Tell us about The Chipettes?
Janice Karman: I started them because I wanted to cover some female songs and I had this epiphany – why not create girl counterparts because its great for the boys to play off and I get to do all these great songs? So then it was a process of who do I want them to be and what do I want them to represent. In the beginning Brittany was an example of what girls shouldn’t be, I wanted them to go “I don’t want to be superficial. I don’t want them to be self centered. I don’t want them to be that girl.” But I found they all wanted to be that girl including my little daughter, so I infused Brittany with all these wonderful qualities because as long as they were on the Brittany band wagon, I wanted to make sure she was worthy. Jeanette is so sweet and kind and Eleanor is athletic and a flirt and motherly but they are all strong girls and at the end of the day they are all kind and that was very important to me.
Why did you choose the name Brittany?
Janice Karman: Well this was way before Britney Spears or any other Brittany I ever heard of. We had a singer in the studio and that was her name, so that’s why I named her Brittany because I liked the name.
Who came up with Squeakquel?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: Janice did.
Janice Karman: It’s one of those moments when everyone is thinking what it could be and everyone is throwing ideas around, and I said what about the “Squeakquel” and everybody loved it.
Is the Chipettes a nod to all the great girl groups like Destiny’s Child?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: You want The Chipettes to be tremendous performers that not only Ian (David Cross) is going to say is the best animal group he has ever found and can destroy the Chipmunks who kind of put him in the ground because he was so miserable to them the first time around. So they had to move great and sing great and we were lucky enough to find a great choreographer who had his female dancers do all the moves and film them and then the animators watched the film of all those girls and then animated them.
How do you select the songs?
Janice Karman: There are certain songs that fit the Chipmunk and Chipette voices and certain ones that don’t so you always take that in consideration and we want to use songs that we really like.
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: We listen to hundreds of songs. The Chipmunks have been around for over fifty years so you want something in the movies to last for quite some while. We won’t pick a song that is very hot for today but in five or ten years no one is going to like it anymore. So we picked songs that will work well down the road. We don’t want something that is so trendy and dates your movie and doesn’t work any longer.
What is the message of the movie?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: If the first movie was about a family coming together and how the Chipmunks and Dave create this family that was not there in the beginning. This time we wanted to write a movie that actually showed where the strong bond of the brothers cracks apart for a while because of Alvin’s desire to be popular at school and he turns his back on his brothers for a while, and then has to win them back.
Janice Karman: The school is a perfect setting because they are cast systems in the school and Alvin starts off on the movie hugely popular at this concert with adulation more than he can handle, and then he is humbled right away by going to school and then having to earn that popularity back and seeing how far he will go even forsaking his brothers to get that popularity back and then how he has to come to terms with that and win back their trust. It’s really about the family coming back together. We also wanted to really explore their characters and this was a great way to do it. Now that Dave, the father figure is gone, Simon is the one that is the most reliable and takes on that responsibility and Theodore is the one who most needs that family structure. Alvin is all about winning the popularity contest.
Did you always intend for the character of Dave (Jason Lee) to not have much of a role in this film?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: What happened is when Janice started writing the story originally Jason was very much a part of the story, and it would go in the direction of them going to school and how the parent deals with feeling neglected, but Jason’s schedule with his series “My Name is Earl” didn’t allow for him to be in it as much. So we had to figure out a way to still keep him in but not as much, so we used the idea that the father figure was now missing.
How do new generations react to the Chipmunks?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: Little kids did not know who the Chipmunks were but when the movie came out two years ago, they got to know them in a hurry.
Janice Karman: When we brought them back in the 80s with a record album it was the parents that were introducing them to their kids and it’s similar now that the parents who were fond of them as children are now taking their kids and grandkids to the movie.
