Dir: Tim Hill. US. 2007. 91mins
For nearly 50 years, in various incarnations on the small screen and in other forms of media, lively chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore have been delighting young audiences around the world, wreaking havoc and crooning in distinctively high-pitched, three-part harmonies which have become a pop cultural mainstay.

Now, a colourful but uninspired CGI /live-action hybrid film seeks to capitalize on that dormant franchise power. Filling its slot as the holiday season's requisite animated family release, Alvin And The Chipmunks should see solid first weekend business from nostalgic parents familiar with its name-branding before the more competitive and well-crafted National Treasure: Book Of Secrets and The Water Horse poach younger audiences in the weeks following.

Last year, the CGI -live-action hybrid Charlotte's Web picked up $82m domestically en route to a $144m cumulative haul and while such totals seem unlikely for Alvin, distributor Fox has a proven track record with similar mid-grade cartoon fare in the form of the two Garfield films - which have grossed a combined $340m, most of that coming overseas - and Fat Albert, which grossed $48m in the US three years ago in the same holiday frame. While Alvin's domestic grosses could peter out around the number of the latter film, a much higher percentage return internationally seems likely, given the easy translation of the movie's peppy tone and the wide-ranging universality of its musical-themed backdrop.

After the tree that is their home gets cut down for a Christmas decoration, three chipmunks - rascally, impetuous Alvin, voice-of-conscience Simon and tubby, friendly Theodore - take up residence with aspirant songwriter Dave Seville (Lee). Dave's life is a wreck; his girlfriend Claire (Richardson) recently left him, and he's struggling to come up with a hit for his demanding agent Ian (Cross).

At first thrown for a loop when he finds the trio in his house, Dave catches the chipmunks and tosses them out. He changes his tune, however, when he discovers that Alvin and the gang can carry a tune of their own so he strikes a professional deal with them: he'll write the music and they'll sing for their supper. Soon, inspired by their unintentionally destructive antics, Dave has that elusive hit song - a Christmas-themed ditty that launches Alvin and the Chipmunks into the pop stratosphere. As Ian peddles the perks of stardom to his new clients, Dave labours to convince them that he has their best interests at heart, and awakens to the notion of a new surrogate family.

Director Tim Hill (Muppets From Space, Garfield: A Tail Of Two Kitties) delivers streamlined, inoffensive and unmemorable work - a movie full of pat set-ups and close-ups. The script, cobbled together from drafts by The Simpsons veteran scribe Jon Vitti and Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, is a desultory affair that seems to conform to the notion that children's films don't require quite as much creative heavy lifting. Littered with wan jokes, the story seems chiefly constructed from a checklist of narrative elements associated with the characters (toaster waffles, paper airplanes, a remote control car), all designed to elicit Dave's signature exhortation of exasperation ('Alvvvvin!').

There's no explication of why the chipmunks sing, and while Dave originally expresses understandable bewilderment that Alvin and the gang can even talk, this isn't addressed in the context of the group's meteoric rise up the pop music charts. The film instead relies on zippy montages, which makes the notion that the audience turns on the chipmunks when they're revealed to have been lip-synching at a concert all the more ridiculous.

Musical bits, obviously a big part of the characters' entire appeal, give the movie a bit of fleeting pop here and there, but there also seems a lot of wasted comedic opportunity in terms of the chipmunks' nesting and acclimatizing to their new human surroundings.

The film's glossy CGI production value is decent and certainly of a piece with the intended demographic - Alvin, Simon and Theodore look suitably cuddly and appealing - yet is inconsistent in terms of size and perspective. Sometimes the chipmunks are the size of a coffee cup, sometimes as big as Dave's head. Disney's recent hit Enchanted, which also featured a talking chipmunk integrated with human characters, handles these issues with much more panache.

Cross' self-involved performance as Ian is the only amusing element for adult audiences; as the story progresses, he becomes more and more manically motivated by self-interest, operating almost on a satirical plane quite different from the rest of the movie.

Several of the film's third act, CGI -infused, song-and-dance production numbers, most notably a R&B-heavy rendition of Witch Doctor, provide a decent showcase for voice actor and young pop singer Jesse McCartney.

Production company/backer
20th Century Fox (US)

Worldwide distribution
20th Century Fox

Ross Bagdasarian Jr
Janice Karman
Steve Waterman

Exec producers
Karen Rosenfelt
Arnon Milchan
Michele Imperato-Stabile

Jon Vitti
Will McRobb
Chris Viscardi
based on a story by Jon Vitti and characters by Ross Bagdasarian

Peter Lyons Collister

Production designer
Richard Holland

Peter E Berger

Christopher Lennertz

Special Effects Coordinator
Alan E Lorimer

Main cast
Jason Lee
David Cross
Cameron Richardson
Jane Lynch
Justin Long (voice)
Matthew Gray Gubler (voice)
Jesse McCartney (voice)