Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers premieres Friday, May 20 on Disney+.
An animated pop-culture extravaganza, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fast and funny roller coaster into a cyclone of cartoon characters, with clever gags, inventive action, and enough heart and depth to allow a story to eke through.
Directed by The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer, this particular Rescue Rangers outing is a meta affair, portraying the famous chipmunk BFFs as actors who once starred on the Rescue Rangers TV series decades earlier. Now, appropriately washed up in typical E! True Hollywood Story fashion (thanks to Dale’s solo career attempt), Chip and Dale must bury the past in order to rekindle their friendship and save the day for real.
This hybrid slice of live-action/animation silliness is perhaps the closest thing we’ll ever get to a follow up for 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and not just because Roger Rabbit himself pops up briefly. This is a world — a Los Angeles to be more specific — where humans and cartoons co-exist, and where any cartoon who breaks big in show business films their movies just like any other performer, except on an animated set. It’s not a stretch by any means to imagine this being what Roger Rabbit’s L.A. would be like 70 years later.
Oh, and let’s not forget this La La Land’s seedy underbelly, which is the other noir-ish element present here, helping with the Roger Rabbit vibes. Not everything in the world of cartoons is hand-drawn sunshine and computer-generated puppies. There are criminal activities afoot and when Chip and Dale’s old Rescue Rangers co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) goes missing, the estranged pals reunite to track him down amidst pushers of stinky cheese, promoters of Muppet fights, and a gangland run by bootleggers. No, not prohibited alcohol — bootleg animated movies featuring kidnapped performers changed to look like knockoffs for foreign markets.
John Mulaney and Andy Samberg voice Chip and Dale, respectively. Mulaney lends his analytical, perturbed demeanor to Chip’s cerebral idea-man while Samberg gives his man-child all as Dale, the duo’s impulsive doofus. Will Arnett is on hand as the villain (making this film feel like a Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands reunion of sort) while the rest of the voice cast features recognizable efforts from Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, and Tim Robinson. Original Rescue Rangers voice actor Tress MacNeille reprises her role as Gadget while KiKi Layne looms large, literally, over the proceedings as a rookie police detective helping our heroes crack the case. It’s a strong cast, capable of firing off the rapid jokes — as well as a nicely placed Seth Rogen bit (involving his history in animated voices).
It’s not the cast that warrants the majority of attention, though — it’s the sheer shock of intellectural property collision. Of course, this isn’t a new trick. In 1988, Roger Rabbit gave us Disney swirled up with Warner Bros., mixed in with King Features Syndicate, Fleischer Studios, and more, but studios were less likely to horde and more open to sharing back then, when animation as a whole was taking a bit of a hit. Now we’ve got things like Ready Player One and Space-Jam: A New Legacy giving audiences their fix of crossover battle royales to an extent we’d never dreamed of. And yet, still, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers surprises on that front. With any meta project, there will be a few strained attempts at humor, and this story isn’t fully free of that, but for the most part, the winking jokes and use of cartoon cameos are on point, filling the world with expansive ideas instead of one-off eye rolls.
The human story — or, chipmunk story, really — at the center of this madness involves two friends putting aside old differences and re-discovering the spark that made them buddies to begin with. This arc doesn’t resonate as strongly as it could have, as the world of crotchety claymation cops, Coca-Cola polar bear henchmen, fan conventions featuring the likes of Lumière and Tigra, and other gags take precedence, but it’s still sweet enough to balance the film out and temper the hijinks, and together Mulaney and Samberg deliver some very funny banter. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it is a much better, and far funnier, animated smorgasbord offering than some of its recent predecessors.