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Alvin and the Chipmunks: The ALVINNN!!! Edition - 2-Disc Collector's Set DVD Review

Buy Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Alvinnn!!! Edition DVD from Amazon.com Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983-88)
Show & DVD Details

Producers: Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian

Director: Charles A. Nichols

Story Editors: Cliff Ruby, Elana Lesser, Dianne Dixon / Story Direction: Sharon Forward, Larry Huber, Barry Caldwell, Kathleen V. Carr, Kurt Anderson, Byron Vaughns

Regular Voice Cast: Ross Bagdasarian (Alvin Seville, Simon Seville, Dave Seville), Janice Karman (Theodore Seville)

Running Time: 173 Minutes (14 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-Y equivalent)

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Original Airdates: October 15, 1983 - 1988
Suggested Retail Price: $26.98 / DVD Release Date: September 16, 2008
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (DVD-5s) / Black Keepcase

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"It's been a while but we're back with style", proclaims a part of the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" theme tune.
The verse seems especially relevant today, as the popularity of Fox's live-action/CGI big screen feature has nudged Paramount into revisiting the rodents' run as 1980s cartoon icons.

It seems appropriate and symmetrical to declare ourselves in the midst of a third Chipmunks generation. The squeaky musical group was born in 1958 out of a novelty song by Ross Bagdasarian. Twenty-five years later, they launched a new age with the long-running NBC animated series at the heart of this DVD review. Twenty-five years from then, we arrive in the present day, where kids once again know Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, characters their grandparents might even be familiar with.

Simon, Theodore, and Alvin share a moment near the end of the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" opening title sequence. The Chipmunks are on a mission and they're wishin'... to find a lady named Honey Ginger. Tell me, have you seen her?

As Paramount moves this fall to fill stores' family DVD shelves with 2D-animated Chipmunk discs, perhaps their most exciting release is this review's subject. Though the front cover certainly doesn't make it clear, this is one of the first times that the 1983-90 cartoon "Alvin and the Chipmunks" has been the main attraction of a DVD release. We've gotten feature film The Chipmunk Adventure, installments of the spin-off season "Chipmunks Go to the Movies", and a number of episodes to complement holiday specials.

But this is different and perhaps the closest we'll ever get to complete, chronological collections. And yet, all the cover clarifies is that DVD is The ALVINNN!!! Edition, a 2-Disc Collector's Set.
Even the show/franchise's title, a front cover staple of Paramount's other new Chipmunks discs, is relegated to the spine and back cover. The typical store browser won't know what this is and I'd have to guess that's the idea.

That idea is part of a plan that doesn't seem to have been thought through fully, as seasoned DVD collectors aren't likely to be overjoyed by this set. We get two single-layered discs holding just fourteen episodes from over the years. All but one of those run 10-12 minutes each, the exception checking in twice as long. The episodes would appear to have been picked at random, although some definite highlights are included, and while arranged at random within season, the general alignment is chronological. Another cause for concern is the back cover's notice that "some music has been changed for this home entertainment version." Gladly, that's not cause for alarm; nearly every Chipmunks-covered pop tune remains intact here. The one odd exception is that one Beach Boys surfing song ("Surfin' Safari") has been substituted for another ("Surfin' U.S.A."). Most of the songs are familiar tunes from the '80s that will trigger some memories for those alive back then.

Dave Seville arrives home after a long, hard day of work to find a demolished piano covered in pudding. Such is the life of a single father to three chipmunk children. As the brainy Chipmunk, Simon uses math and a blackboard to spell out the situation facing the brothers in "A Horse of Course."

Anyway, all concerns begin to fade once you start watching the show.
It is with some experience that I can call "Alvin and the Chipmunks" one of the most universally entertaining cartoons of its time. Even 20 to 25 years since they were made, these stories involving the mischievous Alvin, the brainy Simon, and the plump Theodore have a magnetic quality to them. Countless animated TV shows have won over the public, but few manage to be fun for a wide range of audiences. "Alvin" does, proving to have the right blend of comedy, music, and morality to charm any viewer.

The clever, varied plots do not pander to young children with puerility nor do they meander. They stay focused and sharp, packing just the right amount of material into the quarter-hour of airtime. The show probably should qualify as cheesy -- what with its archetypal characters sporting full-body turtleneck shirts in each of the primary colors -- but I just don't see it deserving that label. The most I'd be willing to grant the inconceivable detractors is that the show is straightforward. But I'd value that as an asset not a weakness. It is also obvious that the production had a tight budget, but then what 1980s cartoon didn't?

The set's final episode stands somewhat in contrast to my praise. "Cadet's Regrets" is the half-hour show and it comes from the series' sixth season. Though many of the DVD's episodes were familiar to me, this one wasn't nor was its differing format. (Syndication packages didn't include all of these episodes.) Apparently, Season 6 brought changes, giving the theme song more of a rock sound and delivering less imaginative plot lines. Though the show lengthened from quarter-hour to half-hour episodes, its title was shortened to just "The Chipmunks." From the one featured episode, it seems safe to say that the changes were not for the better.

