Alvin abandons a game of shuffleboard, to the consternation of Brittany, left, and Simon.

The Chipmunks have done for small striped squirrels what Rin Tin Tin did for German Shepherds. That is, it made the squeaky-voiced rodents big screen stars.

Alvin, Simon and Theodore have been well-known since they topped the music charts with the Witch Doctor’s crazy chorus, Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla, bing-bang in 1958 but their new movies, including this weekend’s The Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked, have turned them into the tiniest celebrities of the 20th century.

The three of them, along with furry actors like Despereaux Tilling, Fievel Mousekewitz and the gang from Once Upon a Forest have sold loads of tickets, but none would have made much of an impression if not for the pioneering work of the world’s most famous rodent, Mickey Mouse.

Created in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey is one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, rodent or otherwise. He’s an Oscar winner with 175 movies, shorts and video games on his CV; and was the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mickey’s fame endures, but why? “We felt that the public, and especially the children, like animals that are cute and little,” said Walt Disney. “When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it’s because he’s so human.”

Mickey paved the way for generations of rodent actors.

G-Force is a sci-fi-spy film featuring a specially trained squad of guinea pigs who prevent an evil millionaire from taking over the world.    

Who could forget Mr. Gopher, the burrowing terror from Caddyshack? (Did you know the movie’s gopher “voice” is made up of the same dolphin sound effects used on Flipper?)

Or Rizzo the Rat, the streetwise New Jersey puppet from The Muppets Take Manhattan and possibly the only kid’s character named for Enrico (Ratso) Rizzo, a character in the X-rated Midnight Cowboy.

More sinister than Rizzo-despite his X-rated name–is Ben, the story of a boy and his rat. Best known for its Michael Jackson theme song – it’s possibly the only love song to a rat ever released – the movie plays like a Disney movie, if they made a killer rat flick.

In the movie Danny, a bullied boy, befriends Ben, the leader of a swarm of telepathic rats.

When the police use flamethrowers to exterminate the rat pack only Ben survives, saved by his human friend. “I love you Ben,” says Danny. “You’re the only friend I have.”

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