The English language only has so much flexibility to it, and I do not think that the words exist to express just how deeply unsettling it is to see remarkably authentic-looking computer generated cartoon chipmunks interacting with live actors in a real-world setting. It's the Uncanny Valley on steroids: from the neck down, these are essentially photorealistic figures, from the neck up they have unnaturally expressive faces, and we get to see them crawling all over Jason Lee and David Cross.

As I said, I don't have the words to explain how distressing this is, so let me instead share a .gif of the King of Hearts stabbing himself in the head:

All things considered, Alvin and the Chipmunks isn't actually that bad. Not "stabbies bad," at any rate. Hell, there are a few gags sprinkled across the film that are actually sort of funny, in a vaguely debased way. And insofar as anyone actually desires to see unpleasantly realistic CGI chipmunks have conversations with Jason Lee and David Cross, the animation is extremely technically proficient, which is surely more than I, for one, expected as a possibility.

So it's not that bad. It's just kind of gross and upsetting. Not the content, I don't mean (there are the requisite kid movie fart & shit jokes, but they are very few in number), but just the experience of sitting there in the dark and watching the damn thing. I felt wrong about watching it: not morally wrong, and not chagrined about spending the money, more like the kind of wrong that you feel after eating Taco Bell or drinking cheap gin. The film left me with a feeling of unease, and the sensation that I'd just spend 90 minutes rubbing citric acid into my eyeballs with a toothbrush. Emily Dickinson once defined art as the physical feeling that the top of her head had been taken off; Alvin and the Chipmunks feels physically like having warm gelatin drizzled in your ear.

That's probably too many metaphors (and all of them food-related!), but necessary, I think, for communicating the very distinct way that the film just plain feels wrong. My reaction was visceral and essentially irrational. That said, let us try to rationalise it out.

Alvin and the Chipmunks retells the origin story of the classic dreadful cartoon and novelty music act: three chipmunk siblings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore (voiced, respectively, by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jess McCartney; and what business the film has spending the money on vaguely-known actors in roles famous for the degree to which they are manipulated past recognition, is totally beyond me) are living a life of ease and peace in a fir tree somewhere in California, storing nuts and singing a capella versions of crappy pop songs (Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," if you must know). Their home is cut down to serve as the Christmas tree in the lobby of a gargantuan, impersonal music label, which at that very moment is spitting out the mangled body of Dave Seville (Jason Lee, of Chasing Amy and The Incredibles), who has just spectacularly failed to impress his old college buddy Ian (David Cross, of Mr. Show and Arrested Development). Contrivance brings Dave and the chipmunks together, where after a series of deeply unimaginative cartoon-style shenanigans that read as the world's worst rip-off of the "little Bruce Campells" scene in Army of Darkness, Dave writes a Christmas song for the chipmunks (yeah, it's "Christmas Don't Be Late"), Ian turns it into a smash hit, the chipmunks become superstars and we are treated to a wholly standard anti-music industry fable.

Good films have been made from worse plots. Wait, that's a complete lie. Anyway, the chief horror of the film isn't the boilerplate script, which has its charming moments, but in the way it all looks. Which is just damn creepy. I don't want to keep harping on it. But by the time Cross kisses one of the 'munks on the cheek (damn me if I can remember which one), I had long since ceased finding this particular film's blend of animation and reality anything other than the stuff of nightmares.

Other than the flesh-crawling CG, there's not much in the film either good or ill. The story is a giant blank slate, simply happening all over without any sort of personality to it; and why do we think this is good for children? Are they meant to be such indiscriminate consumer whores that they cannot desire cleverness and intelligence? Although to be fair, in crafting an story devoid of any affect other than the desire to make money, the film is an honorable continuation of the cartoon series it was based upon.

Meanwhile, Cross and Lee don't embarrass themselves too badly, largely because neither one seems to be in the film at all. In particular, I was struck by how Cross's first appearance, heavy-lidded and reciting his lines without inflection, seemed to be the product either of a sleepwalker or a monumentally pot-addled mind. It's surely limiting of me to assume that it couldn't have been both at the same time.

That the film is basically empty should be no surprise: director Tim Hill is a veteran of Garfield 2 and sadly, Muppets from Space. In other words, his metier is to make the most soulless possible commercial objects. And he has succeeded wildly in that goal with Alvin and the Chipmunks, a film that oscillates arbitrarily between disgusting and boring. Apparently, that is all that Hollywood thinks young people deserve these days. And given that they ate this up to the tune of a $45 million opening weekend, apparently Hollywood is correct.

3/10