Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, 2022.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer.
Starring John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, KiKi Layne, Flula Borg, and Dennis Haysbert.
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.
The above might not be the full quote in Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, but the gist of it encapsulates that director Akiva Schaffer (most known as a member of the Lonely Island and having previously made the underappreciated masterful Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) feels the pain that anyone looking for something of quality might feel watching most modern-day cartoons centered on talking animals, regardless of animation style. It’s one moment of many where Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers feels properly positioned as skewering these grueling tropes.
There is also an argument that for all the surprising creative control Disney has given Akiva Schaffer, Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is still another reboot that indulges in the same practices, even as a spoof. However, the genuine cleverness separates it from saying something truly horrific to sit through, like one of the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks live-action/CGI hybrids (Chip ‘n’ Dale were always better anyway), playfulness, and laughs elicited. When these chipmunks are forced to start rapping to cause a distraction, knowing full well it’s just as embarrassing as Dale’s inability to draw a crowd at one of the various comic conventions he intends to interact with fans (more on that soon), it’s executed with self-pity and pitifully lazy rhyming that encapsulates the soul-drainings of the ordeal.
Following childhood friendship, breaking into Hollywood together, and sharing a successful animated series, in the present day, Chip ‘n’ Dale are estranged. Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg, also of the Lonely Island), feeling like nothing more than a second wheel that Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) didn’t necessarily need to rise to superstardom, chose to go solo for a 007 spoof that ended up canceled after the pilot episode. But the damage was done, and the best friends were separated (also from the rest of the show’s crew, Zipper and Gadget, voiced by Dennis Haysbert and Tress MacNeille, respectively). They now lead two entirely different lives, with Chip succumbing to the grind of 9-to-5 office job life and coming home to only a dog. At the same time, Dale has opted for CGI surgery in a desperate attempt to regain some of his former glory (another brutal, funny joke).
Dale also dreams of a Chip ‘n’ Dale reunion while sitting at convention desks, hoping for anyone to show up for an autograph. Such a setting also allows one to try out several classic Disney characters for deprecating humor, whether it’s The Jungle Book‘s Baloo as a jazz performer or Beauty and the Beast‘s Lumiere amusingly accidentally setting his earnings on fire. The cameos are also not limited to Disney properties, with Internet punching bag Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson) also working the convention scene. When it comes to surprises, I’m stopping there because there are undeniably crazy appearances here from cartoons I would never expect to be associated with Disney, let alone this movie. Again, it could also be argued and taken as a sign of Disney’s industry power, but at the very least, the script knows how to wring some laughs out of it.
Essentially, Akiva Schaffer is going for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit vibe and the hybrid universe. While the world might not be as expertly crafted as in that Robert Zemeckis classic (there is also a sense that aspects of this movie are one big “fuck you” to Robert Zemeckis on behalf of Disney, notoriously stingy for not wanting to see his beloved works remade and defiled, and to be honest, no one can blame him) or the tone nowhere near as edgy (it’s hard to believe that movie was rated PG, but something I will never complain about), he has a winning formula from blending animation styles (Chip remains 2D throughout, as do numerous other characters), not getting too subversive but rather acknowledging detective story tropes, and always readying the knife at modern-day and yesteryear animation blunders (get ready for some uncanny valley jokes).
The basic setup sees Chip ‘n’ Dale forced to work together on a missing person’s case of their mutual friend/former cast member Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana). While sniffing out cheese scents to decipher his location, they also work alongside a stop-motion bargain bin Gumbi-looking detective force by J.K. Simmons and a human detective named Ellie (KiKi Layne, who does a terrific job not only interacting with animated characters but adjusting her posture and body language for different sizes of buildings and characters surrounding her). The sleuthing takes them to someone called Sweet Pete (voiced with anger and bitterness by Will Arnett), who has his brilliantly unhinged reasons for capturing animated characters, morphing them into hideous versions of themselves for bootleg entertainment.
Chip ‘n’ Dale will either be consumed by the cynical Hollywood machine or emerge from the other side as one of the rare bright spot reboots. It’s also pleasant to report that Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers wears its influences on its pixels, has a bunch of zany ideas itself, gets weird with its cameos, and isn’t afraid to acknowledge and beat up on animation mistakes/reboot culture. Even for someone not in on the jokes, it’s hyperactive and runs on urgent energy with adorable friendship and its core.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com