18 May REVIEW – ‘Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers’ is easily the best Disney+ movie thus far
Way back in 1923, Walt Disney and his animation partner Ub Iwerks got their start by producing a series of silent Alice Comedies short films featuring a live-action child actress inside an animated world. In 1988, Touchstone Pictures flipped this concept by blending cartoon characters into the real world in the masterpiece that was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There are many who have longed for a Roger Rabbit sequel for the last 34 years. That blessed day may still come. For now, you’ve been granted the next best thing with a spiritual successor in the form of Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers.
A deliciously meta-aware blast with sharp self-referential Shrek-like humour and a truckload of cameos that will set the internet ablaze, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is easily the best Disney+ movie thus far. With the perfect casting of John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the lovable titular duo and a twist-filled crime narrative that plays into the classic detective tropes of the original animated series, this terrific reboot serves up everything you could ask for. It’s so spectacularly entertaining and genuinely hilarious, it’s likely to be the funniest film of the year. Yes, I’m serious. It’s that good.
In 1982, the painfully shy Dale (Samberg) meets the confident Chip (Mulaney) in the third grade and the pair instantly become the best of friends. After finishing their school years, the duo head for Hollywood with wide-eyed dreams of becoming actors. After playing bit roles around town, the pair strike it big when they create their own wildly popular detective series, Rescue Rangers. But success is fleeting and the show’s cancellation causes a rift between the two friends that still continues more than 30 years later.
It’s here we find Chip has succumbed to a life of monotonous suburban domesticity as an insurance salesman, while Dale has undergone “CGI surgery” to modernise his looks to work the fan convention circuit and desperately attempt to get a Rescue Rangers reboot off the ground. But something is amiss in the toon world with reports of cartoon characters disappearing at the hands of the unscrupulous Valley Gang, headed by the nefarious Sweet Pete (Will Arnett). When Chip and Dale’s former castmate Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) becomes the latest toon to vanish, Dale begs his former pal to help save Monty and hopefully repair their fractured friendship in the process.
Right off the bat, you can see screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand are twisting the origin tale of these classic Disney icons so they’re no longer siblings, but rather actors who played brothers on a television series in a world where various forms of cartoon characters (2D, CGI, claymation, to name just a few) seemingly live harmoniously with humans. Much like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the toons we know and love all exist in the real world and some of them become stars in the world of television and film.
In essence, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a film that harpoons the concept of reboots while still hitting all the beats of a reboot itself. Thankfully, the screenplay is clever enough to bypass the shameless cash grab this reimagining easily could have been. For fans of the original 1989 animated series, you’re served all the nostalgic feels with the use of the iconic theme song, references to old episodes, and the inclusion of original voice cast member Tress MacNeille as Gadget Hackwrench. We’re even given an occasional taste of Chip and Dale’s high-pitched chipmunk voices we knew from the show.
But where this film deviates from the animated series is its self-aware humour that takes a surprisingly intelligent satirical poker to practically every element of the film industry. From a look at the world of bootleg rip-offs (the title of a fake Winnie the Pooh production is still making me howl with laughter) and a series of uproarious billboards in the background advertising the most ridiculous remakes and sequels (I won’t spoil any, but what they do to Les Miserables is pure genius) to the unnerving early days of CGI animation where characters had those “Polar Express eyes” and the idea that fan conventions are the last stop for rejected animated figures of the past (one of which will have you absolutely screaming), it’s thrilling to see Disney still has a sense of humour about itself and the industry tropes it perpetuates.
And you won’t just find Disney characters populating the scenery. Somehow, a whole host of other studios have allowed their IP to be used here. I don’t know what director Akiva Schaffer had to do to receive such permission (particularly someone usually as guarded as Warner Bros.), but he’s seemingly been given free rein to parody and satirise any property he likes and utilise insane cameos from across the world of film and television. The result is deliriously fun, especially for diehard pop culture fans. It’s essentially our third “multiverse” film of the year. Quite frankly, it’s far more enjoyable than what Marvel Studios had to offer a few weeks ago.
With its crime caper narrative, this is essentially the first brand new Rescue Rangers episode in 32 years. If you were a Disney Afternoon kid, it’s kind of a dream come true. Does that mean this film is really aimed at a millennial crowd that will understand the throwback references and pop culture jokes? To be honest, yes. That’s not to suggest young viewers won’t still find giddy enjoyment from the slapstick humour and thrilling action sequences. They’re just not likely to understand why Mum and/or Dad are laughing at gags that will sail right over their little heads. In that way, it’s really the perfect family film.
While their typical adult humour is naturally nowhere to be seen, Mulaney and Samberg make for a terrific pairing as the titular roles. Samberg is the perfect choice for the juvenile, acts-before-he-thinks Dale, while Mulaney nails it as the mature, fun-less “straight man” Chip. It was that ying-yang quality that made these characters such a delightful duo in the animated series, and that’s still firmly on display here. Amidst all the madcap mayhem, there are some charming emotional beats that tap into the power of brotherhood and how neither of these characters is as strong alone as when they are together. Throw in great supporting work from Arnett as a middle-aged and overweight version of a classic Disney icon, J.K Simmons as a curmudgeonly police detective, and Tim Robinson in a role I dare not spoil and it’s a pretty solid voiceover ensemble.
Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers truly had no business being this damn witty, savvy, and genuinely funny. It will no doubt stand as one of the biggest surprise packages of the year. And maybe even one that deserved the theatrical treatment. Schaffer has pulled off the seemingly impossible. He’s paid homage to the past and still satirised the absolute hell out of it. It’s both familiar and fresh. And just so supremely enjoyable. This is how you do a reboot and still hold your head high. Nostalgia cinema can be great, but it’s even better when it seeks to offer more than just sentimentality.
Cast: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, KiKi Layne, Tress MacNeille, Tim Robinson
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Producers: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Screenplay: Dan Gregor, Doug Mand
Cinematography: Larry Fong
Production Design: Steve Saklad
Music: Brian Tyler
Editor: Brian Scott Olds
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: 20th May 2022 (Disney+)