Well here’s a thing apparently unlikely to generate much interest beyond bored young children looking for something to stream on Disney+. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, a Disney cartoon show from the late 80s/early 90s that you may or may not remember has got a movie reboot. This was one of those odd mash ups, like Tail Spin and Duck Tales, that brought back familiar characters from the studio’s early animation heyday and put them in some adventure scenario reflective of other movie conventions. This one was essentially a kind of chipmunk Raiders of the Lost Ark, and now it’s back.
Wait though, before you move on you should know that (randomly) the people behind this are Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, the Lonely Island trio who were part of SNL from 2005 to 2013 before splitting off into the own projects, the most recent being last year’s brilliant sci-fi fantasy romcom Palm Springs. What they have done here is taken this small Disney property and with the huge power and copywriting capability of that parent company, made a satire on the state of modern American cinema populated with an incredible array of familiar animated characters. It’s not just a forest rat spin on Indiana Jones anymore.
Legacy sequels and reboots are clearly the main target here but there are smart plays on films that gender swap established cinematic stories and movies that bring players from previously disparate franchises together as well. They is a story of sorts but it is the in-jokes, Easter eggs and references to other movies and shows that it is really built around.
I guess it was The Lego Movie that started this trend most recently (the Lonely Planet team were involved there too, writing THAT song). This was then followed by Wreck It Ralph Breaks the Internet. It is Who Framed Roger Rabbit that is the real model for this film though. This is very not as charming or engaging as Zemeckis’ 1988 classic but it has the same set up with animated characters living among humans along with a similar crime conspiracy plot. This is more knowing though and also treads the line between adult and family humour with less dexterity. It’s not that Roger Rabbit was a simpler more innocent movie, some of the Jessica Rabbit stuff was more than a little suggestive, but in that film they had a clear focus on a wider audience. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers feels a little more interested in just entertaining the adults.
This is perhaps not a surprise from the Lonely Island guys who back in the day gave us comedy sketch songs with titles such as Dick in a Box, Motherlover, Jizz in My Pants and I Just Had Sex. They know how far it can go here; they have one of the furry leads turn up as member of The Chippendales at one point (see what they did there?) but they don’t actually show him performing. There is also a reference to a mouse and a fly hooking up (if you know Rescue Rangers, you’ll know who) that is okay as long as you don’t think about it too much. There are gentle nods to drug addiction and modern slavery in here too.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit had a solid plot as well, and as suggested this does not. It has the most generic gangster narrative and its players making some very odd choices for the sake of narrative convenience or a quick gag. It also has the duo meeting at school in 1982 despite, in the real world at least, them having been in cartoons together since 1943. The writers evidently don’t care about this stuff and they are clearly confident that we won’t either.
In the end it is the jokes that this film hangs on and most of them work. It is pretty irreverent in places; there is one classic Disney character in particular whose new arc will never land with fans of his film but they are clearly expecting audiences to be grown up about it. For some this insistence that we leave the things of our childhood behind is going to be a problem but for others there is fun to be had here.
Andy Samberg is Dale and John Mulaney is Chip and they both build on the strong voice work they have done in Hotel Transylvania and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse respectively. Mulaney in particular has the perfect tones for this kind of thing. J. K. Simmons and Eric Bana also lend their voices to proceedings. The only real human character is played by Kiki Layne who is fine but why, oh why won’t Hollywood give this woman the parts she is worthy of. She was astounding in If Beale Street Could Talk and since then they’ve put her in this, Coming 2 America and The Old Guard. I mean that’s a bigger statement on modern Hollywood than anything else in the film!
Some people have raved about this movie, mostly those who also went nuts for Teen Titans Go to the Movies as well, and then as now I am a little more reserved in my appreciation. There is definitely some sophistication missing here. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is certainly much more than it initially promised but with some attention on story and characterisation it could have been much more than that.