls on his face again. He returns in the blink of an eye with the game Alvin wanted and proposes a deal: Alvin gets the game if he can take Theodore to the North Pole.
Alvin is a bit hesitant, but calls out to Theodore asking him if he wants to go to the North Pole. Theodore, possibly maintaining the illusion he’s an elf, basically responds by saying, “Who wouldn’t want to go to the North Pole?” That’s all the elf needs to hear as he frantically tries to find a contract on his person to have Alvin sign. He just grabs a scrap of paper and uses Alvin’s back to write on it knocking him over again. He helps Alvin up and just lays it out: sign this if you want the game, or don’t. He’ll come for the game at the end of the night if he chooses not to let Theodore go north.
Alvin and Theodore head home and Theodore is quite surprised to see Alvin with the game he has so coveted. He tells his brother the elf just gave it to him and Theodore basically just thinks that’s nice. Inside their bedroom, Alvin reasons to himself that kid could not have been a real elf so he signs his name on the “contract.” Instantly, the elf appears in the window and uses a magic wand to basically grab Theodore and toss him in this fancy looking sleigh. Dave comes bursting in to witness the child abduction and the elf screams and uses his wand to put him to sleep. Simon then enters the fray, but he’s too late as the elf whisks Theodore away.
In the sleigh, the elf tells Theodore what’s going on and we’ll soon learn that his name is Chestnut. There’s a massive labor shortage this year where it concerns the elves (I can’t imagine it’s any better this year) and Chestnut has been out looking for any help he can find. Theodore seems rather receptive to the idea of helping Santa and not particularly concerned with the whole kidnapping that has taken place. Back at the house, Alvin informs Simon what happened, leaving out his own involvement. When Simon asks about the game, he says he won it in a contest. Simon then grabs the phone and calls the police, but he just gets yelled at by the dispatcher for playing a prank. Theodore and Chestnut arrive at the North Pole and we meet another elf named Peppermint. Theodore gets setup in front of some monitors and has to parse out the naughty and nice kids, or maybe just note what kids want for Christmas (isn’t there a whole letter mechanism for that?), and he seems game.
At the Seville house, Alvin and Simon are consulting a globe as they try to figure out what to do. Dave won’t wake up, and we head into a musical montage! During the montage, Theodore gets super tired watching the monitors while Alvin and Simon go to great lengths to try to wake Dave including trying to lift him with a drone and tying him to a motorized vacuum or something. He ends up going for a ride and the boys leave him asleep on the stairs. His back is going to be in rough shape whenever he does wake up. When the song is over, Theodore is sleepy and has left his station. Chestnut is confused as to how Theodore could be tired for apparently elves never tire at Christmas. Theodore then decides to come clean about not being a real elf and the guy doesn’t believe him. When he removes a false ear he freaks out and uses his wand to put it back in place.
Chestnut ushers Theodore into another room claiming he has no idea how he did that with his ear but orders him not to do it again. Theodore tries to explain and removes the other ear causing the elf to freak out again. This must be some body horror imagery for him since he seems to think Theodore is literally ripping his own ears off. Theodore is finally able to explain he’s not a real elf, but Chestnut still seems confused and questions why his guardian would let him come to the North Pole then. Now it’s Theodore’s turn to be confused as he finds out that Alvin posed as his guardian for a game and in turn let this guy abduct him. Legally. Sort of. Theodore explains that Alvin is just his brother and it’s quite clear that Theodore is a bit hurt by the realization that his brother sold him out for a game. We also find out that Dave has been magically put to sleep and won’t wake until Christmas and that Santa is no where to be found because he’s out looking for more elves. Theodore asks if he can go home, but Chestnut is a bit reluctant to do so. He says once word gets out that Theodore isn’t an elf he’s likely to be banished by his superiors forever. Harsh, but fair.
With nothing else to do, Chestnut takes Theodore to see General Eggnog. The general is an oversized elf in a loud blue suit and seems like a man (elf) in a panic. It’s clear our abductor elf is reluctant to tell him what’s going on, but the general is very enthused about meeting their newest recruit. As Chestnut starts to explain what happened, Theodore interrupts to confirm he’s eager to get to work. The general is pleased and takes his leave. Chestnut asks Theodore why he did that and Theodore explains he feels more wanted here than he is at home, obviously thanks to Alvin’s actions.
