Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bagdasarian Productions

Ross Bagdasarian Sr. created the Alvin and the Chipmunks in 1958 with himself acting under the stage name David Seville. The characters started out in the Christmas song, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”, and instantly threw them into popularity. The novelty record with “The Chipmunk Song” sold 4 million copies in 7 weeks, and culminated with Badasarian appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, along with Chipmunk puppets lip-syncing the song. The Chipmunks found their way into comic books and several different albums before landing their own television show, The Alvin Show, on CBS in 1961. The show was on prime time and wasn’t a success, being cancelled after one season. It found new life in syndication, however. The Chipmunks wouldn’t find their stride again until 1983 when their name was changed from The Chipmunks, to Alvin and the Chipmunks and had a new TV series, this one lasting until 1990. Bagdasarian Sr. had passed away in 1972, so his son, Ross Jr. took over Alvin and the Chipmunks. The show went through two different production companies, first Ruby-Spears Productions, the DIC in the late 80’s. The Chipettes were introduced in the first season and closely mirrored the attitudes of their male counterparts.

With their newfound success, Ross Jr. had a movie made about his father’s characters in 1987. The Chipmunk Adventure was another production that benefited greatly from the complete disaster that was Disney’s The Black Cauldron (I actually love this movie, don’t judge me). Disney laid off a bunch of animators after The Black Cauldron completely bombed and Ross Jr. scooped them all up. The new talent shows in the animation for the movie. Ross Jr. and his wife decided to finance the project themselves, thanks to all the revenue they had made from the TV show. The decision that tripped them up was to use several overseas studios to help out with production and that caused major delays. By 1986, production had fallen far behind schedule, and a shortage of time and money resulted in major cuts being made to the film. Despite all these setbacks, the film was released in May 1987 to a serviceable gross of $6.8 million, though critics weren’t exactly keen on it. I remember liking this movie as a child, but haven’t seen it since.

Ross Jr. eventually took over full control of The Chipmunks from the rest of his family and came out with various straight-to-video movies through the 90’s and early 2000’s. In 2007, Ross Jr. decided it was time to start off the next trend for kid’s movies: adapting cherished cartoon characters as 3-D that interact with real life characters. I know I said no live-action and animation together, but I had to talk about The Chipmunk Adventure and the new Chipmunk series is still Ross Jr. Alvin and the Chipmunks garnered terrible reviews, but made boat-loads of money. Against a budget of $60 million they made $361.3 million worldwide. That’s when studios realized that they could come out with nostalgic garbage and people would still go see it. Well, they knew that already, but since 2007 it’s become a real problem. The Smurfs fall into the same category. The Chipmunks would go on to have three more sequels (so far), with The Squeakuel (*vomits*) earning the most and then progressively going down to the low $200 millions. Yeah, real low. In a weird way that could be a disappointing box office return. It’s hard to really pin-point animation for this one seeing as Ross Bagdasarian Jr. is the only person really connected to the production company. I’m guessing it was just free-lanced out to animators for all the movies. While I have fond memories of The Chipmunk Adventure, I have watched as little of the new ones as I can. People tend to have more discriminating taste when they get older. Soon my son will be old enough to watch all these movies and I’ll have to watch everything that comes out, good or bad. Yaaaaaaay.

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