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'Chipmunk Adventure' Just So Much Hot Air

May 22, 1987|CHARLES SOLOMON

"The Chipmunk Adventure" (citywide) tries very hard to be hip, but the animated feature looks merely familiar, despite MTV-style production numbers and mod, pastel colors. Too many of the scenes and effects are derivative of other animated films, notably "The Three Caballeros," "Peter Pan" and "Pinocchio."

In case anyone's forgotten, the Chipmunks--Simon, Theodore and Alvin--were created by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (a.k.a. David Seville) for a series of novelty records that sold millions of copies during the late '50s and early '60s; Bagdasarian's son, Ross Jr., revived them during the early '80s.

The buck-toothed characters that appeared on "The Alvin Show" (1961), have been redesigned to make them rounder and cuter: The Chipmunks in the film (and on Saturday-morning TV) look something like the Care Bears without ears. They've been joined by the Chipettes, a trio of girl singers who look and sound just like them. Listening to six little characters talk and sing in speeded-up falsetto voices for 76 minutes becomes a real test of the viewer's endurance.

A brother-sister team of international diamond smugglers uses the two singing groups to make deliveries by tricking them into a hot-air balloon race around the world. (The gems are hidden in dolls the contestants leave as markers in the countries they visit.) The premise allows the film makers to use a lot of rather stereotyped "local color" as a background for the characters' various misadventures.

The Chipmunks arrive in Mexico City, just in time for a jolly fiesta; in Egypt, the Chipettes are kidnaped into a sheik's harem (in 1987?). In Fiji, they encounter some light-skinned natives who carry on like extras in an old Republic serial. Both groups manage to foil the typically inept, Saturday-morning villains who lurk amid these exotic settings, and return home safely.

The animation is considerably more fluid than most recent cartoon features, although it's still a far cry from Disney. Unfortunately, the characters don't do much more than strike standard rock video poses to the uninspired pop songs. The rotoscoped villains look as if they've inadvertently wandered in from a Ralph Bakshi film and don't fit into the pastel world of the Chipmunks.

Unlike so many new children's films, "The Chipmunk Adventure" isn't trying to sell anything. Small children who watch the Saturday-morning program will probably enjoy it, but their older siblings and parents will want to bail out long before the Chipmunks' balloon touches down at LAX.

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