Alvin and the Chipmunks. Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Six decades is a long time in the life of a chipmunk. Alvin and his brothers started life as disembodied voices on a novelty record in 1958, and first appeared in animated form in the 1961 primetime CBS series The Alvin Show. Since then, the Ross Bagdasarian Sr. creations have been reincarnated in series, movies, games, and more, radically changing in look — but never losing their squeaky sound.

Their shifting appearances fascinate Al-Tariq Shakur Harris (aka ToonrificTariq), an animator and Youtuber who’s created a 28-minute video essay on the subject. The video is nominally about the franchise’s character design, but in a discursive commentary he touches on everything from color palettes to sound mixing in the show(s). Watch it below:

ToonrificTariq focuses on The Alvin Show and the 1980s revival Alvin and the Chipmunks, contrasting the two series’ ways of characterizing their rodent heroes. He notes the limited animation in the shows and explores how this relates to design.

While he prefers how Alvin and pals look in the 1980s, he concludes that the original series was more visually coherent: “At least then the limitations were worked into the designs. You never felt like anything was being held away from you. The [later] designs were almost designed to be animated fluidly, [but they weren’t].” The video ends up as an engaging exploration of the risks and benefits of franchise redesigns.

Along the way, the Youtuber references the chimpunks’ “murderous” puppet incarnation, the sing-along videos he owned as a child, and other miscellanea of the Alvin canon. He talks with humor and authority — and not, we’re glad to say, in a chipmunk voice.

Depending on your point of view, Alvin's design has either evolved or devolved through the years.
Depending on your point of view, Alvin’s design has either evolved or devolved through the years.

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