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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.
A second animated TV show, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" began airing in 1983, and since then Bagdasarian Jr. reckons the trio have been seen in more than 110 countries around the world.
"My dad created characters that every parent and every kid can identify with: the parent who is being driven nuts by good-hearted kids that are full of ideas but not always going to do the right thing," said Bagdasarian.
The movie "Alvin and the Chipmunks" utilizes that same formula and reinvents the trio for modern times. The voices of Alvin, Simon and Theodore are performed by actors Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and singer Jesse McCartney, respectively.
The Chipmunks' home tree in the forest is felled to become a Christmas decoration for a big city office building. To escape their new environs, the trio stowaway in a gift basket carried home by a struggling songwriter, Dave Seville (Jason Lee).
After a round of home-wrecking, Dave discovers the 'Munks can sing, so he writes a hit song -- naturally, "The Christmas Song" -- and the foursome soar to Hollywood stardom. Along the way, there are lessons to be learned about love, family and the corrupting power of fame and fortune.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Eric Walsh