Why Is The Chipmunk Adventure So Expensive? — The Answer
The Short Answer
The filmmakers went through hell getting it made. They either have or have not done tests with focus groups to measure interest in making it available on iTunes or reprinting DVDs of it, but suffice it to say, they want to focus on the present and future of The Chipmunks and Chipettes. They may revisit releasing the 1987 movie, but for now they are focused on the now. It’s very costly to have your movie available digitally and physically on DVD. If the estimated ROI isn’t there, then you’ll only be able to find what your looking for on sites like eBay, but because of their sarcity you’ll see that those hard-to-ger movies will be priced quite high. That’s because they have reached collector’s item level.
So Here’s The History
Ross Bagdasarian Jr. (son of the creator of The Chipmunks) blogged about the nightmare he and his wife Janice Karman (the movie’s director) went through to get 1987’s The Chipmunk Adventure made. The blog is long gone, but I stumbled upon it on YouTube, archived in video form by a fan: The Making Of The Chipmunk Adventure (30th Anniversary Special): The Agony And The Agony.
Here are the facts that I found—Janice and Ross decided to finance the project themselves, having generated so much revenue from the Alvin and the Chipmunks TV series. Their decision to work with several overseas studios led to major production delays. By late 1986, production had fallen far behind schedule, and a shortage of time and money resulted in major cuts being made to the film. They wouldn’t start making money back until years later.
“It did well, but we didn’t, at least in that initial time, we didn’t get our money back in those days, ’cause unfortunately we had signed on with a distributor that was going to put ‘X’ number of dollars into marketing and distribution. They spent less than $900,000 marketing the movie and including the prints and advertising. So it did okay, but it did not remotely get us our money back until many DVD sales later.”
Interviewer: Here’s what I’m curious about because the show airs on NBC and you are doing original new episodes until 1990 and then, I guess, it’s in syndication. And then you guys decided to move on, you basically leave NBC and cut a deal with Universal to bring the show back, so what was that about?Ross: So, one of the things they wanted to do was create their own Mickey Mouse, and they had had Woody Woodpecker for years, but Woody didn’t have the sort of resonance for generations the way Alvin did, and certainly didn’t the way Mickey Mouse did. And they had seen that when we had gone head-to-head with Mickey Mouse, whether it was an album or a TV show, or what have you, that The Chipmunks not only held their own, but did very, very well and usually came out on top. So Universal loved that, “Gee, Alvin could be our Mickey Mouse.” So the idea then was they were gonna create an animation unit for us and Janice and I were gonna run that, and we would of course not only do more Chipmunk stuff, but a lot of other things that we had showed them that we could do.
Frustratingly the 1980s tv series is also unavailable for digital streaming and download), but I was lucky to find a 1998 issue of the original movie soundtrack on eBay for only $31, as well as the movie in mint DVD packaging for like $15 at Half Price Books in Orland Park. I wasn’t even looking for the movie..I just happen to be skimming through the Children’s section for a DVD or two for our daughter. And then, like deux ex machina, the DVD shown itself amongst the other DVDs. I would later find out that the same DVD is being sold on eBay for $100. This was a great example of how life is so much dependant on chance.
Is The Movie Even Good?
And I’m happy to say that our 2 year old daughter loves it. She was addicted to watching The Chipmunk Adventure for a couple months this past summer. As a parent, the movie still keeps my attention and I love it just as much as when I was little. It’s a really great movie, you’ll see why if you watch it. It has realism, fantasy, and pzazz. And there’s this one song that’s a real tear-jerker.
If you’d like to learn more about the 1980s aniamtion scene (it has a lot of drama and changes), check these documentaries out:
Essay by Ross Bagdasarian Jr:
The TV series Alvin and the Chipmunks debuted on NBC in September 1983. Permits first week and never lost its timeslot and had audiences of more than 10 million per week. My wife Janice Karman and I wrote most of the shows, performed all the major voices and wrote many of the songs. We worked seven days a week but limited time and more limited money made it impossible to create the show you envision. We decided to make an animated movie – chipmunk adventure.
Now, the difference between Saturday morning animation and an animated feature is like the difference between a doghouse and the Taj Mahal. Janice and I had spent three years building successful dog houses and now wanted to build some thing special. Because of the chipmunks television success Saturday morning, several studios were interested in financing a chipmunk movie. Unfortunately, they would only give us enough to build a really nice doghouse. I told Janice that we should make the film even if we had to finance it ourselves. She hated the idea.
We had made a lot of money the last few years, but like idiots and put it back into the show in the hopes of improving it. When we sold the series to syndication, we finally had a bit of an estate. Now, scarcely a month later I was proposing to take that nest egg and make a movie.
This turned out to be the first in a long list of mistakes.
Using our own money to finance your picture is a complete no no in Hollywood. It’s the legal equivalent of a lawyer representing himself and has Abraham Lincoln once said, “a lawyer who represents himself, has a full for client.” As it turned out, it also knew quite a bit about animation.
Because The Chipmunks were on television each week Janice and I wanted the movie to have scope and size. Something that would proclaim, “the story television set just couldn’t hold.” We decided to put the chipmunks against their female counterparts, the chip bats, and a hot air balloon race around the world.
Since the chipmunks were synonymous with music we wanted to songs the movie to be great. The songs added so much personality that we decided to create a babysitter for the chipmunks, a former vaudevillian named Miss Miller, who would sing a couple of my dad’s songs, Witch Doctor and Come on a My House.
Although Janice wasn’t keen on the movie idea, she became much more supportive once we found a wonderful animator to direct the film. His first job is to create inspirational story sketches. These images not only set the tone for the picture, but also enabled us to attract some of the best artists in town. Animation was in a state of flux in 1985. Disney had just come off of a very expensive flop, the black cauldron, and wasn’t sure what the future held. Suddenly great heart was available and we started hiring by the dozen. A little office was in filled with the most magical art you ever saw. It was exciting coming to work and seeing what new masterpieces awaited.
The look of the movies was very important to us. We wanted the world of The Chipmunks to be rooted in reality so that it was believable. In order to achieve this look we needed very realistic, almost photographic, layouts.
But reality can be boring so we also wanted to paint a sense of fantasy over the top of this reality as Technicolor had done for the movies of the 50’s. That color was so saturated that it gave an otherwise average world a special glow of magic. That, at least in theory, was what we were after.
Then disaster struck. Producing animated film does not exactly instant gratification and they generally take 2 to 4 years to complete. Unfortunately two months into production, our fabulous Director discovered he was a sprinter, not a long distance runner and quit. I told Janice that she was the logical choice to replace her, sometimes she was not anxious to hear.
Janice: When it came time to work, I was always a conservative person. If I didn’t feel capable or a sure that I was the best person for the job, I didn’t want to do it.
But Ross had absolutely no respect for my cautious approach. He believed in my talent and me far more than I deserved. We went barreling into every new medium (music, TV, film, merchandising) knowing absolutely nothing. Ross simply had the confidence that we could do it, and I went along like a reluctant mule with him pushing me from behind.