To celebrate the release of ”Alvin and the Chipmunks : The Squeakquel” on DVD, Moviehole chats to producers Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. & Janice Karman to see how the ‘nutty’ flick all came together.
Tell us about The Chipettes?
Janice Karman: I started them because I wanted to cover some female songs and I had this epiphany – why not create girl counterparts because its great for the boys to play off and I get to do all these great songs? So then it was a process of who do I want them to be and what do I want them to represent. In the beginning Brittany was an example of what girls shouldn’t be, I wanted them to go “I don’t want to be superficial. I don’t want them to be self centered. I don’t want them to be that girl.” But I found they all wanted to be that girl including my little daughter, so I infused Brittany with all these wonderful qualities because as long as they were on the Brittany band wagon, I wanted to make sure she was worthy. Jeanette is so sweet and kind and Eleanor is athletic and a flirt and motherly but they are all strong girls and at the end of the day they are all kind and that was very important to me.
Why did you choose the name Brittany?
Janice Karman: Well this was way before Britney Spears or any other Brittany I ever heard of. We had a singer in the studio and that was her name, so that’s why I named her Brittany because I liked the name.
Who came up with Squeakquel?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: Janice did.
Janice Karman: It’s one of those moments when everyone is thinking what it could be and everyone is throwing ideas around, and I said what about the “Squeakquel” and everybody loved it.
Is the Chipettes a nod to all the great girl groups like Destiny’s Child?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: You want The Chipettes to be tremendous performers that not only Ian (David Cross) is going to say is the best animal group he has ever found and can destroy the Chipmunks who kind of put him in the ground because he was so miserable to them the first time around. So they had to move great and sing great and we were lucky enough to find a great choreographer who had his female dancers do all the moves and film them and then the animators watched the film of all those girls and then animated them.
How do you select the songs?
Janice Karman: There are certain songs that fit the Chipmunk and Chipette voices and certain ones that don’t so you always take that in consideration and we want to use songs that we really like.
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: We listen to hundreds of songs. The Chipmunks have been around for over fifty years so you want something in the movies to last for quite some while. We won’t pick a song that is very hot for today but in five or ten years no one is going to like it anymore. So we picked songs that will work well down the road. We don’t want something that is so trendy and dates your movie and doesn’t work any longer.
What is the message of the movie?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: If the first movie was about a family coming together and how the Chipmunks and Dave create this family that was not there in the beginning. This time we wanted to write a movie that actually showed where the strong bond of the brothers cracks apart for a while because of Alvin’s desire to be popular at school and he turns his back on his brothers for a while, and then has to win them back.
Janice Karman: The school is a perfect setting because they are cast systems in the school and Alvin starts off on the movie hugely popular at this concert with adulation more than he can handle, and then he is humbled right away by going to school and then having to earn that popularity back and seeing how far he will go even forsaking his brothers to get that popularity back and then how he has to come to terms with that and win back their trust. It’s really about the family coming back together. We also wanted to really explore their characters and this was a great way to do it. Now that Dave, the father figure is gone, Simon is the one that is the most reliable and takes on that responsibility and Theodore is the one who most needs that family structure. Alvin is all about winning the popularity contest.
Did you always intend for the character of Dave (Jason Lee) to not have much of a role in this film?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: What happened is when Janice started writing the story originally Jason was very much a part of the story, and it would go in the direction of them going to school and how the parent deals with feeling neglected, but Jason’s schedule with his series “My Name is Earl” didn’t allow for him to be in it as much. So we had to figure out a way to still keep him in but not as much, so we used the idea that the father figure was now missing.
How do new generations react to the Chipmunks?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: Little kids did not know who the Chipmunks were but when the movie came out two years ago, they got to know them in a hurry.
Janice Karman: When we brought them back in the 80s with a record album it was the parents that were introducing them to their kids and it’s similar now that the parents who were fond of them as children are now taking their kids and grandkids to the movie.
How did the Chipmunks come about?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: My dad had written a song in 1958 called “Witch Doctor” and that is the first time he used that technique to speed up the voice that we now know as the Chipmunks, About six months later he was playing around with a Christmas song and wanted to use that kind of voice again but wanted them to have more personality so he came up with the characters. He was driving around Yosemite National Park which is not far from where he grew up in Fresno and he was wondering what animal would be the perfect character. While he was driving through Yosemite this tiny little chipmunk jumps out on the road and basically dares my dad in this huge car to go past and making noises at him, as if to say “This is my road!” So my dad fell out of the car laughing and he thought “OK” they are going to be Chipmunks and the lead character would have the attitude of that little chipmunk. Like Simon would think – that’s a huge car and we need to get out of the way or we’ll be road kill where as Alvin would think: “Oh no, we’re not.” So it’s that kind of attitude that created the characters.
Can you explain the animation process – is it easier now?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: Well its two years later and you can do so much more now. Our animators are amazingly talented and they also have the advantage that they had the first film to perfect the moves and the personalities. But the other part is that music is a much larger part on this movie than the last one. There was the extra challenge of having not only The Chipettes but having them dance really well. The composer of “Single Ladies” has seen a variety of different people doing versions of that song but when we played him The Chipettes his mouth just dropped to the floor and he thought it was the greatest. He loved what we had done.
Janice Karman: Also we have twice as many Chipmunks this time to animate and they had to get used to The Chipettes and had to figure out how they work and what they should look like. I wanted to push that look as far as possible but still maintain that Saturday morning image that people know.
How important was it to have name stars do the voices as they are speeded up?
Janice Karman: You want to get actresses that can bring personality and humor to the table and they did a great job. They had to do it a slower speed so their timing is really challenged
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: While you won’t hear their normal voices what you will feel is the essence of that voice which gives the essence of that character.
What is the future of the Chipmunks?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: We are thinking about a TV show and what another movie might look like.