Alvin’s selfless act of Christmas charity turns into twenty-four minutes of songs and deception…
Alvin and the Chipmunks were the brainchildren of songwriter of Peter Bagdasarian Sr. After finding great success in altering his pitch in the novelty song “The Witch Doctor,” Bagdasarian revisted the idea, only this time harmonizing a trio of his own vocals into what we know today as “The Chipmunks,” in their first hit, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t be Late)”.
Creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (1919-1976) and the original album
The Chipmunks were an audio sensation, however, their first foray into animation with The Alvin Show wasn’t as successful, lasting only one season. Yet The Chipmunks albums continued to perform well, plus The Alvin Show started to find an audience after years in syndication. Nearly twenty years later, Peter Bagdasarian Jr. thought it was time to pick up where his father left off, and NBC believed in giving them another animated shot, starting with A Chipmunks Christmas in 1981.
Early Chipmunk designs in comics and TV
My entire generation knows Pete Jr. as the voice of David “Dave” Seville, Alvin, and Simon (his wife Janice Karman performed Theodore) thanks to Alvin & The Chipmunks‘ impressive, almost unprecedented, television run from 1983 to 1990 under various network and titles.
During that time it was nominated for several Emmys and even produced one (damn good, IMO) theatrically released film, A Chipmunk Adventure in 1987. Today, The Chipmunks have found a whole new generation of fans with newer films released by 20th Century Fox in 2007 and 2009, both of which were successful enough to undoubtedly warrant a third film.
Feeling like a bit of a hypocrite right now… Previously, I shit all over Raggedy Ann’s Christmas special, even accusing Chuck Jones of “slumming’ it” for a licensed character paycheck just because it didn’t it didn’t live up to his work on How The Grinch Stole Christmas. As if anything could, but mostly because I never understood the appeal of those nightmarish clown dolls.
Chuck Jones also oversaw this Christmas special and it really shows in the human characters
And yet I dug A Chipmunk Christmas, and Good God, I hope it doesn’t have to do for any residual love I have left for the property. I wish I could say that it’s simply because I thought the story was heartwarming and the animation was above par for the early 80’s, but I’m fairly sure it has more to do with all the Chipmunk albums I owned and the nostalgia for the series I didn’t even know existed until now. Alas, potential bias lies ahead…
Because skateboards don’t work on stairs
So what sets it apart from dopey shit like The Great Santa Claus Caper? Well, for one, The Chipmunks actually do things. They’re a pop music act that also happens to be kids… and uh, chipmunks, although that rarely factors into their characters beyond their voices.) But they’re sort of the original Hanna Montana, but they can also come up with ideas and solve problems. So there… I guess.
Child labor laws don’t apply to rodents
And in spite of my disdain for the recent movies (which I’ve never seen) and the trepidation of enduring a half hour of music, the show is surprisingly light on Chipmunks songs.
Alvin brags about what he already has
I mean, there are plenty of songs, but instead of simply crooning into the camera repeatedly for five straight minutes, like certain other specials, you instead get soothing snippets of several Holiday favorites, including their original hit “Christmas Don’t be Late,” which Alvin can’t even sing properly.
C’mon, do the Hula Hoop line!
What’s wrong with the lad? Well, it turns out “the red chipmunk” has starred into the eyes of death! Turning back to the beginning, the special opens showing a terminally ill boy, on his death bed.
Oh look, the sick kid’s a fan
So it’s not just the idea of recording sessions on Christmas, although Alvin bitches about that too. After dropping by a retailer to admire his prized Golden Echo Harmonica, he overhears the sick boy’s sister light up with excitement, believing the instrument is just what her brother needs to pull through.
“The harmonica is the cure, Mother”
“Great, now I gotta feel guilty about owning a cheap instrument.”
In a truly selfless act, Alvin rushes home and donates his harmonica to the kid…
Even though it’s a tool of his trade, Tommy needs it more than Alvin
Alvin’s singing voice returns. Unfortunately, Dave’s really cracking the whip hard this Holiday, and he lands the animal trio a gig performing at Carnegie Hall.
“You want my foster animals to work on Xmas… Let’s talk cash!”
Worse still, not only are the Carnegies demanding the underage singers work on Christmas, the specify that – nay, demand – Alvin must also perform a harmonica solo live on stage! You know, as taste in popular music dictated in 1981.
“How can we work without the proper tools- MMPPH!”
Thus Alvin’s gotta lie to Dave for the duration of the special, as the boys attempt to make the money necessary to buy a new Harmonica.
