Disney’s new feature, hybrid live-action/animated Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers film from director Akiva Schaffer is the perfect example of everything that is great and terrible about the current era of reboots in Hollywood. In its frantic attempt to light up the warm, fuzzy nostalgic centers of your brain, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers forgets that calling back to the good old days really isn’t enough to make these new big-screen imaginations work. But what makes the film such a strange experience to sit through is how much of its sense of humor feels like Disney trying to fool itself in ways that don’t really work.
The live-action Chip ‘n Dale movie, set in a world where the late ’80s Rescue Rangers cartoon was one of the first TV appearances to feature Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg), pair of chipmunks first met as children and became celebrities. As the only two cartoon squirrels in their school full of bigger cartoon animals and human children, Chip and Dale become fast friends whose shared love of comedy eventually leads them to become a relatively successful performer pair. After the cancellation of Rescue Rangers, the squirrels’ paths split, and while Dale chooses to hold out in Hollywood, Chip eventually decides to become an insurance salesman.
After years of not speaking, the squirrels are reunited when news comes that one of their original Rescue Rangers castmates has disappeared – a disappearance possibly related to the “bootlegging” series terrorizing Hollywood. Disney has been meta before with movies like Ralph Breaks the Internet jokingly acknowledging the studio’s existence as a cultural and economic juggernaut. But Dan Gregor and Doug Mand’s Chip ‘n Dale script feels very much like a snapshot of this current moment when entertainment giants are encouraging audiences to see their entire IP catalogs as interconnected universes and movies as crossover opportunities.
There’s a certain charm to the idea of classic Disney characters like the Little Mermaid’s flounder. But each of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ self-mockery jokes has the unmistakable aftertaste of a mega-corporation trying to make jokes about itself that just don’t work because they come out of Disney characters’ mouths. By deluding himself, Chip ‘n Dale inadvertently illustrates how powerful a company like Disney is and how easily that power can lead to overly nostalgic grabs that play as ominous signs of metaverses to come.
Visually, Chip ‘n Dale is a mixed bag in several senses of the word. Unlike Dale, who chooses to undergo CGI “surgery” out of a desire to remain marketable, Chip — along with most of the film’s animated characters — remains 2D and cell-shaded. While the characters’ differing aesthetic styles generally work when presented as an ever-present look-alike about the dynamics of Chip and Dale’s world, their styles sometimes clash at visually complicated moments when characters interact, to the point that them the illusion needed to make the film make sense.
Like many reboots that try to appeal to generations of fans and newcomers alike, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers feels like a story not quite sure what it wants to be. While the core plot linking Chip and Dale to Detective Ellie Whitfield (Kiki Layne) feels like it’s meant to be a springboard for new fans, the film also tries to give enough time to the other original Rescue Rangers: Gadget (Tress MacNeille), Zipper (Dennis Haysbert) and Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). This would all be fine were it not for Chip ‘n Dale’s surprisingly long list of cameos and jabs on cartoons from outside Disney’s walled garden feel like unnecessary embellishments cluttering up what is otherwise a perfectly solid welcoming backside of the main characters. would have been .
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is coming to Disney Plus on May 20.