Chip ‘n Dale Movie Review: Reframing the Rescue Rangers
In all likelihood, Disney will never make a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the groundbreaking live-action/animation hybrid that intermingled cartoon characters from other studios besides the Mouse House. But that doesn’t mean they won’t give it their best try. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers miraculously manages the same kind of cartoon cross pollination, including at least one comics character you would never imagine seeing within a country mile of anything Disney. While its central narrative runs simpler and less compelling, mirroring the structure of a typical Rescue Rangers cartoon a bit more, the throwaway gags are laugh-out-loud hilarious. And there are lots of them.
Seriously, try to stay as spoiler-free as possible on the cameos that Disney has played very close to the vest. We won’t reveal any herein that weren’t in the trailers, but other sites may not be as restrained.
Mixing the meta-levels of 21 Jump Street with the sandbox elements of The LEGO Movie, Rescue Rangers almost feels like a movie that got away from Chris Miller and Phil Lord. Instead, it’s sort-of a Lonely Island production. Not officially, exactly, but Akiva Schaffer directs, Andy Samberg stars, and Jorma Taccone voices a supporting character. The script credit goes to Dolittle‘s Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, but rest assured, it’s a much better movie than that one. Though an actual Lonely Island-penned screenplay could have been even better.
Like Roger Rabbit, Rescue Rangers takes place in a world where humans, cartoons, comic-book characters, and puppets all coexist as equals. Most Toons do movies and TV shows, often playing versions of themselves, but periodically — a la Baby Herman — contrasting amusingly with their images. Indeed, in a weird bit of universe retconning, and to keep Chip and Dale from being Baby Boomers, the story implies they affected the helium-infused voices to compete with Alvin and the Chipmunks. In fact, Chip ‘n Dale came first.
Within this reality, the Rescue Rangers cartoon was a TV show that Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) acted in, alongside Gadget (Tress MacNeille), Zipper (Corey Burton, and, uh, SPOILER redacted), and Monterey Jack (Eric Bana, in a recast that already annoys some fans). A misunderstanding and different career ambitions led to Chip and Dale going their separate ways after the show ended. Now, Chip sells insurance, while Dale makes a living on the convention circuit.
When Monterey Jack goes missing, after telling both that his life is in danger, the duo reunite, reluctantly, to find their old friend. With the aid of an enthusiastic fan on the police force (KiKi Layne) and occasional assistance and/or obstruction from a Claymation cop (J.K. Simmons), they set out to save the day, in a manner they only previously pretended to do as actors. Reverting to type, Chip remains the level-headed one while Dale’s mind works in different ways.
The mystery element doesn’t stay that mysterious. As with Judge Doom in 1988, the moment the villain appears onscreen, it’s obvious they’re the villain. Cartoon characters aren’t know for subtlety, after all. But that’s beside the point. Along the way, all manner of cartoon tropes get skewered, involving both Disney characters and some who are definitely not. It’s entirely possible this movie will debut on streaming because those legal clearances might be easier to obtain than for theatrical.
There’s also some genuine satirical bite that viewers may suspect flew under Bob Chapek’s radar completely. Certainly nobody can miss the way the story hilariously twists and perverts Disneyland’s Main Street USA. However, the subplot that subtly indicts Disney’s previous treatment of certain child actors goes dark. At least for viewers who pick up on the references.
Would the movie have worked better with Chip and Dale’s voices speeded up? Hard to say. It might have felt excessive, but we have survived multiple Chipmunks movies. Obviously, hearing the voices of two well-known comedians is the point, and to say kids won’t care is missing it. This movie is aimed squarely at millennials who grew up on Rescue Rangers, and not so much at youngsters who are discovering it now. For those hoping the show would get adapted literally…first, sorry. Second: either avoid this movie completely, or toss out your expectations on this one. Multiverses and corporate reboots being what they are, it’s not like this rules out any other possible Chip ‘n Dale variants.
The meta-framework of Rescue Rangers no longer feels as novel as it once did. But the fact that Disney execs didn’t insist on defanging the satire is the big surprise. Obviously it’s not going to go full Charlie Kaufman or even South Park, but the movie nails the self-parody more sharply than something like Enchanted could ever dare. Think of the way the original Shrek savaged Disney-like fairytale characters, then imagine if it actually used Disney’s versions.
Sometimes the animation gets shaky. There’s at least one plot beat that feels extremely contrived, involving Chip and Dale walking into an easily avoidable death trap. If this gets a sequel, a stronger central narrative would be preferred. However, when a movie nails the jokes as well as this one does, it’s hard to get too angry over anything else in it.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers debuts Friday, May 20 on Disney+.
NOTE: an earlier version of this review misstated one voice actor due to Disney concealing a spoiler.
Recommended Reading: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers Complete Series – Volume 1 & 2 [DVD]
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