At the Seville residence, it would appear to be the next day. Alvin has returned from doing something and Simon seems irritated at how long he was gone. Alvin informs him he’s been out doing good deeds all over town in the hope of getting Santa’s attention (or to make up for the bad deed he committed of letting Theodore go north?). Before Simon can get mad at him there’s a knock at the door. It’s Officer Dangus (Michael Bagdasarian) from earlier and he’s looking for Dave, who missed that morning’s rehearsal. He just lets himself in because he’s an ass and Alvin and Simon try to play coy, but Dave was left sleeping on the stairs and Dangus can see him. They try to cover for him by saying Dave has been up all night writing his new song and he’s super tired. They also add in that they’re personally sick of hearing it which was a bad move because Dangus asks them to sing it for him. They ad-lib some terrible Christmas song which just ends with Dangus storming out in a panic declaring nothing can save that song. At least he’s gone.
We get a quick look at a tired Theodore once again before going back to the antics at home. Simon has rigged up a remote-controlled gurney with some crazy tech that’s supposed to get Dave off of the stairs and into his bed. Apparently Simon is some kind of super genius in this show. He’s distracted by a scream though as Alvin is now resorting to bad deeds to get Santa’s attention and can be seen chasing a kid while wearing a snowman costume. Simon gets him to stop allowing Alvin to explain his new plan suggesting if this can’t get Santa’s attention then nothing will. He gestures broadly to the neighborhood and it looks like a tornado went through town. Reindeer are hanging from trees and there’s lights and wrappings all over the streets while “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” plays somewhat sarcastically. Alvin then gets a phone call and is hopeful it’s Santa, but it’s just Britney (Karman) looking for Dave. It’s been a day since the incident with Dangus, and the cops are having an argument about the missing Dave. Dangus then gets radioed about a vandalism in progress and heads to the scene.
The perp is Alvin who is now stealing Christmas lights. Dangus quickly apprehends him and takes him to Dave, who is now strapped to the gurney. Simon gets startled by Dangus storming in swinging Alvin around like a wolf with a rabbit in its mouth which causes him to drop the remote to the gurney. It breaks causing the gurney to rise up on one end portraying Dave like that girl from The Ring. The gurney rumbles down the stairs towards a terrified Dangus and Alvin, collides with them, and starts rolling around through the house at a high rate of speed. It takes out the Christmas tree before flying out the front door with Alvin and Dangus still atop tangled in Christmas lights. As the gurney zooms through town narrowly avoiding pedestrians and cars, Alvin starts calling out to Santa about just wanting Theodore back, which is witnessed by Chestnut at the North Pole. He quickly shuts the monitor off as Theodore approaches inquiring if there’s any word from his family. The elf plays coy and Theodore miserably shuffles off back to work.
Back in town, Simon gets control over the gurney at last via his hastily reassembled remote control and it comes to a stop amidst a bunch of cops who don’t look too happy for before this they went for a bit of a ride on an ice skating rink. Up north, Chestnut checks on Theodore who looks pretty worse for ware. He proposes taking him home, but Theodore doesn’t want to leave the elves high and dry, and he doesn’t want to go where he’s not wanted, but it’s clear he’s not going to last much longer up here. He then faints and we cut to Theodore in bed and some old elf is telling Chestnut he probably can’t survive the trip back home. A not-so-commanding voice disagrees and we finally get to see Santa. He seems to know what’s going on and declares he’s taking Theodore home. He also has more good news as he’s recruited a shitload of elves to help out, so I guess we don’t have to worry about Christmas getting cancelled or anything. Santa scoops up Theodore and Chestnut gives him a snow globe which shows Alvin begging to have his brother returned to him. This puts a smile on the weary chipmunk’s face as he curls up in the sleigh ready to go home.
At the Seville house, Alvin and Simon are basically in full lockdown mode at this point. Britney keeps calling Alvin to get them to come to the show and he’s insistent on it not happening. Until Dangus shows up again declaring otherwise and we awkwardly cut to him yelling at everyone at the theater. He instructs the Chipettes that they’re to sing backup for the boys while Dave continues to snooze in a prop sleigh (why haven’t they brought him to a hospital at this point?). The only problem is, no one knows what they’re singing! Dangus just tells them to sing something good, which is hardly helping the situation.
