Selling tickets to the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies seems to be pretty easy. Their latest offering, “The Squeakquel,” has raked in over $440 million at the worldwide box office. Not bad for a litter of rodents born out of a Christmas novelty song 52 years ago. But providing the voices for the characters is not as simple as one might think.
The actors who do voiceover work for the Chipmunks’ flicks are actually required to deliver their lines much, much slower than normal speech would dictate, as the familiar high-pitched chipmunk voice is attained by speeding up the tapes after they’ve been recorded. It’s a trick actresses Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, and Christina Applegate had to quickly learn after they signed on to voice the Chipettes — the Chipmunks’ female singing competitors — for 2009’s “Squeakquel.”
The time-intensive process that creates the trademark squeak means that voiceover work for a Chipmunk flick can take up to 20 times longer than it would for a typical animated film.
“The girls had no idea,” said Janice Karman, who created the Chipettes and voiced them for over 20 years. “They had been practicing their chipmunk voices.”
Why does voicing the forest floor’s fastest animals take so long? “You have to do a variety of takes, but you don’t know until you turn it back to speed whether it has worked, or is understandable, or has the emotion, or whether the comic timing is right,” Karman said.
“By slowing the voice down and then speeding it up, you still get the warmth of the character. It’s a tough way, but it is the best way,” she concluded.
Karman is married to Ross Bagdasarian Jr., whose father created the renowned rodents back in 1958. Although she ceded the Chipettes’ speaking voices in “The Squeakquel” to famous funny ladies Poehler, Faris, and Applegate, she still provided all the singing in the latest movie — so those are her pipes behind the squeaky version of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”
“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.