Sunday, July 08, 2007

I'm saving my cynicism for Christmas...

I choked when I saw this poster in the theater where I saw Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I pointed at it to the lady I was escorting. And she, not a particularly fanatic cartoon fan, said, "So they do rap. So what?"

And while certain individuals over on LiveJournal might choke and curse at the sight of this poster, I didn't. Not after that remark.

This may give away my age, but I remember when The Alvin Show TV series aired in the 1960's. I remember the in-between cartoon of Clyde Crashcup and his whispering assistant Leonardo, trying to invent the shoe and the hat, with Clyde getting it wrong. I remember the odd interstitials. I remember the rendition of "I've Been Working On The Railroad" that was cut off before the song finished, with the director screaming imprecations at the Chipmunks, the whole set behind them being dismantled, and everybody calling it quits, and Alvin slowly walking to the soundstage door, looking back and saying, "Well, that's show biz."

Back in those days, the Chipmunks' songs were limited. Tape technology was used to get those high voices, meaning that the beat track had to be played at half speed, and their enunciation was pretty garbled. So the songs had to be pretty limited in beat, and they were all old songs, because Ross Bagdasarian, their creator, was cheap and old-fashioned.

It wasn't until 1980 when his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr., released a new album, "Chipmunk Punk." It happened by accident; an LA DJ played a record at the wrong speed and ad-libbed that it was the latest Chipmunks release. There was such a clamor to hear this "new album" that Bagdasarian revived his father's characters. Curiously enough, "Chipmunk Punk" was the first certified Gold Record for the Chipmunks, and brought about the new animated series.
First animated by Ruby-Spears, then by DIC, and aired on NBC and then in syndication, Alvin and the Chipmunks had much better voices; digital technology did the pitch changing, meaning that the actors could speak normally at normal speed. They also recorded modern songs, in fact contemporary hits. It was probably the only really good animated series NBC had, besides The Smurfs, that aired in the 80's.

This new movie has generated outrage for several reasons. Jason Lee (playing David Seville in the picture above) hasn't done anything good since his initial appearance in Clerks. If the CGI Chipmunks stay the indicated size, they will be the size of real chipmunks. They always used to be the size of human children, making them easy for kids to identify with, and making them able to interface with the real world. Now they can't.

And if they can't really take part in our world, how the hell did they learn rap? How did they get street attitude? Unlike some purists, I don't mind them rapping. But rap is supposed to come from distinctly human experience and from interactions with society. If Remy had problems dealing with the human world in Ratatouille, how can Chipmunks no bigger than Smurfs be said to be rappers? I said, I'm willing to give them a chance. One chance. I'll wait for the reviews. I'm even tolerating the fact that this is coming from Fox. Maybe it's the happy glow of Ratatouille that's making me generous. But...I will be watching.