Fifty years on, Chipmunks squeak onto big screen

Mon Dec 10, 2007 6:28pm EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nearly 50 years after they topped the charts with a novelty Christmas song, squeaky-voiced chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore return this holiday season in a computer-animated film with a modern twist.

On Friday, the family film "Alvin and The Chipmunks" arrives in theaters, long after 1958's "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) catapulted to fame the ersatz rodent trio and their real-life creator, Ross Bagdasarian.

"To me, there is something about the voices themselves," said Bagdasarian's son, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., who shares stewardship of the Chipmunks with his wife Janice Karman.

"It's really hard to be having a bad day when those voices start to sing. It's just hard not to smile," he said.

Back in the 1950s, his father was a struggling musician and songwriter earning a living as a sound technician. Bagdasarian found he could change the pitch in voices by adjusting the speed of tape recordings, and his hit novelty song, "Witch Doctor" was born. Soon after came "The Chipmunk Song," which won three Grammys.

In 1961, "The Alvin Show" debuted on TV with the "singing group" managed by human David Seville. The show lasted only one season, but Bagdasarian continued cranking out hit albums until he died of a heart attack in 1972.


By 1980, Bagdasarian Jr. and Karman had taken the reins of the Chipmunk empire, and he recorded an album, "Chipmunk Punk," that put wiseacre Alvin, book-smart Simon and young brother Theodore back in the limelight.   Continued...

<p>A scene from "Alvin and The Chipmunks" in an image courtesy of 20th Century Fox. REUTERS/Handout</p>