Alvin and the Chipmunks, or The Burdens of Parenthood

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20th Century Fox

Every parent sacrifices: hours logged at cold skating rinks, wet soccer fields, airless American Girl stores. And that’s the stuff that comes after toilet training. Then there are the movies targeted at children too young to drop off with someone yet too old to lie to about the existence of movie theaters. Those must also be endured. A shining example of one is Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, in which the ever-chipper rodent musical act is carried off a cruise ship by a kite and end up marooned on a tropical island.

This is the third Alvin movie, and at this point I’m so beaten down by the squeakers, now numbering a half dozen since the Chipettes joined the family in movie number two, that I can only look for the positive. Consider the numbers – there is good cheer to be found in them: While it seems as though these movies come out every year, it’s actually only every other year. The first, Alvin and the Chipmunks, came out in 2007, The Squeakquel followed in 2009. You get next year off. Rejoice.

(READ: TIME’S Richard Corliss despairs over the Squeakquel.)

The films are also getting shorter. The first was 92 minutes long, the second 88 and the third, directed by Shrek Forever After’s Mike Mitchell, is a minute less. But somehow, more happens in this film — which is influenced by Lost, Survivor and Cast Away — than in the previous two, which seemed more inspired by the idiocy of teen flicks like Britney Spears’ Crossroads or From Justin to Kelly. On a break from their successful performing career, the chipmunks go back to the wild in Chip-Wrecked, where they have the crap scared out of them by spiders, an erupting volcano and  rickety bridges. “It’s a good thing we don’t wear pants,” says one of the Chipettes.

I’m not exactly sure which, though. It might have been Jeanette. Or Brittany. It was probably not Eleanor, because she’s not funny, despite being voiced by Amy Poehler. I feel no guilt over not being able to identify the speaker because, though the chipmunks come in three varieties per sex (pretty, smart or fat for the girls, obnoxious, smart or fat for the boys) they are mostly an indistinguishable group of small furry creatures with brown fur and stripes. It’s the animation that rules in this film – the critters can move. While there are stars voicing the creatures, these are more squeaking than speaking roles (besides Poehler, the gal celebrity voices include Anna Faris and Christina Applegate). Does Alvin sound anything like Justin Long? No. Alvin sounds like a computer program. Alvin sounds like you did that time you did a whippet at a party. Before you had kids.

Speaking of which, if you don’t have any tweens or teenagers, you might find yourself a bit lost, music-wise. But since the chipmunks all sing and dance, an Alvin movie is a way to keep up with contemporary music. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” is featured, as well as “Born this Way” and Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” (but as “Whip My Tail”). You’ll hear versions of Pink’s “Trouble,” Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” and Rihanna’s “SOS.” (Okay, so maybe some of the music has been around for a decade or so, but you were too sleep-deprived to notice, what with the midnight feedings and such.) The next time you groan about the Chipmunks, remember, they’re probably hipper than you.

(LIST: TIME’s Worst Movies of 2011)

No matter how much they might bum you out, think of the human co-stars — Jason Lee who plays their guardian Dave, and David Cross, who plays their arch nemesis Ian. You think those guys are having a good time? “This last film was literally, without question, the most unpleasant experience I’ve ever had in my professional life,” Cross told Indiewire.

Of course, he’s getting paid for it whereas the obliging parents will be paying for it. Cross (Arrested Development) is washing his hands of the series now, but the funny thing is, Chip-Wrecked is the first of the trilogy where he gets a chance to be funny instead of just loathsome. Listening to Dave speak lovingly about his charges, extolling first the virtues of Alvin and then Simon (who has a personality shift in this film from uptight to freewheeling, courtesy of a venomous spider bite), Ian loses patience just as Dave is about to rhapsodize about sweet, airheaded Theodore. “I barely cared what you had to say about the first two,” Ian says. Cross sounds punchy, as if these three Alvin films have been one long all-nighter. “I hardly think whatever you’re going to say about the big-boned one is going to be more interesting.”

Thank you team-of-writers-too-large-to-list for the nod to the perspective of the suffering parent. But to get serious about Alvin for a moment, there are worse things for your kid to be into. Liking the Chipmunks seems to go hand in hand with a very lovely time in childhood, when silly things are innocently embraced. Enjoy it now, because when they hit the age of thinking Alvin and his relations are stupid, it will probably be about five more minutes before they decide you’re stupid too.

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