Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers wasn’t a TV show that I was really interested in. I don’t know why. I was at that age I guess where things change. I had liked Duck Tales and Muppet Babies but I was in what they call now my tweens when the show began. I may have caught some of the episodes but I wasn’t a devoted fan.
That being said, I went into this expecting some silly nostaglia movie. But it’s actually a clever live-action/animated movie that continues the legacy of the TV show while throwing in some subtle Hollywood satire. It’s basically an updated version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. We learn the titular chipmunks are actually childhood friends who met in the third grade in 1982 and went to Hollywood eventually landing their own TV show. But competition and jealousy between the two drove them apart in the early 1990s.
Now, Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) has put his Hollywood entertainment days behind him and sells insurance. Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) is still in acting and hanging on to his past glory days appearing at conventions with some other famous pop culture characters I don’t want to mention because it’ll spoil the jokes. Now, before you roll your eyes and groan. Yes, this is another movie that has a meta vibe to it. But it works.
Chip is still 2-D animation while Dale has had the CGI 3-D animation, making fun of how celebrities have plastic surgery. In a world where animated characters live with human beings, Chip and Dale are alerted to a problem with their friend and former co-star Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) who owes money to a crime boss named Sweet Pete (voiced by Will Arnett). Sweet Pete, who has a secret I won’t mention here, is kidnapping animated characters who owe him money and altering their appearances and making bootleg movies with them.
This references the fact that in Hollywood, animated studios will often produce similar-themed movies to cash in on the success of a more popular one. Remember when Disney itself released The Wild the year after DreamWorks released Madagascar? Or when Antz and A Bug’s Life came out around the same time? Or how The Lion King itself was accused of being a rip-off of the Kimba the White Lion Japanese anime cartoon?
This is also reference to lawsuits back in the late 1980s in which Disney sued to have mural of Disney cartoon characters removed from children daycare centers. And it’s not just related to cartoons either. Missing in Action has been considered a rip-off of the Rambo franchise. Maybe some younger audiences won’t understand this but the adults watching it when their kids and grandkids may get these jokes.
Monty is later kidnapped and Chip and Dale work with local law enforcement to find out what happened. And just like everything else, the Los Angeles Police Department consists of humans and toons. Det. Ellie Steckler (Kiki Layne) works the case under Capt. Putty (voiced by J.K. Simmons), a claymation character.
Chip and Dale end up being targeted by Sweet Pete and his henchman, Jimmy (voiced by Da’Vonne McDonald) and Bob, a stop-motion Viking dwarf (voiced by Seth Rogen). There’s a running joke about how Bob has the weird eyes expression that were in The Polar Express. There’s also several other jokes about other characters Rogen has voiced in his career.
Eventually, Chip and Dale call on their other former co-stars, Gadget Hackwrench, a mouse (voiced by Tress MacNeille) and Zipper, a housefly (voiced by Dennis Haysbert). Gadget and Zipper are now married and have kids.
While there are many references to other Disney and other pop culture characters, it works because the characters fit the jokes. Unlike the awful Space Jam: A New Legacy, which just threw in random characters from the Warner Brothers/New Line Cinema film library for no reason, there’s a reason behind seeing a character if for nothing else to get a quick joke in. And unlike Ready Player One, characters aren’t often saying the pop culture outloud so the audience will know. The Batman vs. E.T. movie is so absurdy ludricrous I liked it because there’s been so many reboots of Batman franchis in such a short time.
And the gag here is that they don’t want to refer to this movie as a reboot. It’s even in the tagline. It’s a comeback. And that’s true. The live-action/animated format has been touch and go since the early days when Gene Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse. Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks as well as the works of Ralph Bakshi mixed them well despite it’s obvious the live-action characters weren’t looking directly at the cartoon characters.
But after Roger Rabbit upped the ante, there were some awful movies including Cool World, which Bakshi did. I never cared for the first Space Jam but it was at least better than the sequel. And then, there was the disappointing Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which had its moments but didn’t exactly make a lot of money at the box office against its budget and had mixed reaction from critics.
What makes this movie work is the clever casting. Mulaney and Samberg do a great job. And it’s nice to see Bana, who started out in sketch comedy, do some lighter work, since he’s mostly done drama and action for the last 20 years. It’s a nice touch they got MacNeille to do Gadget rather than recasting her. It shows a level of respect for the much-talented voice actress. And Simmons adds his own gruff approach to the role of Putty who has a odd way of collecting fingerprints. And speaking of Simmons, there is also a very nice cameo by another actor from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I think everyone will agree is well done.
Like I said, it’s hard to review this movie without giving too much away. Sweet Pete, himself, has a history that is both satiric and sad in how Hollywood treats child actors. Even Disney has a bad history of child actors who go bad. But I can’t tell anymore.
It’s a shame this movie isn’t released in theaters but on Disney-Plus. Like Turning Red, I feel that Disney didn’t really have much faith in this for a theatrical release. But with all the pop culture references, you might want to go back and watch it again to see what you missed the first time.
What do you think? Please comment.