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Alvin and the Chipmunks/ Chipwrecked - Chipmunks and Chipettes
Alvin and the Chipmunks/ Chipwrecked - Stranded on a desert island, the Chipmunks and Chipettes must learn to survive in the wild again © 2011 Bagdasarian Productions

This third installment in the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise takes the rascally rodents (and their female counterparts the Chipettes) out of their singing-superstars comfort zone by stranding them on a desert island. The change does the critters good, giving the helium-voiced troublemakers some interesting adventure-story perils to overcome.

Although most of the ‘Munks are voiced by well-known actors, their pitch-shifted performances make it impossible to recognize any of them. So take it on faith that Alvin is Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler is Simon, singer Jesse McCartney is Theodore, Amy Poehler is Eleanor, Christina Applegate is Brittany and Anna Faris is Jeanette.

Jason Lee returns as their frequently exasperated manager Dave Seville, who tries giving the irrepressible Alvin a little more leeway during a cruise-ship trip. The idea backfires when Alvin convinces four of the other chipmunks to go nightclubbing instead of remaining in their stateroom. (Only the childlike Theodore stays behind, too scared to look away from a monster movie on TV.) The Chipettes engage in a dance-off with three bimbos after some “oh no you di-hint” taunting, a white-tuxedoed Alvin commandeers the gaming tables and bookish Simon frets.

Alvin and the Chipmunks/ Chipwrecked - Alvin, Theodore and Simon
Vacationing aboard a luxury cruise liner, Alvin finds innovative ways to wreak havoc © 2011 Bagdasarian Productions

That gets them restricted to shuffleboard the next day, until a wayward kite entangles all six chipmunks and spirits them away. Dave and former record-label exec Ian Hawke (David Cross), who has been reduced to appearing in costume as a pelican mascot, try flying after Alvin and company in a hang glider. When they wash ashore, Ian’s snarky bitterness over his reduced station in life is made even funnier by the fact that he has nothing to wear but his fowl attire.

The ‘Munks end up stranded elsewhere for most of the movie with a ditzy island-happy castaway named Zoe (Jenny Slate, formerly of Saturday Night Live but perhaps best known these days as the voice of the YouTube sensation Marcel the Shell with Shoes On). The screenplay by writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (who previously penned Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and both of the Kung Fu Panda movies) makes Zoe an amusing parody of the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away, whose only companion was a volleyball called Wilson. Zoe has five times as many “friends”: a golf ball named Calloway, a football named Nerf, a basketball named Spalding, a baseball named Rawlings and a tennis ball named Dunlop. Her khaki shorts also do a good job of showing off her impressively terrific legs, which will please the daddies in the audience.

Chipmunk Simon actually has a more interesting role than Alvin this time around. In a personality switch reminiscent of Buzz Lightyear’s transformation into a Latin lover in Toy Story 3, a spider bite makes Simon think he is a dashing and courageous Frenchman named Simone (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Alvin undergoes a different kind of change, learning to take responsibility and feeling actual remorse for giving Dave so much grief.

The movie’s numerous songs include two by Lady Gaga, which must be some kind of mark of cultural validation. The soundtrack also gets points for not relying too heavily on “classic rockers” at the expense of iPod-era tunes.

With a decent moral lesson, some great volcano action and even a surprisingly hip reference to the honey badger, movie three seems to be the charm for these Chipmunks.

[Rating: 3 stars]

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked gets its theatrical release on Friday December 16, 2011