After an absence of more than thirty years, Chip ‘n Dale return to claim their piece of the nostalgia/reboot pie in a clever film that acknowledges how ridiculous remaking old IP has become.
Reboots of dormant intellectual properties is hardly a new phenomenon in Hollywood, particularly financially lucrative family friendly titles. Live action and animated hybrid films are less common, however, with Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) earning critical derision for shoe-horning in a variety of unrelated WB characters in a blatant cash grab.
Disney’s reboot/sequel of Chip ‘n Dale employs the same techniques for arguably the same purpose, though its delightful blend of winking acknowledgement and cynicism about tired reboots, combined with its obvious, genuine reverence for the original TV series, helps to make the whole enterprise go down much more smoothly.
The new film, written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand and directed by Akiva Schaffer, opens in 1982 when animated chipmunks Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) bond over a mutual desire to tell jokes and perform in high school. Fast forward to graduation as the pair head to Hollywood where they eventually land the real life Disney animated series that ran between 1989 and 1990. In the world of the film, the series was cancelled when impulsive Dale pursed a Bond-inspired solo ventured called Double-O Dale, leading to the cancellation of Rescue Rangers and the dissolution of their friendship.
In the present, Dale is now a struggling actor working the fan convention circuit with the likes of Lumiere from Beauty and The Beast and Ugly Sonic, the photorealistic animated character whose human-like teeth caused a minor scandal before the release of the 2020 film. This self-aware commentary not only situates the fictitious film within a real world context, but confirms Chip ‘n Dale willingness to (gently) mock its Mouse House overlords in a satisfying way. Multiple references to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, including Judge Doom’s ability to forge weapons out of his hands, wisely pays homage to this film’s groundbreaking predecessor.
While Dale battles obscurity, Chip has traded showbiz for suburban life, working in insurance and spending time with his dog. When former co-star Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), who is indebted to crime lord Sweet Pete (voiced by Will Arnell), goes missing as part of a slate of cartoon disappearances, Chip and Dale are forced to reunite and solve the case.
Along for the ride are original Chip ‘n Dale voice actors/characters Gadget (Tress MacNeille) and Zipper (Corey Burton), as well as Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons), a Gumby knock-off, and human Detective Ellie Whitfield (KiKi Layne), a self-proclaimed fan of the series who may not be entirely trustworthy.
The reason that Chip ‘n Dale works so effectively is threefold: 1) it has a shrewd, cynical point of view about not only filmmaking, but various animation styles; 2) it is a satire of Hollywood’s obsession with rebooting long dead properties that audiences have nostalgia for in order to make a quick buck; and, 3) it is a legitimately entertaining sequel to the original series.
Case in point: the character of Bob (Seth Rogen), a motion capture Viking Dwarf who acts as a henchman for Sweet Pete. Upon meeting Bob in the Uncanny Valley, Chip and Dale can’t help but joke about his “Polar Express eyes,” a reference to Robert Zemeckis’ animated film that was notorious for its dead-eyed characters. Jokes about Bob’s inability to see things continue inside a guided factory tour that reveals Sweet Pete’s legitimate business is melting down unsold children’s film toys to create hard plastic port-a-potties.
The nature of Sweet Pete’s illegitimate activities offers plenty of commentary about animated films, their sequels and knock-offs, and the disposability of characters and properties deemed “past-their-prime.” Throughout it all, Chip and Dale re-enact sequences from their original television run and repair their broken friendship in all of the conventional ways that audiences have come to expect from a family film.
The Bottom Line: Besides being a genuinely entertaining film, Chip ‘n Dale‘s deftly balances its status as a legitimate sequel, a self-referential meta commentary on reboots, and a cynical cash-grab. In one wink-to-the-audience exchange, Chip questions Dale: “Do you have any original ideas or are you just constantly recycling old scripts?” In the case of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. 4/5
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers is available on Disney+ on May 20