2022 | rated PG | starring Kiki Lane; voices of Andy Samberg, John Mullaney, Eric Bana, Will Arnett, J. K. Simmons, Tress McNielle, Seth Rogen, Dennis Haysbert | directed by Akiva Schaffer | 1 hr 37 mins |
In an age where Hollywood is riffling through all of their old properties to ill content on streaming services despite a lack of talent behind the scripting keyboards, everything is fair game. Predator, Orphan, Disney classics turned into live-action remakes from the villains point of view and now the Disney Afternoon. For those not in this age demo, The Disney Afternoon was a block of 4 animated shows that aired after school. They were shows that had stories and imagination and adventure long before kids programming was turned into light and sound shows. Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers could have been rebooted in the same way Disney recently rebooted the Ducktales series with David Tennet as Scrooge McDuck. However, in the hands of director Akiva Schaffer and Andy Samberg of The Lonely Island, Chip ‘N Dale becomes a witty, self-referential look at animated actors in modern Hollywood. That this movie at all recalls the Robert Zemeckis neo-classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a compliment in itself.
In 1993 childhood friends Chip (John Mullaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) went to Hollywood and got their big break in a TV show called “Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers” that cast Chip as the leader and Dale as the dummy solving mysteries with their friends Montery Jack (Eric Bana), Gadget (Tress McNielle) and Zipper. The duo had a falling out and the show was cancelled forcing Chip into a lifetime of insurance sales and Dale into riding the retro cartoon circuit signing autographs with other animated actors. One day Monterey Jack goes missing, forcing them to team up on the case with real police, the police Captain Puddy (J.K. Simmons) and a human officer and show fan Ellie (Kiki Lane), to find Jack before he is sent into the underground cartoon bootleg industry by a mysterious crime boss known as Sweet Pete.
While mixing live action and animation was a wonder in Roger Rabbit, in 2022 having actors working next to CGI creations is common. In the meta world of Rescue Rangers’ Hollywood, those animated characters are actors just as legitimate as Vin Diesel and Meryl Streep. Reboots of Alvin and the Chipmunks and Sonic the Hedgehog get cleverly name-checked here as competition for Chip and Dale, but also to comment on tropes in the animation industry with Chip lamenting the humiliation of making cartoon characters rap or the original Sonic the Hedgehog design that everyone hated being an actor actor who was fired for having scary teeth. This movie has CGI cartoons, hand-drawn animation, Muppets, a Gumby character, Disney jokes, Randy Marsh and The Simpsons all rolled into one. While the rights issues that put together Bugs Bunny and Mikey Mouse in Roger Rabbit will never be repeated, Disney just buying up every studio and property sure helps bring all these diverse creations into one universe. Chip ‘N Dale celebrates this and pokes it.
While Shaffer builds the movie visually and in the structure of any kid’s movie, the jokes are wittier – with a slight edge that doesn’t throw the tone off – the action more imaginative and it actually appears to care about this property. It homages the original show in a loving way that doesn’t feel like it is being cannibalized while expounding upon it. The film sets up stakes in a unique space satirizing contemporary animated movie trends. Take a look at Sonic the Hedgehog itself, even without Ugly Sonic. It’s a grab-bag of random pop culture references. Rescue Rangers has a specificity to the jokes that I loved. The mystery plot gets us deep into the world of animated Hollywood where on Main Street characters trade on their family friendly image to run back market operations and The Valley is an dumping ground of early 2000s uncanny valley Robert Zemeckis CGI that creeps people out. The film folds together hand-drawn animation and CGI, CGI being a plastic surgery-style upgrade that cartoons had to get to remain relevant. It’s a world where Baloo from Tail Spin got a new life as a CGI bear in the Jungle Book remake and now tours conventions crooning to Bare Necessities over and over. The mystery also works on a character level, with Dale using the reunion to convince Chip to reboot the Rescue Rangers series.
The world-building is extraordinary here. The movie is filled with great puns and movie poster gags (my personal favorite poking the Lego movie series). From reboots to bootlegs, Rescue Rangers takes a lot of pointed jabs and has a lot of fun in the process. Fans of the show shouldn’t be disappointed with this meta-stealth reboot and non-fans that have had to sit through a half-CGI kids movie in the last decade should find their patience rewarded. A surprise worth celebrating that is better than it had any right to be. Akiva Shaffer and Andy Samberg are coming to this project off their last movie: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, one of the biggest flops and one of the best comedies of it’s year. Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers excels at animated satire where Popstar excelled at music industry satire. They haven’t missed a beat and here’s hoping some day soon these clever, inventive and original movies will get the recognition they deserve.