Nostalgia is an easy thing to market and sell, so when a piece of media comes around that’s really going hard after the nostalgia market I feel like it’s my duty to weigh-in. And when it comes to 90’s nostalgia, I am as qualified as anybody to talk about it and such is the case with the new Disney+ movie Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers.
If you’re reading this, I can probably go ahead and assume that you’re familiar with the television show of the same name which premiered in the late 80s and ran into the 90s. Just in case though, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers was one of the inaugural Disney Afternoon cartoons and it starred the characters Chip and Dale from Disney’s classic collection of shorts and paired them up with some newcomers in Gadget, Monterey Jack, and Zipper. As the theme song informed us, they basically solve the crimes and help those who are not being helped by the usual law enforcement operations out there. It didn’t really make much sense for the characters of Chip and Dale to star in such a program, but the same is easily said of the classic characters utilized in most Disney Afternoon shows. It was just a way for Disney to leverage its own intellectual property and sell shows that at least had some familiar faces in them. And it seemed to work rather well. While I will say the show Rescue Rangers doesn’t really hold-up when viewed as an adult in 2022, it’s at least quite gorgeous for a TV show and no one would question the production values. Plus that theme song is still a banger.
It was announced some time ago that Disney wanted to bring the show to the big screen as a live-action/animation hybrid which is all the rage these days. It turned out, Disney was actually aiming a little smaller as the film was ticketed for its streaming platform Disney+ pretty early in the reveal. Unlike a lot of recent films, I do not believe this was kicked to the streaming service because of COVID. The film was written by the team of Dan McGregor and Doug Mand, two guys mostly known for their work in television. With Akiva Schaffer as director and Andy Samberg onboard as the voice of Dale, the title basically started being referred to as The Lonely Island Rescue Rangers. The third member of The Lonely Island, Jorma Taccone, is also here doing some small voice roles too. Given their presence, I found myself quite curious how this movie would turn out. It was obviously going to be a comedy, but the initial trailer also revealed it was going to set its characters in a world inhabited by toons and real people like a certain famous 80s film about a rabbit. Inviting such a comparison is almost a death sentence because how is a film in 2022 with a streaming budget going to measure up to the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It’s a fool’s game to try to match that film, Disney can only hope this one proves it’s worth existing.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is neither a reboot nor a sequel to the television show. It actually views the characters from the show as actors who played those roles. Early in the film we’re shown how a young Dale (Juliet Donenfield) met a young Chip (Mason Blomberg) at school and instantly became friends. From there, they became a comedy act that was eventually given its own show making these versions of the famous chipmunks quite different from the characters in the theatrical shorts. Much of the movie is set in the present and centers on Dale (Andy Samberg) as he tries to recapture his glory days after a falling out with Chip when the Rescue Rangers show came to an end.
It’s when we catch-up with Dale and eventually Chip (John Mulaney) that we see how this world sort of works. This isn’t a lore-heavy film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Toons exist alongside humans and over the years toons have changed. Dale at some point got surgery to make himself look like a CG generated character, while his co-stars did not so they’re presented in a more traditional manner. Cartoon stars are basically all real and much of the film relies on that. The general plot is that Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) has gone missing and Chip and Dale fear he’s been caught in a bootlegging ring. For a toon in this world, that means he’s going to be modified surgically so that he only resembles his old self and shipped off to somewhere in Asia to star in bootleg films against his will, which sounds pretty horrifying. The rodents will work with a human police officer in Ellie (Kiki Lang) to try and find their friend before he’s presumably sent out on a boat which is expected to take roughly 48 hours making this the Chip ‘n Dale version of The Frist 48.
The plot is surprisingly high stakes if you place any sort of value on the life of Monterey Jack, but despite that the film is squarely a comedy. Chip and Dale play-off of each other with Chip being the straight ‘munk and Dale the more carefree. It’s admittedly odd to hear the two voiced by actors who aren’t being pitched way up to do the squeaky voice. That is canonically revealed to be an act from the old show and just a funny voice they did. Their interplay is fine and mostly amusing, but things slow way down whenever the plot has to involve Ellie. There it becomes a poor man’s cop show where little of value takes place. Working against is the performance of Lang as Ellie because she comes off as wooden and distant. Working with actors who aren’t physically present is a skill, and maybe that’s the reason for it. The script also isn’t very interested in making her into much of a character so that’s not helping matters. Aside from the pair, the movie relies quite heavily on references to generate laughs. This means the film is a case of diminishing returns from the start as most viewers will likely be charmed by the cameos at first, but come the second hour the novelty has largely worn off. The film is definitely intended for an adult audience that grew up on the Disney Afternoon, so if you loved Rescue Rangers there’s a bit of payoff towards the film’s climax, but this film is largely a riff on that show which might rub some the wrong way.
The entertainment value derived from the humor and references can only take the film so far. Unfortunately, what doesn’t add a whole lot are the visual effects. The CG characters, like Dale, look fine. Dale’s model is not on par with Disney or Pixar feature films, but I suppose he looks no better or worse than the chipmunks from the Alvin and the Chipmunks films. The 2D characters, on the other hand, mostly look pretty unimpressive. There’s no attempt at shading them to make them plausible as 3D beings, but they’re also clearly not hand-drawn. For some characters, like Gadget oddly enough, the model is too obvious and the character ends up looking like a cel-shaded model from a PlayStation 2 game. I got some real Sly Cooper vibes from Gadget and I’m not sure why it is that her model suffered the most. Maybe it’s the hair? Either way, the 2D characters just don’t impress, but we are talking about a film with a streaming budget so it’s not surprising to see. I am left to wonder if the film would be appreciably better with more money attached to it. The other aspect of the film’s production that might rub some the wrong way is the inconsistent casting choices. Tress MacNeille was allowed to reprise her role as Gadget, but few others were granted the same opportunity. Jim Cummings is in this film voicing some cameos, but for some reason was recast as Monterey Jack. Zipper was also recast to Dennis Haysbert basically for a gag, but I can’t say that bothered me too much since it fit with the choice for Chip and Dale. And I suppose there are folks out there who would have preferred them to have their chipmunk voices and I don’t know if I’m one of them. I definitely would have been fine with that approach, but I didn’t hate Mulaney and Samberg in the roles and I actually adjusted to them much easier than I expected.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is the sort of vapid, of the moment, streaming movie designed to be digested, meme’d for a weekend, and then mostly forgotten. It doesn’t really do anything unexpected and is mostly smart to keep the running time under 2 hours and to lean heavily into nostalgia-laden jokes and cameos. How much you’re amused by the cameos and references will influence how entertained by the film you are. I would even go so far as to say, for adult viewers, you need to be familiar with the era the original Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers aired during to get much out of this. For kids, that’s probably not necessary if my own children are a reasonable barometer as they seemed to like the film quite a bit. As for me, the film was fine. It was no better or worse than I expected, though actually if I’m being fair it was better than I initially expected when I heard a Rescue Rangers movie was in development. I definitely do not want or need a sequel or reboot following this, nor do I really want to see other Disney Afternoon properties get the same treatment (unless it’s with a much bigger budget). If you go into it wanting a poor man’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that’s more interested in meme culture than celebrating classic era animation then you’ll likely not regret the hour and a half spent. If you’re expecting something more sincere or on the same technical level as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? then prepare to be disappointed.