I’ve caught up on a few newer TV shows, so here’s my thoughts on one of them, the new “Alvin and the Chipmunks” TV series. Airing on Nickelodeon (in most of the world), it’s CGI animated, and debuted earlier this year.
Like others my age, I grew up watching the 1980s Chipmunks animated series, as well as reruns of the 60s series “The Alvin Show.” I still like the Chipmunks, though their live-action CGI films left a bit to be desired.
The new TV show (stylized in the title as “ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks,” per Dave’s famous yell) is basically an update of the 80s TV series. The show still focuses on the hijinks of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, and their exasperated adoptive father/manager, David “Dave” Seville. Also present are the Chipettes—Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor.
Similarities to the 80s TV series include:
- Each episode being two 11-minute-or-so cartoons.
- A song number at one point in each episode.
- Everyone’s personalities are kept from the 80s series and subsequent specials/movies. Thus, Simon’s still highly intelligent—he invents a working model electric car in one episode—as well as snarky about Alvin’s antics. Theodore’s also still childish and naive, while Alvin’s still, well, Alvin. Ditto the Chipettes—Jeanette is bookish, Brittany’s still egoistical, and Eleanor is still assertive.
- The theme song’s also back, albeit truncated to fit today’s more ad-hungry TV timeslot demands.
- The layout of the Sevilles’ house is also the same, along with the look of Dave’s antique car. The Chipettes’ treehouse is also similar to the 80s series.
- The voice work is familiar sounding. Of course, that’s because the voice artists for this show are the same ones as in the 80s series: Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. as Dave, Alvin, and Simon, while Janice Karman voices Theodore, Brittany, and Jeanette. The main change is Eleanor has her own voice artist, Vanessa Chambers; in the 80s, Karman voiced Eleanor as well.
Of course, like any revival, there’s noticeable differences:
- The biggest one is the CGI animation, including the character designs. While the animation’s serviceable (if not Pixar), the designs for the Chipmunks is…well, “genetic experimentation gone wrong” seems to sum things up. (Did one of Simon’s experiments backfire?) The Chipmunks look a bit less cartoonish/more human-like (or something), but now have visible tails, like real chipmunks. They’re also shorter than they were in the 80s TV series, but much bigger than they were in the movies—splitting the difference? The Chipettes are similar, but given they looked a bit more human-like than the boys to begin with, it doesn’t look (quite) as odd with them. Also gone in this series are the boys’ trademark body-length turtleneck sweaters, seen since “The Alvin Show”—they still have sweaters here, but now also wear jeans.
- A few plots seem reflective of the show’s French co-producers and international distribution, such as everyone being excited about a big, sold-out soccer game. There’s also a number of soccer references in other episodes.
- Miss Miller from the 80s series is shown as a brief cameo in one episode, but doesn’t seem to be the Chipettes’ caretaker/foster mother. The Chipettes seem to live on their own (similar to the initial Chipettes episodes of the 80s series), but have Dave as a guardian (like in the recent movies).
- The songs are original ones for each episode, not cover versions of famous current or recent songs. While those were a high point of the 80s series, they’ve also proved problematic since, especially with the rise of home video and other platforms that require their own music rights. From what I’ve seen, the few 80s episodes released to DVD so far substituted some of the songs with generic or Chipmunk original music. For example, one episode replaced “Love Potion #9” with an all-Chipmunk rendition of “Witch Doctor.”
- The characters have kept up with the times tech-wise—the kids all have smartphones, while Dave has modern recording equipment.
As for my verdict on the show, it’s OK. The stories are entertaining, and Simon (my favorite of the three boys) is still his usual self. Unfortunately, the show’s awkward character designs makes it hard to give it a complete thumbs up. I could get used to it, but imagine some adult viewers, especially those that grew up on the 60s or 80s series, might not be as patient or charitable—“uncanny valley” is one term I’ve seen bandied about.
From what I’ve read, the show’s been doing well on Nick since its premiere. While it’s not a Nick-owned series, it does seem a positive sign that kids still like the Chipmunks, as well as Nick having an animated series success that’s not SpongeBob or the Ninja Turtles.
Finally, here’s the opening credits for this new series.
Image from "Alvin and the Chipmunks." (Nickeldoeon)