‘Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ Review: How Did They Get Away With This?
Akiva Schaffer must be a hell of a salesman. Somehow, he convinced Disney, a company that takes itself very seriously, to let him turn a potentially lucrative nostalgia property into a massive self-deprecating parody. Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn’t so much based on the old animated series as it is a relentless mockery of it, along with just about everything and everyone else in soulless modern Hollywood.
It also openly courts upsetting old school Rescue Rangers fans (if there are any left at this point) by gleefully sending up the the show’s characters and stories. At a time when every update of a beloved old show or movie is expected to be slavishly faithful and respectful to its source material, Schaffer’s Rescue Rangers movie skewers the very idea of making a slavishly faithful and respectful version of this source material. The result is something that superficially looks like a kids movie, but will almost exclusively appeal to adults who recognize the film’s spoofs of an industry that is perpetually trying to cash in on their lingering love of stuff they grew up watching in the 1980s or ’90s.
The film’s meta conceit, which owes quite a bit of its construction to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is that it exists in a world where cartoon characters are real and live alongside ordinary humans. In this universe, Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers was a popular TV show decades earlier, but its stars — Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) — were actors and sentient beings, not drawings created by animators, and they have thoughts and feelings like anyone else. And like a lot of people who grew up in the 1980s, Chip and Dale are now older, jaded, and mostly depressed about how their lives turned out. (Can you blame them?)
Near the end of Rescue Rangers’ run, Dale tried to strike out on his own as a solo TV star, which broke up the popular duo and sent both their careers spiraling down the tubes. In present day, Chip and Dale haven’t spoken in years. The former makes a living selling insurance to other toons, while the latter works the convention circuit, signing autographs for fans and fraternizing with some hilarious cameos from other cartoons I wouldn’t dare spoil except to say I’m even more impressed by Schaffer’s salesmanship in those sequences, because he not only convinced Disney to let him lampoon their characters, he was able to figure out a way to razz other companies’ creations as well.
Chip and Dale finally reunite when another old member of the Rescue Rangers cast, cheese-loving mouse Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), goes missing and the clues point to a secret criminal mastermind kidnapping and exploiting toons. While the detective assigned to the case (J.K. Simmons, who sounds like he’s having a blast playing a grouchy Gumby knockoff) drags his heels, Chip and Dale reluctantly agree to work together to find their friend and get to the bottom of the mystery.
This case — which eventually involves chases, fights, and machines that shoot deadly lasers — sometimes gets too close to embodying modern blockbuster cliches, rather than making fun of them. But all of the jokes at the margins of Rescue Rangers are hysterical. Chip and Dale’s Los Angeles is filled with billboards for made up movies and television shows, a couple of which deliver bigger laughs than any comedy since Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Even though this is a streaming movie that’s premiering exclusively on Disney+, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put your phone down to watch. If you’re distracted and looking away from the screen, you’re going to miss a lot of the funniest gags.
While this kind of blend of live-action and animation was pioneered decades before, Rescue Rangers kicks the concept up a notch by throwing in so many different forms of animation. Chip still looks like his old cel-drawn self, while Dale got the equivalent of cartoon plastic surgery and upgraded his look to 3D. Other characters are in black and white, stop-motion, or reminiscent of the vaguely horrifying motion-captured look of The Polar Express. Cinematographer Larry Fong does such a remarkable job of seamlessly integrating the human and the cartoons that at a certain point you stop even thinking about the differences between them. They’re all just people that exist in this charmingly offbeat world.
I can’t say I ever particularly cared about Chip and Dale’s quest to save Monterey Jack, and Rescue Rangers’ third-act lapses into sentimentality feel like a slight betrayal of the rest of the movie’s savage ridicule of Hollywood’s content factory. Still, I laughed a lot at this movie, far more and far harder than I expected to. And a documentary on the making of this movie — and the process of negotiating the approvals for some of this movie’s targets — would be a fascinating watch as well.