Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein is an animated children's film adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. This movie was directed by Kathi Castillo and produced by Universal Studios Home Entertainment in September of 1999.
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore are singing a spooky musical performance as an attraction at Majestic Movie Studios. During their break, Alvin takes over a tour bus and races the chipmunks and other tourists through the park to reach Dragonland. Unfortunately, the chipmunks get lost and are locked inside the theme park after hours. They explore a castle where Dr. Frankenstein is creating the monster. The chipmunks befriend the creature.
Throughout Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein, friendship plays a key role. The main scene that emphasizes friendship is on the playground when Alvin, Simon, and Theodore teach Frankie how to be a good friend. The trio sing "If You Wanna Have Friends" while teaching Frankie the appropriate playground etiquette, such as sharing and taking turns. In teaching the creature how to get along with other children, the film is teaching young audiences to do the same. The movie becomes didactic in nature as it imprints on children the desired behavior they need to obtain in order to have friends of their own.
In addition, by befriending the monster, the three chipmunks are displaying acceptance of the "other". Theodore realizes that the monster has good intentions towards him as he retrieves his teddy bear from the monster outside his window. Theodore looks past the monster's physique to empathize and accept him for who he is and not for what he looks like. This lesson in friendship redefines monstrosity for the young audience from a perspective of physical difference or deformity to one based on behavior and intentions. In addition, befriending the monster serves as a coping mechanism for children to not be afraid of the "other" or the unknown. By witnessing Theodore's displays of tolerance and acceptance towards the Frankenstein monster, children are in effect visually learning how to accept those around them who may also be different from themselves.
Nature vs. Nurture
The Frankenstein monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus and in Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein experience and learn many new things when they are first created. The philosophical debate between Nature versus Nurture suggests that there are two distinct ways an individual learns either from nature or from someone else. In Shelley's novel the monster receives both forms of learning: experience in the woods and then, nurturing from the DeLacey family. Frankie, in this movie, is left to his own devices and surrounding environment when Dr. Frankenstein sends him after the three chipmunks. He ends up tracking Alvin, Theodore, and Simon in the night, without knowing how to speak or act. Similarily, Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein does not fulfill a parenting role, but instead abandons the monster immediately following his creation. In addition, no one instructed Frankie about a roller coaster and the scene becomes comical when he gets scared on the ride.
The chipmunks become the nurturers for the Frankenstein monster. Theodore shelters Frankie in his bedroom to protect him from the rain. Then, the chipmunks nurture Frankie by teaching him right from wrong and how to behave appropriately with other children at the park. Similarly, when the boys take Frankie back home they take care of his cut finger and burned hands. Shelley's novel spends much more time focusing on education from a book, rather than interpersonal skills.
Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein went straight to video for VHS and then to DVD as a "Scare-Riffic" double feature film with Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman. Common Sense Media suggests, for parental guidance, that viewing age be 5 years old and above with "some scary content for the very young". Amazon customers gave an average star rating of 3.8 out of 5. International Movie Database (IMDb) users gave a slightly worse rating for the movie of 6.3 stars out of 10. At the Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA event, this film won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing - Direct to Video - Sound Editorial in 2000 (IMDb).
Significance of Adaptation
The Chipmunks are meant to be watched by children and families. By creating a chipmunk movie that introduces the classic Frankenstein story, children receive an early base understanding of who Dr. Frankenstein and his monster from the classical literary work by Mary Shelley. This also means that children are gaining at an early age the start of what is known as cultural literacy. Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein teaches kids the culturally iconic Frankenstein monster which is most commonly seen as Boris Karloff's portrayal of a big, green monster with a square head adorned with black hair, bolts in the neck, tattered clothes, and big black shoes in Frankenstein (1931).
One intriguing aspect of the monster in this adaptation is that the chipmunks end up befriending the monster. The article "Children's Literature, Monsters in" states, "...the monsters of children's literature have also become the child's best friend, alter ego, and inner self" (Ashgate Encylcopedia). The monster becomes not only a friend, but a way to see how cultural social norms must be followed. By teaching the monster to socialize, the child is externalized and allowed to learn life lessons through the monster in the film. Judy Sierra points out that one role a monster plays is "to instruct children in the rules of their culture- those who fall victim to monsters are, more often than not, those who foolishly and/or intentionally violate those rules." (Children's Literature, Monsters in, Ashgate Encyclopedia). With this in mind, it is not a coincidence that Alvin is singled out to become a monster by Dr. Frankenstein. He consistently breaks the rules and puts all three chipmunks in danger and trouble. The rules are there to keep the chipmunks (and in effect, children) safe.
This adaptation does pull aspects straight from other adaptations. Most notably, the beginning scene is in black and white and depicts Dr. Frankenstein and his creation running away from an angry mob of villagers brandishing torches to destroy the monster. This is straight from the Universal 1931 film. As mentioned before, the Frankenstein monster is also mirrored off the Boris Karloff's portrayal of the monster from the same adaptation. The emphasis of the villain in this movie focuses on the mad Dr. Frankenstein which is more in line with the Peter Cushing portrayal of Victor as seen in the Hammer Studios Series.
However, this adaptation is set apart by having the monster join society for entertainment purposes. This kind of meta entertainment is explicit throughout the film. Universal is making a statement that this film's purpose and, in effect, the Frankenstein story, is for entertainment - to amuse people. For this adaptation, Universal is not concerned with fidelity to Mary Shelley's classic novel. The staging of the movie in an amusement park and the chipmunks performing their songs are all qualities of the meta entertainment style of this adaptation.
References/Links to Sources
"Children's Literature, Monsters in." The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2014.Credo Reference. Web. 4 Apr 2015.
Amazon. Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein. http://www.amazon.com/Alvin-The-Chipmunks-Meet-Frankenstein/dp/B00000JPG0 Web.
Common Sense Media.Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/alvin-and-the-chipmunks-meet-the-wolfman Web.
International Movie Database. Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207957/ Web.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. Print.
Author: Megan Rozzana