How did the Chipmunks come about?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: My dad had written a song in 1958 called “Witch Doctor” and that is the first time he used that technique to speed up the voice that we now know as the Chipmunks, About six months later he was playing around with a Christmas song and wanted to use that kind of voice again but wanted them to have more personality so he came up with the characters. He was driving around Yosemite National Park which is not far from where he grew up in Fresno and he was wondering what animal would be the perfect character. While he was driving through Yosemite this tiny little chipmunk jumps out on the road and basically dares my dad in this huge car to go past and making noises at him, as if to say “This is my road!” So my dad fell out of the car laughing and he thought “OK” they are going to be Chipmunks and the lead character would have the attitude of that little chipmunk. Like Simon would think – that’s a huge car and we need to get out of the way or we’ll be road kill where as Alvin would think: “Oh no, we’re not.” So it’s that kind of attitude that created the characters.
Can you explain the animation process – is it easier now?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: Well its two years later and you can do so much more now. Our animators are amazingly talented and they also have the advantage that they had the first film to perfect the moves and the personalities. But the other part is that music is a much larger part on this movie than the last one. There was the extra challenge of having not only The Chipettes but having them dance really well. The composer of “Single Ladies” has seen a variety of different people doing versions of that song but when we played him The Chipettes his mouth just dropped to the floor and he thought it was the greatest. He loved what we had done.
Janice Karman: Also we have twice as many Chipmunks this time to animate and they had to get used to The Chipettes and had to figure out how they work and what they should look like. I wanted to push that look as far as possible but still maintain that Saturday morning image that people know.
How important was it to have name stars do the voices as they are speeded up?
Janice Karman: You want to get actresses that can bring personality and humor to the table and they did a great job. They had to do it a slower speed so their timing is really challenged.
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: While you won’t hear their normal voices what you will feel is the essence of that voice which gives the essence of that character.
What is the future of the Chipmunks?
Ross Bagdasarian Jr: We are thinking about a TV show and what another movie might look like.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel
To celebrate the release of Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel DVD on 12th of April, we have some Q&As with the Producers and stars of the movie!
The live-action/CGI box-office sensation offers more music, mayhem and fun as Alvin, Simon and Theodore meet their match in the newly arrived female trio, the cute but super cool Chipettes!
Interview with Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and Janice Karman (Producers)
Interview with Amy Poehler (Eleanor) & Christina Applegate (Brittany)
Interview with Zachary Levi (Toby)
Tell us about the recording process for the film?
Christina Applegate: You have to speak really slowly but put 100 times more energy than you would if you were speaking normally, because you have to put all this emotion in there and comic timing, but do it very slowly so I’m sure we look ridiculous and sound ridiculous.
Amy Poehler: I have never worked on an animated film where they would play back what you had done in front of you but it was imperative on this because you needed to hear how you were sounding and if you could understand what you are saying, so there was a lot of playback involved in it which was quite different.
Christina Applegate: Sometimes when you thought you were going as slow as you possibly could, they would play it back and it was so fast. You really have to talk very slowly.
How do you achieve the emotion of acting when you have to speak so slowly?
Amy Poehler: It took a while to get used to it – you would do it and wonder:”Is that any good?” It took a while to get the sense of it. It was strangely technical.
How do you get into the character of a Chipette?
Amy Poehler: We hide in small places and store nuts for the winter. Actually I don’t think I have ever seen an actual chipmunk in real life, only squirrels.
What do you think is the most valuable lesson in the movie?
Amy Poehler: Team work
Christina Applegate: That your family comes first before your egos or your cliques or your friends. Your family is always going to be there. And the other valuable lesson from the movie is that the Chipettes rule!
What do you think is the appeal of each of your characters?
Amy Poehler: The character I play, Eleanor is very sweet and she has to accept herself for who she is and that’s sweet and a good lesson for kids to hear and see. The idea that you can’t change yourself to make anyone like you and that what you have is what makes you special. I think they are all important themes for kids
Christina Applegate: And for Brittany the fame the fortune and the attention come second to her friends and that was something she struggles with. Do I leave my sisters to become a star or does she take them with her? In the end she learns to stay loyal and true to the ones that matter.
