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'Alvin and the Chipmunks' sequel tries to avoid a high-pitched problem

October 14, 2010 |  2:01 pm

EXCLUSIVE: The "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise has proved a reliable fan favorite, if not exactly a critics' darling, since it was reborn on the big screen in 2007. But the planned third movie, which is scheduled to come out next holiday season, might be having some trouble -- and not the good kind of trouble that Alvin gets into.

The movie is set to go into production in about 11 weeks for a release on Dec. 16, 2011. But the filmmaker who had been expected to take the reins, Betty Thomas, has decided not to direct the project, prompting Fox to hurriedly begin the search for a new director, according to sources familiar with the project.

A Fox spokesman declined to comment.

Thomas, best known for directing the Howard Stern biopic "Private Parts" and the Eddie Murphy movie "Doctor Dolittle," helmed the second film in the rebooted "Chipmunks" franchise. The much-punned upon "Squeakquel" grossed an extremely rich $443 million worldwide.

The new movie is expected to shoot in a seaside location, possibly Hawaii, with the plot centering on the chipmunks getting shipwrecked. At one point the film was reported to be conceived as a 3-D film. While Fox had discussions about shooting it in 3-D, sources say the studio is now leaning toward a 2-D production and release, though the new director could influence that decision.

There have been problems gnawing at the franchise since last spring, when the Bagdasarian family that controls the rights to the hit cartoon and "Squeakquel" writer Janice Karman sued Fox, claiming they're owed half the profits from the film. At the time, Fox said the lawsuit was frivolous and that it wouldn't affect the future of the franchise.

The news of an open director's chair comes amid a generally cloudy future for live action-cartoon hybrids. "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" wasn't a hit this summer, and the early reaction to the trailers for "Yogi Bear" has been lukewarm.

Shipwrecks aside, it remains to be seen in what direction the new film about the singing trio and its human caretaker goes. Filmmakers, after all, already added the requisite rivalry with a set of female chipmunks the last time around. Maybe a plotline about trying to get an entertainment franchise moving on schedule would be in order?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." Credit: 20th Century Fox