Alvin and the Chipmunks is one of the few franchises that seems to effortlessly skate from generation to generation without much fuss from society about the differences between iterations. It’s a pretty charmed life – how many other franchises enjoy the same sort of hall pass? With Alvin it seems that as long as the main gimmick – covers of popular songs with the pitch dialed up- is there, everything else is forgivable. Works for me!
I grew up in what I selfishly consider Alvin‘s “sweet spot”: the mid 1980s. Ruby-Spears productions rolled out a wildly successful cartoon show featuring the Chipmunks and Chipettes, and the Marketing and Consumer Product worlds had finally figured out how to turn TV-show-enthusiasm into big toy (and other product) money. Taken as a whole the Alvin and the Chipmunks product line becomes a case study in how to make a buck off of a popular franchise in the ’80s, and I thought it’d be fun to look at the different items that bore Alvin’s face. For this post I’ll only focus on stuff that came out of the 1983 cartoon; no products referencing earlier or later Chipmunk iterations…but there’s a ton of those too!
Dolls based on popular franchises are nothing new, of course, but The Chipmunks had a pretty robust line-up of plush and plastic. The depth of the offering is surprising; there are some deep cuts here in the picnic and stage playsets. Uncle Harry?!
There’s something about the plastic molds used for the Chipettes’ heads that unsettles me. I had the Alvin plush and I have to say, it’s a solid build. My five-year-old has inherited it and puts it through the same ringer that I did at his age, and Alvin’s still going strong.
This commercial for the plushes is fantastic. The overacting expressions of the (presumed) sisters compensates for the flatness of the little boy’s delivery and everything balances out fine. Also, what’s the boy’s deal? He’s all dressed up – is he the Chipmunks’ butler? Stage manager?
This was the true mark of success in the ’70s and ’80s – you knew you’d made it if a fast food chain wanted to offer a limited edition glass with your show on it. Alvin joined the ranks of the Muppets and the Smurfs with this set of Hardees glasses.
Valentine’s Day Cards
It may be temporal hubris but I feel like the Valentine’s Day card market really dialed it up a notch in the ’80s and the license that you chose to represent your wishes of non-romantic love to your classmates said way more about you than it probably should have. Of course Alvin was in the mix.
Not just any board game, but a Pop-o-Matic board game!
In a VERY ’80s move, fans of the show were given the opportunity to call a toll line to hear messages from the Chipmunks and Chipettes. The charge of fifty cents a call is pretty reasonable and serves to demonstrate how far the toll-line market had left to evolve.
Someone let me know if this line still works.
There are of course more products from the ’80s iteration and like I said earlier there are a whole heap of toys and games and records from all of the other versions of Alvin. Do you have any that stand out for you? I’ll close this out with mine, a 1986 record where the Chipmunks cover iconic movie songs. And also a weird love letter to E.T.