Somebody’s getting a Shake Weight this Christmas
I quite enjoyed the Alvin Claus sequence, where he charges children to sit on his comparatively diminutive lap for a picture. And not just for the joke at the fat kid’s expense, but that was great too.
“Cindy Lou, who? Can we get sued for that?”
The girl in this scene has a name that references another Christmas special worked on by Chuck Jones. Perhaps you’ve heard of Cindy Lou?
Let a human teach you the True Meaning of Christmas
Dave sees the boys newfound sense of entrepreneurship, and incorrectly interprets it as a materialistic understanding of Christmas.
“We’re sorry we worked for anybody but you, Dave”
He comes off as kind of a dick, actually, as he’s completely unaware they’re scrapping together cash to recover from a hugely charitable act just to help him profit on Christmas. Or at least I assume Dave handles the finances? Hopefully, he’s established a trust of some kind, because it can’t be easy to get singing rodents into college.
A quick trip to Dreamland
Alvin goes to bed distraught over his financial situation, and we see the strain on his psyche in the form of a prolonged dream sequence, where we meet someone who has an even worse idea as to the “True Meaning of Christmas.”
Fans of the original Alvin Show may recognize this guy, as he was once The Chipmunks’ costar. He was originally the Peabody and Sherman to The Chipmunks’ Rocky & Bullwinkle
It’s Clyde Crashup, noted scientist/inventor making a cameo, or rather one of his last appearance in The Chipmunks franchise of any kind (He shows up one last time, ten years later, in a Back to the Future parody episode.)
Clyde has an even worse understanding of Christmas, and that’s probably why he was fired from the series
Alvin awakes without a solution, or enough money to buy a new Harmonica, and goes to the store to admire that which he cannot have.
That’s what you get for giving
However, an elderly lady spots him ogling the instrument and offers to buy it for him on one condition: He play her a song.
Tell me where is says anything about taking harmonicas from strangers
I won’t lie… I found this slightly creepy. Yet it makes for a pretty good ending, so hold tight.
Another panning shot, poorly stitched together by yours truly
Dave becomes aware of the debacle too late to do much, but with Harmonica in check, it’s off to Carnegie Hall…
Where Alvin’s got one more surprise in store.
It’s Tommy! Very much alive, no thanks to modern medicine. Apparently, a used harmonica was just was he needed to pull through the undisclosed disease, and The Chipmunks can sing there asses off, confident with the knowledge that the world is better than it was twenty-four minutes ago.
And we all get our metaphorical hula hoop
We say goodbye to The Chipmunks, but the special’s not over yet.
“Damn! The science is too tight!”
Santa hears the high-pitched performance as he flies over the city, and gives it an acknowledging head flip, as if to say “that shit is on fire.”
What time do you think it is in the North Pole when Santa gets off work?
We see him arrive home to the North Pole, weary from his single day of work. He slumps down in his chair, and who do we see sitting next to him?
The old lady who bought the harmonica, or Mrs. Claus!
Not really acknowledged, although arguably the basis for several of the Holiday tunes sung in short form.
Santa shows up at the end, but I truly love that A Chipmunks Christmas gives Mrs. Claus a turn in the spotlight. I can’t really think of another occasion where she’s portrayed as solely responsible for a Christmas miracle, so I thought the ending was pretty rad. Those cookies are for you this time, m’lady!
Contrary to what I expected, A Chipmunk Christmas is a pretty damn fine special, actually. As much as people my age love to write off the new movies as shit, and thus the whole franchise as a result, it was nice to be reminded that these are, in fact, strangely special and endearing characters. The 80’s cartoon ran for almost an eternity, so my indifference was quickly replaced by good old nostalgia right from the first couple of minutes of this incredibly well-executed special. It was nice to be reminded that my version of Alvin & The Chipmunks were reinventions too, and if I’m not using ‘em, why shouldn’t they be updated for a generation who can. Sorry if that’s too personal, but I feel like I experienced my own little Christmas miracle!
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us – it helps!)
A Chipmunk Christmas appears in its own standalone DVD, along with two other Christmas-themed episodes of the TV show, although the animation is not of the same quality you’ll find in the special from 1981. (FYI: The DVD listed above comes with a Chipmunks Christmas music CD, however the one I bought in stores recently did not.) I’d also recommend A Chipmunks Adventure, because I think it’s still a pretty great film, plus it’s unbelievably gorgeous compared to other animated films based on TV shows at that time (which quite fascinatingly resulted from Bagdasarian scooping up several animators fired from Disney after the fallout of The Black Cauldron!) The Alvin Show can also be purchased for super-cheap by those whose Chipmunks nostalgia goes back further than mine.