Film Review – Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers
Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers
When it comes to reboots of ‘80s and ‘90s children cartoon shows, studios follow a blueprint set in stone. Take familiar characters, transfer them to a modern, real-world setting, and switch up the style so they are rendered in CGI rather than hand drawn. These films are built off an assembly line – dump a truckful of Easter Eggs, cameos, and call backs to feed the memories of those who once sat in front of the TV every Saturday morning. Modern pop songs, lingo, and technology are included so that youngsters don’t feel left out. Oh, and don’t forget to have characters sing a rap song, because apparently that takes the “cuteness factor” to an eleven. From Yogi Bear (2010), The Smurfs (2011), to Tom & Jerry: The Movie (2021), the process has become so recycled that these reboots could be categorized in their own subgenre.
Just because this latest version of Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) recognizes this does not excuse it from doing exactly that. Not only does it rely on its nostalgia factor, it leans heavily into it, inserting references in almost every scene. We get callbacks ranging from old Disney characters (like The Three Little Pigs) to Ant-Man (2015). If anything, the constant barrage of references goes to show the powerhouse that is the Walt Disney corporation. They have a stake in a lot of intellectual properties and are not shy about flexing that fact. In one scene, our protagonists walk down a street that looks a whole lot like the Main Street of Disneyland. When you can make a movie that acts as an advertisement for your own theme park, you know you have a business that’s more than just “successful.”
But I digress. This iteration (directed by Akiva Schaffer, written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand) recognizes a world where our chipmunk duo of Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are not crime fighters but actors, who had starred in the popular show but are now washed-up has beens. Chip has moved onto selling insurance and Dale makes guest appearances at conventions (seated next to the ugly version of Sonic the Hedgehog and Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast). The two get called into action when several of their animated friends – including fellow Rescue Ranger Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) – have gone missing. With the help of L.A. police officer Ellie (KiKi Layne), Chip and Dale follow the clues in hopes of revealing the conspiracy. Their investigation leads them in all sorts of awkward situations, such as run ins with the Coca Cola Polar Bear and Peter Pan.
If we step back and look at the narrative from a wider scope, we can see hints of an interesting subtext. Although the writing keeps the characters and plot on a surface level, it skims over ideas involving brands, characters, and properties, and how fandom has turned them into something beyond entertainment. Through merchandising and ownership rights, Chip and Dale – along with many fan favorites – have spawned off an entire industry beyond their control. Dale trying to peddle his autograph at a fan convention has a tinge of sadness about it. We learn about bootlegging animation, where familiar characters are molded into distorted copies of themselves to be sold on the international market.
I wonder if the production realized they were doing something eerily similar here. Chip and Dale are not the gumshoes we remember, but performers looking to get back into showbusiness. They just happened to fall into this plot and rely on their TV experience to guide them. Their high-pitched voices are altered to sound human like (no doubt for the name recognition of Mulaney and Samberg). Dale interrupting a conversation so he can take a call from his agent isn’t funny but just…wrong. We can sense the studio trying to check off as many demographics as possible, even altering Dale’s look as a CGI character. It’s explained that Dale underwent a procedure to make him look that way to appeal to modern audiences – not exactly a subtle allegory of the overall film. Him standing next to the hand drawn Chip exemplifies how bizarre and cynical this all is.
Is it too much to ask that Chip and Dale actually be Rescue Rangers? Is it a stretch to have them in an adventure done in the way that made audiences fall in love with them in the first place? I’m all for taking this franchise to different places, but the motivation is off kilter. There isn’t much fun to be had when you’re told that the show you once loved was fake and this is real. At every turn, the production reminds us that these are not the same names and faces we recall. Gadget (Tress MacNeille) and Zipper (Dennis Haysbert) were stalwarts of the series, but here are pushed to the side in favor of endless cameos. It’s a game of “Guess Who?” for the Millennial Generation. Will kids today even know who Roger Rabbitt is and how influential he was to animation?
I am very much within the target demographic this aims for. I spent many hours watching the likes of Darkwing Duck, Talespin, Duck Tales, and others. The main theme song of Rescue Rangers was a personal favorite as a kid. Now as an adult, I see how the powers that be flipped things around, not to bring something new to the table but for the almighty dollar. Your enjoyment of the old show will play a big factor into your enjoyment of this. What does that mean? It means this is a movie not made for kids, but for their parents.