The Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers film can be called a reboot, but I think it’s a continuation. It establishes a broader universe, where many animated characters (from the past 35 years) live alongside humans, and they’re mostly movie and television performers rather than real life versions of the cartoon persona.
This meta work knows there’ll be hard critics, and those who grew up watching the classic 90s series will wonder if this release means an all new beginning for the titular pair. To truly hate it is tough. The writing team of Dan Gregor and Doug Mand knew they’d be facing a lot of flak if it did not honour why these rodents are best friends.
The 90s update has a lighthearted appeal and the humour is perfect in what is basically The Odd Couple. We see Chip (John Mulaney in this updated version), Dale (Andy Samberg), Monty (Eric Bana), Gadget (Tress MacNeille reprising) and Zipper (Dennis Haysbert) in adventures to help animals. They live in a world populated by humans and they are mostly unaware of the fact their pets are just as smart as they are.
These toons aren’t as silly in real life, and in a story which steals from Who Made Roger Rabbit a lot more than I realised. It even pokes fun at this, which I appreciated. Akiva Schaffer even explained it in an interview for D23. We learn that the cartoon series of the 90s was just that, developed for the real Chip and Dale to star in, and they sound completely different from their 90s television personas for good reason, they’re actors and they have to change their voice when needed, to suit the role.
The “real” versions are still best friends, and the updated character designs are subtle enough that only die-hards will notice. Unusually, this film doesn’t explain the work the original Chip n’ Dale did back in 1943. But over the years, the two maintained a strong camaraderie.
However, after the broadcast of an unknown later episode of the 90s Rescue Rangers, a poor choice by Dale led to his friendship with Chip falling apart. I suspect he took a cue from “Double ‘O Chipmunk” and thought he could go somewhere with this solo act. Neither had the courage to talk about it and before the events of this film, the two simply stopped associating with each other.
Chip is more alone than ever and “quit” Disney to become an insurance sales agent. Dale, after getting a CGI surgical update, thinks he can relive those glory days without his comrade-in-arms. Those convention appearances pay him well enough. I think there’s also a commentary concerning entertainment convention culture here. The best joke is with Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson) to offer up more than just a cameo. There’s a lot to be read from this scene and it’s tough to decide if putting Dale here is saying something about what goes in with a lot of past talents touring these shows.
This film is disturbingly dark. It’s sometimes like Cool World and other times, well, I shudder to think about certain crossovers that should never happen. A few of these former cartoon heroes turned brash as they’ve not aged well. As adults, we can understand that, but for kids trying to watch, I can see most asking mommy to change the channel. Thankfully, we have the original series easily available on the streaming service to cleanse the pallet.
The “real life” Chip and Dale aren’t detectives and when Monty asks a favour from them and promptly disappears, what happens next requires them to solve a genuine mystery. They meet up with a human and an animated cop, Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne) and Putty (J. K. Simmons). The latter is actually Gumby in an ironic meta twist of the bootlegger plot. This idea is hilarious and shows the writing team hopes everyone can get in on the joke.
The more unusual moments involve the unintelligible Gadget and Zipper relationship. Cartoon logic rarely makes sense, and I feel this Shrek type nod (recalling Donkey and Dragon tying the knot) will whiz past many heads. This version of the Rescue Rangers isn’t spectacular. It’s simply gonzo. I wouldn’t call it nostalgic, but a grim look at cartoon reality. While the movie can get us to cheer the duo behind the Rescue Rangers on to mend fences, I can’t say I’d want to see more films set in this meta verse.
3 Stars out of 5