Friday, December 18, 2015
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip Adoption Movie Review
The Chipmunks, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore are taking a break from their music career while their long-time father figure, is preparing to head to Miami in order to advance the careers of some of his other clients. Right before leaving for the trip, Dave introduces the chipmunks to Samantha, his new girlfriend – and to Miles, Samantha’s angsty, bullying teenage son. Miles plants it into the Chipmunks’ minds that, if Dave marries Samantha, he will send the Chipmunks away. The Chipmunks believe that Dave is planning to propose to Samantha in Miami, and so they set off on a wacky adventure in order to prevent the engagement.
***SPOILER ALERT – This is such an adoption-relevant film, with some very touching strong points, and some very significant concerns as well. Because the plot is so tied to the adoption issues in the film, this review is full of spoilers.***
The Adoption Connection
** SPOILER ALERT – lots of spoilers in this section **
Miles is so angsty because he has unresolved grief from when his father abandoned him as a young boy. Miles initially explains his father’s absence by saying that his father is dead – in truth though, his father walked out. Miles tries to ignore his pain, but still grieves the loss, and expresses his belief that fathers always leave you. Branching out from his own grief, Miles tells the Chipmunks that Dave will leave them if he gets married. Miles tells them that they’re not a real family – for although they’ve lived together for years, the Chipmunks are – well – chipmunks, and Dave is a human. Miles tells them, “You’re not even his real kids, you’re just chipmunks he calls his kids.” The Chipmunks eventually seem to believe this. This film has a “you can’t be family since you don’t look alike” theme that was also present in last year’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman – and although this belief is touted by villains and ultimately refuted, it can be hard for some young viewers to see. Miles adds the Chipmunks’ family dynamics into his already pained beliefs, and tells them that Dave and Samantha will eventually want to have children of their own, and so Dave will release the Chipmunks back into the jungle. It’s their fear that drives the Chipmunks on their journey. **BIGGEST SPOILER AHEAD: Dave hears and understands the Chipmunks’ fears, and the film ends with him taking them to court and legally adopting them. One character expresses that they’ve always been like family, but Dave says, “Yes, but it’s never been legal and formal. And I wanted to make it that way.” The Chipmunks are obviously touched; they’re initially speechless, and then whisper “We have a dad.” Then, for the first time in the film, they refer to Dave as “Dad.” *** END SPOILERS ***
Early in the film, one character asks Dave about the Chipmunks, “Are these your adopted kids, or how does that work?” Dave responds, “I’ve never really thought about that.” The character replies, “They’re lucky to have you.”
** SPOILERS AHEAD **
Dave ultimately adopts the Chipmunks, and together they talk – and show – how significant the change is for the boys. Their entire journey was fueled by the fear that Dave would abandon them for kids more genetically like himself, and Dave is able – not just to tell them otherwise, but to show them otherwise by making their adoption a formal one.
There is a theme throughout the movie of acceptance of a wide range of families. One character says,
“It might not be the family photo that comes in a frame, but it’s gonna be our family, and we’re proud of it.”
The Chipmunks sing a love song to Dave, about he is the sun in their sky – but they are doing this because they fear that he is mad at them, and that they need to show him that they love him, or else he will send them away forever. Their perception of Dave was completely wrong, however; he was never even considering sending them away. Later, one of the Chipmunks wins the friendship of Miles – but does so at the risk of his own life. This might portray how kids take it upon themselves to fix actual (or perceived) difficult family dynamics, but it would be important to make sure that kids don’t leave this movie believing that it’s a kid’s job to avoid abandonment or abuse. Love and safety should be something kids can take for granted.
The Chipmunks have a strong sense of family loyalty, but their motto is kind of belligerent, along the lines of, “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”
Miles is trying to process the loss of his father. He tries to tell the Chipmunks that dads always leave, and that in time you get over that loss. Miles doesn’t seem to actually believe that, and the Chipmunks aren’t comforted.
Some people challenge the relationship between Dave and the Chipmunks, saying that he’s “probably not their dad” because of their differences. Another character responds, “Families come in all shapes and sizes and we don’t judge.”
Much of the film centers around Miles and the Chipmunks coming to view each other as potential brothers. *SPOILER ALERT – they don’t actually become brothers by the end of the film, - END SPOILER *
**SPOILER ALERT – although the adoption scene at the end of the film is very positive, the Chipmunks had no idea that it was going to happen, and I find myself wishing that they had been given a bit of advance notice. Generally, when older kids are adopted, they have more advance knowledge of it than the five minutes that the Chipmunks had. Still – it is a positive, adoption-affirming ending. END SPOILER ***
The teenage son of Dave’s girlfriend is cruel to the Chipmunks – he abuses them physically, and tries to convince them that they are not truly a family with Dave, and that Dave will abandon them.
The Chipmunks do not feel comfortable to tell Dave what Miles is doing and saying to them.
Miles gets the Chipmunks alone, and it seems that he will be with them, without supervision, for a long time. He tells them “I will make you my personal servants.” Kids who have been abused by caretakers might find this theme – coupled with the threatened stability of an adoptive-like family, to be hard to watch.
One character’s face gets pierced by many toothpicks.
Recommendations *MORE SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION*
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip is definitely a mixed bag. There is a very positive, adoption-affirming ending which powerfully captures the positive feelings that older children have when someone carries through a commitment to adopt them, but along the way there are several scenes with characters questioning the validity of families that don’t look alike, and there’s lots of talk of parental abandonment. These are real fears for some kids who have been adopted or in foster care, and this film could be triggering to them. Even though the general target demographic for the film is probably much younger, I think it’s best suited, from an adoption perspective, for kids ages 11-13. Kids that age could understand that the Chipmunks aren’t going to be abandoned, and could reflect on the value the Chipmunks perceived in Dave’s commitment to adopt them.
Questions for Discussion
How important was it for the Chipmunks to be adopted? Do you think they were surprised how much it meant to them?
How could Dave and the Chipmunks have avoided the great lengths that the Chipmunks went to, to avoid abandonment?
Why didn’t the Chipmunks tell Dave how Miles was treating them?