In 2008, The Chipmunks celebrated their 50th anniversary. A year later their movie Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel grossed over $440 million worldwide, proving they probably have another 50 successful years ahead of them.
Just in time for the holiday season comes their newest adventure, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked which once again stars Jason Lee as songwriter Dave Seville, who has transformed the singing chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore into a pop sensation, while the trio wreak havoc in his life.
The Chipmunks and Chipettes are vacationing with Dave on a luxury cruise liner when they become ‘chipwrecked’ on a remote island, which is not as deserted as they thought.
Jason Lee, whose diverse career has included roles in Chasing Amy, The Incredibles, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky and TV’s Memphis Beat, My Name is Earl and currently the hit comedy Up All Night, spoke with us about working with the iconic Chipmunks.
What can we expect from this movie?
As always, the operative words for Alvin are ‘chaos’ and ‘action.’ It’s his first time out of the city, and he wants to make the most of it. Dave isn’t happy about Alvin’s shipboard antics – and lets him know it.
It’s not easy to be sympathetic, likable and charismatic when you’re screaming, ALVIIIIIN!’ so loudly you’re breaking windows around you!
What was your approach to perfecting the way Dave screams ‘Alvin?’
I don’t know, I just kind of did it. The only time I ever got any kind of direction outside of the director was with Ross Bagdasarian (the producer and creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks) helping me with some ‘Alvin’s,’ which I thought was kind of cool.
He’d say, ‘Can you do it longer.’ ‘Do it shorter.’ ‘Do it louder.’ That kind of thing.
Were you disappointed that you only had time to do a small part in the last Alvin and the Chipmunks movie?
Yeah, I couldn’t do the whole thing that time.
But I had my fingers crossed that there would be another one, because they’re fun movies to make and it certainly made up for the second one I feel, because I’m in this a lot and it was more of an adventurous undertaking.
When you’re holding the chipmunks is it a beanbag?
It’s usually like a little tan beanbag.
Is it easier to relate to them now after two movies?
Yeah, it’s probably a little bit easier because I’ve done it for three movies now, but it’s always a bit surreal when you’re looking at pieces of tape and stuffed animals and tan beanbags, saying things like, ‘Theodore, I miss you,’ and it’s a beanbag in your hand. It’s kind of strange.
Is it nice to do a role that your kids can watch?
I always set out to just work as an actor and try to do as many different things as I possibly can and not be too selective and not be too careful.
I think just working is fun, I like that I did My Name is Earl, I like that I’ve done kids stuff, I like that I’ve done more dramatic stuff. But certainly as a dad it’s nice to have movies that my kids can watch because they certainly aren’t watching Chasing Amy, and movies like that.
They love the chipmunks because they’re cute, especially my three year old daughter, she’s very much into saying, ‘Ahhhhh,’ which is really cute. But they love The Incredibles, and that is certainly a proud one for me.
But the Chipmunks is such a classic thing, and to have my kids be able to have that and then have their kids have that, I think it’s really cool.
What animated characters were you into when you were a kid?
I really liked Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry was huge for me, I watched it every morning before I walked to school. Even as a kid, I thought there was something really smart about it.
I thought it was very clever. And I still watch it today when it comes on, I love that old animation.
What is it about Alvin and the Chipmunks that make them so endearing and have such longevity? And what endears them to you?
Oh man. That’s always a hard one to answer because I guess the easy answer is they’re cute. They each represent something that we all have. We get the chaos from Alvin, the smarts from Simon and the innocence from Theodore, so we can identify with each one of them.
I think kids like chaos in an interesting way and the Chipmunks certainly create a lot of chaos. I think kids like to push buttons in adults, they like to antagonize and cause trouble and certainly Alvin does a great job at that.
I think kids identify with seeing Dave being driven crazy, and I think kids like to do that. It’s the kid-like spirit that kids respond to, I think. It’s the heart of it too.
These guys are likable kids, it’s very heartfelt and heartwarming. There’s an accessibility to it.