Ticketbuyers who scurried to see the smash hit “Alvin and the Chipmunks” two Christmases ago likely will want to double their pleasure with “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” a frenetic but undeniably funny follow-up that offers twice the number of singing-and-dancing rodents in another seamless blend of CGI and live-action elements. The new pic comes off as more specifically kid-centric than its predecessor, but should nonetheless have similarly nostalgic appeal for baby boomers who remember the title characters as ’50s novelty-record phenomena, ’60s primetime cartoon stars and ’80s Saturday morning TV attractions. Theatrical prospects are huge; homevid potential, humongous.
Squeakquel” picks up more or less where the 2007 “Alvin” left off, with most of the original pic’s actors and vocal talents reprising their parts. Chipmunk siblings Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) continue to be rock-star phenoms under the savvy management and loving guardianship of their adopted human father, Dave Seville (Jason Lee). And Alvin, ever the rambunctious show-off, still grabs the spotlight whenever he can — even if that means often overshadowing his brothers.
Very early in the new pic, Alvin inadvertently incapacitates Dave — a plot development reportedly necessitated by actor Lee’s scheduling conflicts — and the Chipmunks are forced to take a career hiatus. It takes a fair amount of contrivance on the part of scripters Jon Vitti, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, but the brothers wind up in the care of Dave’s younger cousin Toby (Zachary Levi of TV’s “Chuck”), a vidgame-obsessed slacker who’s surprisingly diligent about making sure Alvin, Simon and Theodore attend high school.
Meanwhile, disgraced former record exec Ian Hawk (David Cross) — who was force-fed just desserts in the previous pic after exploiting the Chipmunks — sees a chance to jumpstart his stalled career when he’s sought out by three naive showbiz hopefuls: Brittany (Christina Applegate), Eleanor (Amy Poehler) and Jeanette (Anna Faris), chipmunk sisters who can sing and dance just as dazzlingly as Alvin and Co.
Under the smooth and spirited direction of Betty Thomas (“The Brady Bunch Movie,” but, on the other hand, “I Spy”), one thing leads to another in a manner sufficiently zippy to engage small fry with tiny attention spans. Older viewers should be mildly amused, and may enjoy the occasional pop-culture reference — note the allusions to “Taxi Driver,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and a classic ’60s hit by the Kinks — aimed over the heads of the youngsters.
The singing sisters, known collectively as the Chipettes, are driven by Ian to compete against Alvin and his brothers for the right to represent their school in an extramural talent contest. But on the day of the big sing-off, Alvin is too caught up with his own selfish pursuits to fulfill his commitment to Simon and Theodore. Naturally, this leads to temporary estrangement, dramatic crises — well, as dramatic as you’ll get in a lightweight kidpic about squeaky-voiced singing chipmunks — and, inevitably, the learning of important life lessons. The latter, too, may please oldsters in the audience.
Much like the 2007 pic, “Squeakquel” presents its f/x wizardry so matter-of-factly, it’s easy to undervalue the level of technical skill and kinetic flair involved in the persuasive interplay of human co-stars and CGI chipmunks. Of course, it helps that most of the human stars are directed to give stylized performances that, while not quite cartoonish, go a long way toward bridging any gaps.
Cross once again takes top acting honors with his animated portrayal of the sneaky, snarky Ian. But franchise newcomer Wendie Malick steals her own share of scenes with her stylish turn as a high school principal who’s surprisingly appreciative of ‘Munk music. Levi tries a tad too hard to convey Toby’s lack of social graces, but he makes a sympathetic impression overall.