Synopsis – Thirty years after their popular television show ended, chipmunks Chip and Dale live very different lives. When a cast member from the original series mysteriously disappears, the pair must reunite to save their friend.
My Take – Belonging to a generation which devoured Disney‘s animated series like Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck, Aladdin, Talepin, and Goof Troop, I was quite vary when it was announced that one of the best of the lot, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, would be a getting a live-action-animation-hybrid feature treatment for the massively growing Disney+ catalogue.
Adding more worry to the fact was how relatively un-hyped the release was we got closer to the release date, seeming more and more like an offload.
But I guess all my concerns were quite misplaced, as in the hands of director Akiva Schaffer (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) of The Lonely Island group and How I Met Your Mother writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, this hilarious yet lazily written kids adventure has morphed into a surprisingly sharp meta buffet especially for anyone who grew up in the 90s and 2000s. An affair that is infinitely way better than it had any right to be.
Bolstered by the voice talents of some of the funniest people of our generation and a script that is mercilessly cheeky from start-to-finish, the resulting film is an unexpected delightful riot from start to finish.
Yes, the script goes through some familiar elements and is definitely inspired by the likes of films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), but considering the way the humor is handled throughout and the wild spin throwback of references the film contains, in almost every frame and irrespective of the studio the character belong to, the beloved after-school program’s feature return is just perfect in every form. Containing enough fan service for those who grew up with chipmunks and with enough references to modern Hollywood that all audiences will appreciate.
But nothing could amount to the genius inclusion of Ugly Sonic, the fan-loathed original design of Sonic the Hedgehog from the 2020 feature film, which was scrapped soon after the first trailer dropped. Sprinkled throughout with the clever jokes and attention to detail, the film is a great reminder of how much fun it can be to re-imagine childhood classics when it’s done right.
Set in a world where humans and cartoon characters co-exist, the story follows Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg), a pair of chipmunks who first met as children and went on to become celebrities after their landed their own series, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which became a huge success during the early 1990s. That is until, due to some underlying tension finally boiling up, the duo ended up splitting, which led to the series’ cancellation.
In the present day, Chip is living a lonely life as an insurance salesman, while Dale is still trying to stick out in Hollywood, has gotten a CGI surgery to turn into a fully 3D-rendered chipmunk, but is stuck doing mainly convention runs, still looking for opportunity as a micro-influencer. However, their paths cross once again when their former co-star, Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), goes missing immediately after calling them for help.
Forcing the estranged pals to reunite to track him down, with the help of avid fan-girl detective Ellie Whitfield (Kiki Layne), amidst pushers of stinky cheese, promoters of Muppet fights, and a gangland run by a fallen star who has been kidnapping toons, partly changing them, and shipping them out of country to force star them in bootleg features.
Simply told, this hybrid slice of live-action/animation silliness is perhaps the closest thing we’ll ever get to a follow up for 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and not just because Roger Rabbit himself pops up briefly.
What’s most surprising about a mostly rather surprising film is just how intricate the world-building is, as here, director Akiva Schaffer, and writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, put far more thought and effort into the specifics of every scene that most mainstream film-makers would put into their entire film. It’s stuffed to the edges with pop culture references, sight gags and sly jabs at Hollywood.
Sure, Disney’s gone meta before with films like Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) that jokingly acknowledged the studio’s existence as a cultural and economic juggernaut, and last year’s Free Guy and Space Jam: A New Legacy saw the two studios shove everything onto the screen, packing in often bizarre references to other films and series they own. But here, the film seems highly aware of this, lightly ribbing the state of entertainment currently.
Sure, the sentimental story is a bit thin, and there really aren’t many surprises plot-wise apart from the occasional identity reveal, like the question of who’s behind all the bootlegging, but the overarching insanity of everything else is wonderful. The idea of classic Disney characters like Flounder from The Little Mermaid (1989) being a washed up has-beens who dodge bill collectors has a certain charm to it.
Most of the plot just exists to get Chip and Dale to another fun place, introduce another surprising character, or make another clever joke about Hollywood. And that’s all fine, really. As one of the film’s best decisions is how it understands its story hinges on a silly premise and it gives the film the freedom to not take itself too seriously. Its wackiness retains wit, doing a fantastic job praising Disney’s contribution to the animation landscape over the past 30 years.
Simultaneously, it mocks Disney and its rivals, making a caricature of Hollywood’s obsession with nostalgia pandering. Visually too, the film is excellent. Superbly mixing up 2D, CGI and live action to create visually unique moments, especially when characters interact.
Performance wise, Andy Samberg and John Mulaney are vibrant and silly, and just the right voice duo to bring these chipmunks back to life. Mulaney lends his analytical, perturbed demeanor to Chip’s cerebral idea-man while Samberg gives his man-child all as Dale, the duo’s impulsive doofus. Will Arnett makes for an excellent antagonist, and is ably supported by Seth Rogen, who is one of the biggest highlights of the film, and Kiki Layne, the only human with any kind of screen pace.
In other roles, J.K. Simmons, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Tim Robinson, Tress MacNeille, Flula Borg, Dennis Haysbert, Da’Vone McDonald and Chris Parnell are equally good. On the whole, ‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers‘ is a fun animated pop-culture extravaganza that full of iconic character throwbacks, wacky humor and enough heart.
Directed – Akiva Schaffer
Starring – Andy Samberg, KiKi Layne, John Mulaney
Rated – PG
Run Time – 97 minutes
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