Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

Review Date: 1-5-10

Release Date: 12-23-09

Runtime: 88 min.

Period: Contemporary

Costume Designer: Alexandra Welker

Hollywood’s cheerful answer to the depressing “awards-season” fare is furry, cute and musically talented. The Chipmunks (Alvin, Simon and Theodore) have been entertaining families for over half a century. Their irreverence, wit and sense of mischief have beguiled children and grown-ups of all ages. These Grammy-winning rodents have had platinum records and chart-topping hits. They are slam-dunk audience pleasers, and their latest oeuvre delivers even more charm in the form of the “Chipettes”, the female answers to Alvin, Simon and Theodore.

Make no mistake – this is a family film. It does not aspire to be The Shawshank Redemption or The Pianist. Alvin and the Chipmunks provides light, sweet, charming entertainment, pure and simple. It’s slapstick, for sure, but there is a message.

This film picks up some time after the first film (2007’s Alvin and the Chipmunks) left off. The Chipmunks are playing a benefit concert in Paris. During a guitar solo, one of Alvin’s stunts turns into mayhem, launching Dave (Jason Lee) across the stage and landing him in the hospital. And by “in the hospital”, we mean head-to-toe traction. The chipmunks are sent back to Los Angeles to stay with Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten).

Upon meeting the boys at the airport, Aunt Jackie has a nasty wheelchair spill, landing her in the hospital. The only person left to take care of the Chipmunks is ne’er-do-well overgrown grandson Toby (Zachary Levi). Toby is a twenty-something videogame slacker; too occupied with the virtual world to enjoy the real one. His sole responsibility is making sure the Chipmunks attend school. High. School.

High school is hard enough for the average kid, not to mention the average Chipmunk. They are bullied and picked on, but eventually they turn the tables – they are celebrities after all, and as such, popular with the ladies. Speaking of ladies, we soon meet Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor Miller, the Chipettes.

The Chipettes arrive at Jett Records in a FedEx envelope. Evil, has-been record executive Ian Hawke (David Cross, now ruined and living in the basement of Jett records) finds them and hatches a plan to destroy Alvin and the Chipmunks. He comes up with a scheme to pit the Chipettes against the Chipmunks.

At the high school, Principal Dr. Rubin (Wendie Malick) asks the Chipmunks to represent the school at a district-wide competition to win $25,000 in funds to improve the music department. Turns out Dr. Rubin is a closeted Chipmunks fan, and even has a tattoo on her forearm to prove it. Trouble ensues when Hawke enrolls the Chipettes at the high school, and they sing for Dr. Rubin. A “sing-off” – for the chance to represent the school – is scheduled.

Meanwhile, Alvin has been recruited by the jocks to play football on the varsity team. How can Alvin say no? Problem is, the big game happens to be the same day, at the same time, as the scheduled “sing off”. Alvin tells his brothers that he can do both – he’ll be there.

At the “sing off”, the Chipettes belt out Beyonce’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) and shake their tails. As the time comes for Alvin and the Chipmunks to perform, Alvin is nowhere to be found. Having made the game-winning touchdown, Alvin is caught up in the moment and leaves his brothers out in the cold. By default, the Chipettes win the “sing off”, and are set to represent the school at the music competition.

Theodore is so upset at Alvin (and at the idea that his family is falling apart) that he runs away… to the zoo. Having watched many episodes of Meerkat Manor, and admiring their family bond, Theo wishes to join their family. He enters the Meerkat area of the zoo – but poor Theo can’t read, and thus can’t understand the sign that indicates the Meerkats have moved. Predatory birds now inhabit the space.

Theo is marked for death as a rodent in the predatory bird space. Alvin bravely steps into the birds’ den to save Theo, proving his love and loyalty for his brother and their family unit. All is forgiven, it seems.

Predatory human Ian Hawke has been peddling the Chipettes and their talent, and has double-booked them for the music competition. He presents them with new costumes, and tells them they will be opening for Britney Spears at the Staples Center instead of representing the school. When they protest, he plays on the vanity of Brittany (the most telegenic Chipette), but she refuses to sing without her sisters. Sensing a rebellion, Hawke puts them in a cage and stuffs them in a limousine headed for the Staples Center.

At the music competition, Alvin and his brothers start to wonder where the Chipettes are. Through Hawke’s cell phone, he discovers that the girls are in trouble. He heads off on a toy motorcycle to find them. Meanwhile, the district music competition rolls ahead, featuring very talented young people playing music, singing and dancing. Nervous looks all around, as the Chipettes (and now Alvin) are noticeably absent.

Alvin rescues the Chipettes from the limousine, and all four end up flying on a remote-controlled helicopter (don’t ask). Just as it looks like their school won’t be represented at all, the bumbling Toby gets up on stage and shrieks an impromptu love song to music teacher Ms. Ortega (Anjelah N. Johnson), the unknowing object of his lifelong affection. He is cut short by the whirring of helicopter blades as the Chipettes and Alvin make a dramatic entrance. The six Chipmunks sing and dance to We Are Family, as a wounded, neck-brace-wearing Dave stumbles in to the auditorium on crutches. The crowd goes wild, and Dr. Rubin happily accepts the grand prize on behalf of her school.

