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How Have 'Sherlock Holmes' 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' and 'Mission: Impossible' Changed?

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Dec 15, 2011 | 10:18am EST

Tomorrow marks the release of three undoubtedly big Hollywood movies: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked, and the IMAX experience of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. What makes us so confident that they’ll be hits? Simply, these films are all things that we have seen, and loved, in the past.

And I’m not just referring to the fact that they are, respectively, a sequel, threequel and fourquel. The characters and stories in all three of these new movies have existed long prior to the creation of their current film series. Whether it be from previous movies, television shows, literature or Christmas albums, most of us have had some knowledge and attachment to Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks and the IMF team for many years now.

Of course, just because the stories and characters are familiar, it doesn’t mean they are identical to their past incarnations. We’ve decided to keep the older manifestations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective, the triad of singing rodents, and the superspy IMF agency in mind when looking at these new movies, to consider what they may have left out, kept in, and added to the mix.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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The Old Movies

What They Kept: The unflappable genius detective thing, equipped with an inseparable partnership with Dr. John Watson. The framework is all the same: the duo would solve a mystery or two (against all odds), defeating the evil Moriarty or some other criminal who forgot to double-check his work.

What They Changed: Basil Rathbone, who is the actor most synonymous with Sherlock Holmes (he played him in fourteen feature films) embodied the character as a proper, sophisticated and elegant gentleman—this is the sort of image that enveloped the character prior to his revival in Guy Ritchie’s adaptations, which star Robert Downey, Jr., as a more rogue, ruffian character. Additionally, Jude Law's Dr. Watson is a much more competant figure than the character the old movies chose to portray. 

The Books

What They Kept: A lot, as a matter of fact. Guy Ritchie’s adaptation is considered a lot more faithful to Doyle’s stories than a lot of the films prior. Doyle created Holmes as an ingenious but rough fellow, who enjoyed bareknuckle boxing and a fancy cocaine addiction. Law's Watson is a lot closer to the literary version of the fellow than the old cinematic version.

What They Changed: In fairness, Holmes doesn’t explicitly do any drugs in the Ritchie adaptation…it’s just kind of hinted at.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked

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The Music Sensation

What They Kept: The basic characters created in the 1950s for the purposes of a novelty record have pretty much maintained their identities. Alvin was always a misbehaving brat, Simon was always an uptight nerd and Theodore was always also there.

What They Changed: They used to sing their own original songs. Creator Ross Bagdasarian wrote well-known Chipmunkian classics such as “Witch Doctor” and the Christmas song about a hula hoop. I’d personally rather hear either of those than a Chipmunk rendition of “Bad Romance.” Plus—the look. Art design for the novelty records depicted the chipmunks as actual chipmunks.

The Cartoon Series

What They Kept: This is likely where a lot of us today developed our images of the Chipmunks. The 1980s cartoon series introduced the Chipettes and really fleshed out the characters’ lifestyles as a popular music troupe/unorthodox suburban family. Plus—the look. The new movies resemble the design of the cartoon characters far more than the original images, although…

What They Changed: They’re a lot smaller now. In the cartoon, the Chipmunks stood two feet tall, at the very least. Now, they’re down to the size of an actual tree rodent, give or take. But what bothers me more than any of that: what happened to Alvin’s hat? He hardly wears it anymore!

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

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The TV Series

What They Kept: The theme song. Seriously, they could change anything else and it wouldn’t matter—the mood would be retained. Name another show with as iconic a theme song as Mission: Impossible. The theme song instilled the original show with the unforgettable excitement that has carried over into a colossal movie series.

What They Changed: The characters’ roles have been revamped to appeal to the “modern world” (the film series was pioneered before the wave of nostalgia overtook Hollywood—one might imagine some more similarities had the first installment been attempted just this year). The star of the TV show was Jim Phelps, played then by Peter Graves and in 1996’s Mission: Impossible by Jon Voight. But in the film series, the real star is agent-on-the-rise Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise. Understandable, as modern audiences are generally partial to younger characters. Another understandable move: replacing the old Cold War overtones with more contemporary themes, like the threat of terrorism.

There are a good deal of things in each of these films that sharp fans of the original incarnations might find fault with. On the other hand, sometimes new developments are necessary to keep the stories and characters interesting in changing times. However you feel about the modern views of Holmes, the Chipmunks and the IMF, one thing is for certain: people are still, and probably always will be, excited to have them back in their lives.

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