Were the characters based on you in anyway – did they try and integrate any of your characteristics?
Amy Poehler: Sometimes with these kinds of films you can see some early sketches, but they had already shot the live actions part when we were came in to record and they had been working on the animation for a long time, so we were like the last link in the puzzle. I remember when I saw a picture of the Chipettes in their outfits I thought they were great and so cute.
When you heard your voice as a Chipette how did you feel?
Amy Poehler: It was great. I used to laugh a lot when I did Eleanor and they used my laugh a lot because it sounds like a chipmunk, so I did a lot of laughing.
Were the Chipmunks a part of your life growing up?
Christina Applegate: I didn’t watch them specifically but they were definitely always in the background of my childhood growing up.
Amy Poehler: They used to play the songs on the radio when Christmas was coming so it was kind of a harbinger of the season changing. They were great records
How did you enjoy seeing the final movie put together?
Zachary Levi: I’m happy with it. When most of your scenes are with characters that aren’t really there, but when you see the movie it looks like I am talking to three little chipmunks.
Who do you talk to when you are filming?
Zachary Levi: You talk to stuffed animals and thin air, that’s the whole process. They have these “stuffies” as we call them in the business and these prop people have them on these long poles and they come and move them around and you come and rehearse with that and then the cameras start rolling and they take them out of there and you just have to remember that Alvin was on your head and then jumped on the table and drank a bit of your coffee, so the eye lines is the most tricky thing, but then all the chipmunks are different sizes so you have to remember is it Theodore or Alvin who is on top of your head right now ? And there are three of them and they are moving around all the time – so it’s hard.
Why did you want to do this?
Zachary Levi: Being a part of a huge franchise like the Chipmunks was great – they are 50 years old! They look great for 50 don’t they? It’s just amazing.
Did you watch them when you were growing up?
Zachary Levi: I was born in 1980 but I watched them on Saturday morning for the weekly cartoon and their first movie which was really cool.
Why do you think the Chipmunks are so appealing to families today?
Zachary Levi: Actually I admit I was skeptical when they brought it back and the reason was I thought it had been away for too long. How is it relevant any more? But what you have to remember is that it’s a franchise that has been time tested and approved and more importantly, mother approved. My mother was eight when it first came out – so she knew the Chipmunks. So now it’s the children of people who already know the Chipmunks so it’s not like you are introducing a whole new bunch of characters. You are re-introducing characters that these parents already know. They think it’s a great thing to bring their kids to. It’s innocent and fun and you don’t have to worry whether it’s too adult or too dark. The kids don’t need to know who they are because they can go along for the ride, and it’s a whole new world for them and they love it.
Where did you grow up?
Zachary Levi: I am from Ventura, California. I have two younger sisters but I am the only one who is an actor. I did some plays with my sisters through the years. They enjoyed it but for me it felt like it was the only thing I could do, other than video games.
So like the character Toby are you good at video games?
Zachary Levi: Oh yes that was easy. I have been obsessed with video games since I was a kid. I literally got to work on the first day and they showed me a Nintendo DS and it was “Stop right there.” It’s like second nature to me. I grew up with a controller in my hands- Nintendo, Nintendo 64, X box, X box 360, Play station 3 – I know all of them.
Are planning to continue starring in the TV series “Chuck” or would you prefer to do movies?
Zachary Levi: I don’t know how long “Chuck” will go. I am contracted for seven years so they can keep it going, but I would like to focus more on movies. I think traditionally film roles are taken more seriously. It’s not as steady work but you get to play all different characters. I’ve always been a character actor – so there are all different kinds of characters I would like to play and different genres of movies. And if you are lucky you get to shoot movies all around the world because I haven’t done that much traveling yet, so that would be great. It would be great to experience living in another country that would be fantastic so I hope my acting brings me there.