Since the episodes of the disc are presented without regard for their original half-hour accompaniment, most are either preceded by the wonderful opening title sequence or concluded by closing credits. Only the last three episodes on Disc 2 contain both.

I've done the tough task of picking my favorite episodes out of those on this set. They're designated with a star (). In addition to that, I've added to each synopsis the Chipmunk song performed and one other special thing (like a pop cultural reference, a gag, or a goof) that stood out in the episode.

Alvin catches a wave while the Chipmunks cover the Beach Boys' hit "Surfin' Safari." Ivan the Terrible chases after his overmatched wrestling partner (Theodore). Alvin and Simon sing and dance with an alien of eerily similar proportions to Theodore.

Disc 1

1. "The Curse of Lontiki" (12:00) (Originally aired December 3, 1983)
While in Hawaii, Alvin makes plans to enter a surfing contest and film a TV commercial. But his good luck changes when he finds a cursed beach medallion.
Song: "Surfin' Safari" (The Beach Boys); Choice reference: Tom Selleck (three times!)

2. "Mr. Fabulous" (12:00) (Originally aired October 15, 1983)
To earn the Chipmunks some much-needed shopping money, Theodore agrees to wrestle Ivan the Terrible, not knowing what he's in for. Alvin and Simon help train their brother for his big match.
Song: "Pump, Pump, Pump" (original, Jack Silverman & Phil Shenale); Choice goof: Dave's stadium neighbor changes hair color and clothing multiple times.

3. "Unidentified Flying Chipmunk" (12:00) (Originally aired October 22, 1983)
Inspired by the long lines for E.T., Alvin and Simon try to pass off Theodore as an alien creature. Needless to say, there are ramifications to their publicity stunt.
Song: "No Rock and Roll on Mars" (original); Choice gag: Two plates of spaghetti fall perfectly onto a couple's heads.

4. "A Horse of Course" (11:22) (Originally aired September 15, 1984)
Alvin encourages the gang to buy a racehorse otherwise destined for the glue factory. Getting Alvin's Pride to win the Sunflower Stakes is a challenge complicated by the horse's venture into Simon's chemistry lab.
Song: "Break My Stride" (Matthew Wilder); Choice reference: A David Cassidy radio mention sparks everything.

Simon tries a "macho" look at the library to impress a girl named Jillian. Now that he's in John Colorado's celebrity tournament, all Alvin's got to do is learn to ski. Whether he's oblivious or just unsuspecting, Dave Seville doesn't notice anything familiar about these kabuki theatre ladies.

5. "New Improved Simon" (12:00) (Originally aired November 17, 1984)
To impress his crush Jillian, Simon lets Alvin make him over as macho, jock, and biker, with hilarious results.
Song: "Born to Be Wild" (Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire); Choice reference: Theodore citing Liberace as evidence that "jocks always get the girl."

6. "Snow Job" (11:22) (Originally aired November 3, 1984)
When he's snubbed from John Colorado's celebrity skiing tournament, Alvin takes steps to secure an invitation. When that's done, his brothers help him learn to ski.
Song: "Footloose" (Kenny Loggins); Choice gag: John Colorado can't seem to get Alvin's name right. Speaking of names, was John Denver supposed to be unflattered?

7. "Maids in Japan" (10:57) (Originally aired November 10, 1984)
Hoping local flavor will benefit their Japanese tour, Alvin leads the Chipmunks to a kabuki theatre where they've got to perform in drag. Can they keep the gig secret from adoring fan Dave?
Song: "Three Little Maids from School Are We" (Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado); Choice gag: Alvin is caught wearing lipstick.

Alvin hopes that an apple and a smile will help woo his math teacher in "Romancing Miss Stone." The Chipmunk Fire Department isn't the most well-equipped to handle emergency calls. Alvin is at his absolute cruelest when he puts this sweet, elderly contest winner in a cab and ditches her ("Alvin's Oldest Fan").

Disc 2

8. "Every Chipmunk Tells a Story" (11:42) (Originally aired October 19, 1985)
"Alvin and the Chipmunks" goes Rashomon. Dave comes home to find the piano in a gooey mess at the bottom of the stairs. He then gets three wildly divergent accounts of what happened from Theodore, Simon, and Alvin, each of whom paints himself as an innocent victim.
Song: "The Heat Is On" (Agnetha Fältskog, written by Florrie Palmer and Tony Ashton); Choice homage: Like I said, the Rashomon effect is in effect here.

9. "Romancing Miss Stone" (10:40) (Originally aired September 21, 1985)
Alvin has the hots for his pretty math teacher, Miss Stone,
but she has her eyes on another Seville: Dave. All's fair in love and war... let the water balloon duel begin.
Song: "Sharp Dressed Man" (ZZ Top); Choice reference: Simon and Theodore sport ZZ Top-style beards in Alvin's fantasy sequence.