Cut to: the Staples Center. From behind a purple velvet curtain, a crude sock-puppet appears. A high (adult male) voice squeaks out the opening chorus of Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It). A second crude sock puppet appears from in between the curtains. These sock puppets are connected to… Ian Hawke, who then appears from behind the curtain, clad in a piece of gold lame fabric, with untwisted rope duct-taped to his bald head to represent curly hair. The Staples crowd boos. He is swiftly escorted away by security, and thrown into a dumpster.

The film ends with all six Chipmunks in bunk beds at bedtime. Dave comes to turn out the lights, but Alvin refuses to go to bed (a familiar scenario for parents). A battle of wills ensues, and ultimately poor Dave takes another bone breaking tumble. AAAALLLLVVVIIINNNNNNN!!!!! The end.

The costume design here is interesting. All costumes in this movie, whether actual or virtual, were designed by the costume designer, Alexandra Welker. This process requires a great deal of collaboration (with the director, producers and visual effects/animation departments) and impeccable communication, so that everyone involved is on the same page.

The Chipmunks (in their everyday wear) always wear the same garments: hooded sweaters in their assigned colors. Alvin wears a red hoodie with a yellow “A”; Simon wears a blue hoodie and thick round glasses, and Theodore (the chunky one) wears a green hoodie that matches his eyes. They do not wear pants.

When the Chipmunks perform, they change clothes. For example, in the Paris concert that opens the film, they wear neckties (in their color coding) and slim-cut black blazers, looking like a warm and fuzzy version of the band Honor Society (who plays backup for them onstage). They wear headsets and rock out like crazy. But still – no pants.

The Chipmunks in their Paris concert

The Chipmunks in their Paris concert

When they arrive at the high school, it appears the school colors are red and gold – Alvin’s colors. Is this a foreshadowing that Alvin will have an easier time acclimating? It seems that way. The cheerleaders, the jocks – all the popular kids wear red and gold. Alvin does seem to fit right in.

The school’s principal, Dr. Rubin, wears no color at all. In every change, she wears black, white and/or grey, no exceptions. Even her jewelry is devoid of color – grey pearls, for example. Her lines are very stark, and with her high heels and coiffed hair, she is a tall, imposing, commanding presence. I thought her costumes were particularly well done in separating her from her colorful high school environment and making her stand out as an authority figure.

As Ian Hawke, David Cross gets some of the best costumes in the film. He has hit rock bottom, and is living in the basement of his former place of employment, fighting with a rat for food out of the trash. He wears the vestiges of his old life – fancy robes, designer-y shirts – though they are worse for wear. What is clear is that this man has (or rather, had) a garish, hideous sense of taste. It’s a “new money” aesthetic, and it’s beautifully realized in this (and the first) film.

The Chipettes – Brittany, Jeanette and Eleanor – are interestingly attired. When they arrive at Jett Records via FedEx, they are not wearing clothing at all. When they arrive at school, the three are dressed in a color-coded fashion (like the boys), with Brittany in pink, Jeanette in blue/purple, and Eleanor in green. Each girl has a unique and individuated sense of style: Brittany is in a pink biker jacket with a necktie and skirt (irreverent attitude). Jeanette wears a denim jacket with a lavender shirt and plaid skirt and big, thick, round eyeglasses (bookish). Eleanor (shorter and pudgier) wears a light green jumper (dress) with a darker green v-neck sweater over it (sweet and cuddly). Girls – bottom halves covered. Boys – still no pants.

When the girls perform at the “sing off”, they wear sequined cropped wrap cardigans over close-fitting tops and flared skirts. To give her some height, Eleanor wears big platform shoes. They are pretty adorable… and while the dance routine and gleam in Brittany’s eye may have an “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” vibe, the costumes are very chaste. It’s an interesting combination.

The high school had a lot of costume elements: cheerleaders, jocks in letterman jackets, kids wearing school t-shirts, gym uniforms, the school mascot (an eagle walkabout costume), and an entire football team. There is also the opposing school’s football team, and marching band. Most of the time, the audience doesn’t realize that the costume department is responsible for providing all of these costumes. We are. Football games are some of the most dreaded scenarios in our business. It’s not just football – it’s two teams, coaches, referees, water boys, cheerleaders, mascots, marching bands, fans, parents… it’s endless!

Of special mention is poor Aunt Jackie’s costume, when she meets the boys at the airport. She wears a blue pastel fleece jacket and a pink pastel fleece visor. Yes, a fleece visor. It’s great. It was very subtle, but I laughed out loud. Love it.

I look forward to talking with Alexandra Welker about the details of this film – it’s not every day that a costume designer has the opportunity to work in animation! Stay tuned for an interesting interview. Congratulations, great job and hats off to Alexandra and her whole crew on The Squeakquel!!! Job well done!!

— KMB

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