The curtain then opens abruptly forcing Dangus to introduce the rodents. The girls roll sleeping Dave out as Dangus wants to make sure everyone knows who is responsible for this performance to come. He then departs leaving Alvin and Simon to awkwardly start into their lame song. Before they get too far into things, Santa comes flying in to set things right. He wakes Dave up and returns Theodore to his arms. He also puts the audience to sleep, for some reason, even though they already saw him enter. Alvin is able to apologize to Theodore while Dave seems confused. Santa confirms for Theodore that Chestnut will be sentenced to death for his kidnapping. Actually he assures Theodore that Chestnut will be fine and not banished claiming it was an “honest mistake.” Never mind the kid totally broke protocol with that bogus contract. Dave then starts to fret about not having a song and Santa just magics one up for him. He wakes the audience and makes a grand exit leaving everyone to enjoy the new song…
It’s not what I expected. This whole time I was ready for this thing to end with “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t be Late),” but instead we get some generic, pop, piece that’s played really fast and sounds like ass. Seriously, this was such an easy layup and a way to bring in parents who have been watching this junk with their kids and instead they roll with this crap? And to make it worse, we get dumb cuts of people dancing and the cop doing the moonwalk.
Mercifully, it ends back at the Seville house with Alvin tucking his brother into bed. He then creeps over to the window and starts trying to bargain with Santa, because this is Alvin, after all. He says that even though he told Santa he just wanted his brother back, he also wouldn’t mind a few other things. He then produces a giant list and starts to explain it. We cut to Santa in his sleigh watching this all unfold on his snow globe. He shouts out, “Alvinnn!!!” and the chipmunk can clearly hear him as he drops the list and slinks back to bed. Then, finally, the classic Chipmunk song cuts in to serenade Santa as he flies through the snowy skies and, yes, passes in front of the full moon. It feels like it’s been a minute since we got one of those.
Well, that was a mixed bag. If we’re doing an Alvin Christmas story then we need Alvin to do something selfish and learn something in the end, and Janice Karman and company certainly came up with an interesting setup. Sure, it’s preposterous, but in a believable way for a Christmas special. We get to feel angry with Alvin and sad for Theodore, though the whole unwanted angle is a tad forced. Plus, it requires Chestnut to act in a rather selfish manner as well. They’re careful to make sure Chestnut never outright lies to Theodore, instead he just doesn’t really answer any difficult questions and gets constantly interrupted. The mix-up works well enough, but then Chestnut is basically an unintentional dick, but all is forgiven in the end by Santa despite him having some pretty harsh ground rules.
The stuff that takes place back in town is equally mixed. I was good with the physical comedy, though less so with the bumbling cop, Dangus. He’s more annoying than funny and impossibly incompetent when it comes to his job. It was hard to care about the Christmas show that Dave was supposed to oversee, even knowing everything would turn out fine in the end because it’s, you know, Christmas. That ending though did suck. We gloss over Alvin’s comeuppance in favor of a trash song. Inserting “The Chipmunk Song” in the end does not make up for it either, it arguably makes it worse! I thought maybe there were some rights issues with it that I was not aware of, but no, they just opted to do something else. Which is an okay decision in a vacuum, but you better put together a good song if you’re going to tease a song at the end of the episode and not have it be the one everyone wants to hear.
Aside from the song, the audio portion of the episode is okay. The Chipmunks and Chipettes sound like they’re supposed to because the same people have been voicing them for decades, but the other voices were a bit annoying. Dangus irritated me in basically every way while Santa just lacked presence in his voice. And visually this show is pretty disappointing. Regardless of what you think of the character designs, the textures and animation are just lacking. Everything looks wooden and too clean, even when the show is trying to present a mess like Alvin’s rampage. It’s colorful, at least, and there’s plenty of Christmas items in the background, but ugh, it’s just unappealing to look at. I’m sure the budget isn’t very high given this is just a television show, one not backed by a giant studio too, but this is the type of CG show I’m happy to say is starting to die out in favor of 2D computer animation.
“A Very Merry Chipmunk” is, despite some of my ranting, not terrible. It likely pleases the main audience it’s shooting for: modern kids. If your kids like Alvin and the gang, then they’re probably happy with this. It’s just a shame when creators take a modern interpretation of a classic franchise and do little to try and bring in the older fans. I’m not asking them to write different jokes or style the characters like it’s 1985, but just do something to make this interesting for an adult like me who is watching with his children. Seriously, if they just stuck that damn song in where it was supposed to go I’d feel 50% better about this show and would probably give it a solid recommendation. Instead, I say pass and just stick with the classic cartoon from 1981.
If, after all that, you still want to watch this then just tune to Nickelodeon if you have cable. It’s possible it’s even on-demand, and also possible that at this stage of the season you missed your chance. The show is streaming on Paramount+ and available to purchase digitally from other places as well though, so all hope is not lost.