If you’re of a certain age and not so cynical that you won’t admit it, the lyrics, “Want a plane that loops the loop/Me, I want a hula-hoop,” still sends shivery excitement down your spine as nostalgic visions of holidays past dance in your head. Additionally, memories of youth for pop culture enthusiasts such as yours truly usually come with not just a soundtrack but an endless reel of classic television shows, video games, magazines, comic books, commercials, and movies seen when we came of age.
For my generation, it’s the mid to late '80s and early '90s that had the greatest impact on me and while new animated shows like Spongebob and Dora seem cute enough, there’s no replacing the vintage classics like Alvin and the Chipmunks. This month Paramount Home Entertainment has delivered a plethora of Alvin-related items to DVD with individual discs as well as sets and they do much, much more than wipe away the atrocious memory of witnessing the big screen live version of the film starring Jason Lee.
More importantly and especially in the case of Alvin and the Chipmunks Classic Holiday Gift Set, they whisk us back down memory lane. Quickly into the episodes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only did I recall the words to some of their most classic songs like “Christmas Don’t Be Late” (as well as the show’s theme) but entire episode plots came flooding back.
A holiday-themed, three disc set, beautifully boxed together, it’s divided into the titles Trick or Treason, Alvin’s Thanksgiving Celebration, and A Chipmunk Christmas, each of which offer bonus episodes fitting to each holiday’s theme as well as stunning Dolby Digital surround sound and closed captioning for the hearing impaired. Transferred in their full screen glory, Trick or Treason kicks off the set with the titular episode and four additional ones as Dave Seville’s “fellas” learn valuable lessons about withstanding peer pressure as Alvin tries to join the gang-like, Halloween frat pack entitled the “monster club” and Theodore becomes unlikely friends with their neighborhood’s adolescent version of Boo Radley, cruelly ridiculed for looking different.
Primarily fear and trickery play a role in the rest of the disc’s shows, especially as the long suffering Theodore and Simon decide to give prankster Alvin — whose mischievous code of ethics is “what are brothers for?” — a taste of his own medicine in “Theodore’s Life as a Dog,” and the boys scare themselves silly at the movies in “Nightmare on Seville Street.” However, one of the standouts includes an ingenious plot set-up in “Babysitter Fright Night,” as, instead of the gorgeous babysitting babe they were hoping Dave had hired when he had to work late (or as the boys initially feared had decided to run away from home), they get an authoritative disciplinarian who entertains them with, as they amusingly call it, “hard labor” and “prison food.” Rounding off the disc with the funny moral of “be careful what you wish for,” Trick or Treason culminates with the episode “No Chipmunk is an Island,” as the boys — tired of sharing a room — all have the opportunity to have their own individual lair in the Seville household. Of course, ultimately they realize what we’ve known all along which is, when it comes to The Chipmunks, “brother” is just another word for “friend."
Perhaps the weakest entry in the three disc collection but still far above average for animated shows is Alvin and the Chipmunks: Alvin’s Thanksgiving Celebration which begins with the passable offering “A Chipmunk Celebration” as the gang finds themselves all cast extraordinarily against type in a local community theatre production. Namely, this means that brainy Simon hams it up a la Alvin, Alvin makes costumes like the sensitive Theodore, and Theodore tries to master Simon-style technical wizardry behind the scenes. Educational yet a bit dry, “Celebration” is followed up with the perfunctory “Food for Thought” as Alvin and Simon tutor Theodore on American history, leading to Chipmunk fantasy sequences starring not just the boys but their female counterparts, The Chipettes. However, the last two episodes are far superior and strengthen the disc as a whole, although plot-wise, they should’ve been flipped as the two shows reference things that would’ve made more sense the other way around while the boys discover the joys and trials of having a pet in “Cookie Chomper III” and realize they have to learn to let adults make their own mistakes in “Dave’s Getting Married,” which borrows from The Parent Trap.
Yet, the old school admirer in me appreciated A Chipmunk Christmas above all the rest, not only because the DVD’s three episodes are filled with holiday cheer and enough Chipmunk caroling for us to realize why the group earned Grammy awards but also because they’re extraordinarily sweet-natured, wholesome and emotionally rich. With phenomenal writing — even when admittedly borrowing from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life — the three digitally enhanced shows including “A Chipmunk Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Carroll” and “Dave’s Wonderful Life,” are episodes you actually want to hug. While there’s no topping the sentimental title favorite, not only for its usage of “Christmas Don’t Be Late, but also, like the follow up “Mr. Carroll” in dishing up the true meaning of the holiday and importance of giving, the DVD ends on an especially beautiful note with “Dave’s Wonderful Life.”
Dave Seville — so often a supporting character in the series — is usually shortchanged. Of course, he’s most memorable for shouting “Alvinnnn!” at the top of his lungs and perhaps making the boys work more than a legal guardian should (hello, child labor laws!) yet he was a supremely caring and selfless parent and the third episode is a tribute to that as he struggles through a bout of truly bad luck and fears that his beloved chipmunks would be better off without him. It offers a much needed window into a parent’s role as each chipmunk magically appears in his dreams like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life to remind him how very much he’s valued and loved.