10. "3 Alarm Alvin" (11:54) (Originally aired September 28, 1985)
Inspired by their Career Day brush with firefighter heroism, the Chipmunks set up their own fire department. Business is initially slow, but when they're the first ones on the scene of a house fire, their safety tips come in handy.
Song: "Holding Out for a Hero" (Bonnie Tyler, written by Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford); Choice potential homage: The Chipmunk Fire Department's helmets have the number "62" on them. A nod to a year "The Alvin Show" was on the air?

11. "Alvin's Oldest Fan" (11:22) (Originally aired November 16, 1985)
Alvin is surprised and disappointed to learn Honey Ginger, a contest winner entitled to a date with him, is an elderly woman. After sending her off in a cab, guilt drives him to track her down.
Song: "Bad to the Bone" (George Thorogood); Choice observation: Alvin's shown interest in older women, but senior citizens need not apply.

Simon and Alvin work together to make sure Theodore gets his tooth fairy sighting. Although the Chipmunks are plenty frightened by the haunted roller coaster ride, Dave remains all smiles. Sergeant Beauregard T. Granite, a cross between Patton and R. Lee Ermey, has no qualms about pushing the newly-pupiled Chipmunks hard in "Cadet's Regrets."

12. "Chip Off the Old Tooth" (11:48) (Originally aired September 18, 1985)
After Theodore gets a loose tooth extracted by the dentist, he expects to see the Tooth Fairy. Alvin and Simon plot to make that happen.
Song: "Goodbye to You" (Roxette); Choice character: Cynical dental patient tries to crush Theodore's faith.

13. "Whatever Happened to Dave Seville?" (11:42) (Originally aired October 4, 1986)
In the set's most ridiculous and hilarious episode, the Chipmunks mistake a wax statue of Dave for the real thing. They diagnose him with "zomboidrigidosis", a condition seen on a soap opera, and try to help him come around.
Song: "First Date (Do You Remember?)" (original); Choice reference: Theodore is very emotionally invested in "The Young and the Anxious."

14. "Cadet's Regrets" (22:30) (Originally aired 1988)
Rather than spending another summer at kid-friendly Camp Hiawatha, Alvin enrolls the Chipmunks in the Red Beret Commandoes class of Camp Eagleton. They have their fill of demanding military training quickly. Their escape unwittingly involves a top secret, state-of-the-art vehicle with which they travel into enemy territory.
Song: "Commandos"; Choice character: Dig the laundry truck soldier who talks like Rambo.

Of course, dangling a big sandwich in front of Theodore will cause him to run fast. 'Cause he's fat. Two of Alvin's many adoring fans pay him a staged steam room visit. Check out those abs on Dave Seville!

VIDEO and AUDIO

Picture and sound quality are both pretty lacking here. Each episode is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen and two-channel Dolby Digital mono. But that's about all they have in common, as the video varies dramatically from episode to episode. At first,
it looked like the woes would diminish as the set and series progressed. But while some look better than others, not a single one of them is entirely without issue.

Some of the biggest and most common offenders... Colors tend to be overbright, blooming, and inconsistent. The picture tends to be too soft. Element blemishes, while usually minor, are quite common. The ongoing lack of detail and clarity give the set the feel of a homemade VCD, not a major studio DVD. At least you don't get network bugs and commercials. (Then again, the latter might be cool, if taken from original broadcasts.)

The soundtracks don't lend themselves to as much dissection, but there are moments that screamed "subpar" to me, someone who rarely bothered by audio on a TV show DVD. In the weakest points, the track is riddled with distortion. On the whole, the picture and sound are about what you'd expect from a late-'50s/early '60s cartoon, but this is not "The Alvin Show" that we're talking about.

Theodore, Simon, and Alvin are walking on Mars. Or so they think. Like everything about this DVD, the menus opt for minimalism.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, DESIGN and PACKAGING

Though the cover's declaration
Men's CostumesParty Pinatas
Over 10,000 Costumes - Why Shop Anywhere Else?
of this being a "2-Disc Collector's Set" implies the presence of bonus features, we get no such thing here.

In light of the lack of subtitles, special features, and alternate soundtracks, each disc boasts a grand total of two menu screens. They're static, silent, and simple, featuring various emotions of Alvin and the choice to play a particular episode or the entire platter.

Disc 1 opens with promos for DVDs of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Spongebob Squarepants, and "Go, Diego, Go".

An insert advertising the Chipmunks' official website begs for disposal as it covers up Disc 2, with Disc 1 taking the opposite side.

The Chipmunks are doing that thing they do for the good people of Hawaii. So what if he's scheming, vain, and not very thoughtful? He's Alvin and we love him just the way he is.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The 1980s Alvin and the Chipmunks series can't catch a break on DVD from Paramount. This 2-disc ALVINNN!!! Edition is lighter than it should be and a major letdown in the picture and sound departments. Nonetheless, for a casual fan just looking to preserve a piece of their childhood, this set suffices. It also delights in that it provides nearly three hours of this delightfully entertaining series on DVD.

But the show continues to scream for better treatment. As far lesser and lesser-known shows have gotten such treatment, I have trouble believing that a similar path for the '80s Chipmunks eludes the studio out of cost prohibitions or audience size.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed September 11, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1983-88 Bagdasarian Productions and 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.