Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein / The Wolf Man

Long about the year 1998, between the great era of the Alvin and the Chipmunks 80s TV shows and the time of the live action CGI feature films, there seems to have been an attempt to launch Alvin, Simon and Theodore as a regular Halloween brand. A whole album was released of Halloweenish songs (including a really fun, faithful take on "The Time Warp"), and, prior to the dull Alvin and the Chipmunks: Trick or Treason in 2003, in the late 1990s there were two direct-to-video movies, in which the Chipmunks meet Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. They were remarkably different in content and tone; one would think they came from different eras. They also differ in quality; the Wolf Man installment is terrific; in fact, it's one of the better Halloween cartoons of all time. But the Frankenstein entry flounders.

They're really movies, not specials, but I'm classifying them under "specials" anyway, because at least one of them deserves some recognition. And they're both on a single DVD release that also includes the above-average "Monster Mash."

In Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolf Man, a new neighbor has moved into a note-perfect spooky house in the Chipmunks' town, and Alvin, presented here as a horror movie freak, is having nightmares about the wolf man. The new neighbor is a weird guy who seems rather wolf-like. Spooky neighbors inspiring halloween rumors has certainly been done before, but it's done pretty well here. The whole thing has a terrific "Halloween" feel about it. You can look at the shots of the neighborhood and tell that it's October, a little detail that can add so much to a halloween special (even specials where the plot makes no sense and the jokes aren't funny can be fun for me to watch if they get that atmosphere right).

Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to learn to be scary for his upcoming role in a school production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Alvin was set to play the role, but, during rehearsal, he mixes some chemicals that cause an explosion that nearly wrecks the auditorium. This forces authorities to yank Alvin from the show.

Somewhere along the line Theodore is bitten by a werewolf and starts "wolfing out" (as those of us who watched the Teen Wolf cartoon used to call this particular bodily function). The werewolf turns out to be the spooky neighbor (hot damn, a neighbor who really DOES turn out to be spooky), and Theodore cures both of them by biting him. I didn't know that you could cure werewolves that way (it's awfully convenient, huh?), but, hey, I ain't complaining. Much. I get the idea that there's a lot of backstory that just didn't make it into the movie - maybe there should have been a novelization.

This is about as good Chipmunks cartoons come, featuring above-average animation, a coherent and engaging plot, decent music, and the Chipettes, who didn't show up much between the 80s series and the 2009 CGI sequel.

Meanwhile, the Frankenstein entry just isn't quite up to snuff. Alvin turns into a monster, but gets better in time for the group to perform at an amusement park (a sure sign that, in the 90s, their career was in the crapper). The animation isn't as good, the atmosphere just isn't there, and the script is far weaker. Skip this one, and watch the Wolf Man one. They're on the same DVD.



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