While Disney has been busy rebooting almost all of its animated feature films, it's mostly ignored its famous characters who’ve existed in short films or TV shows. While standards like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck may be tricky to modernize, fringe characters like chipmunks Chip and Dale can be played with a bit more, as witnessed in the new Disney+ film Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.
Based on the short-lived-but-beloved-by-millenials TV series of the same name, the film takes off from the idea that Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) were actors living in a world where animated characters and humans live side by side. Thirty years after the series went off the air, Chip is now an insurance salesman, while Dale has gotten CGI surgery to update his look as he tries to hang on to his glory days at animation conventions.
When their old co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) is kidnapped by Mean Pete (Will Arnett), a villain known to be part of a bootleg movie operation, Chip and Dale reunite to investigate his disappearance. Along the way they gain the help of the police, including Chief Putty (J.K. Simmons) and Detective Ellie Whitfield (Kiki Layne), but learning the truth takes them down paths they couldn’t imagine.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and starring Samberg, the film features two-thirds of The Lonely Island and certainly has their wacky mindset. The references are a mile a minute in the film, making it nearly impossible to keep up. The first and most obvious is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the groundbreaking 1988 film that had live action and animated characters interacting with each other. This film has the advantage of 30 years of technological advancements, but it shares the same joyful feeling that comes with the collision of the two mediums.
Working from a script by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, the film not only pays homage to the original series and earlier incarnations of Chip and Dale, but it includes many characters that Disney doesn’t even own. Making appearances are everything from E.T. to He-Man to Voltron, but most memorable is a hilarious cameo by “Ugly Sonic,” aka the version of Sonic the Hedgehog with human teeth that appeared in the first film’s initial trailer that was soon changed after fan outcry.
How they got the rights to all the non-Disney characters is simply amazing, but the film is more than just its references. The filmmakers came up with all manner of clever touches, like Chip, Dale, and other small characters living in miniaturized buildings that exist right next to human-sized structures. Like the references, there are too many small details to properly account for, but each is a delight that adds up to the film being a visual wonderland.
Those who grew up loving the original cartoon will get that extra serotonin kick from the nostalgia the film brings, but it has much to offer anyone not as familiar. The visual gags are worth the price of admission alone, but also fantastic are jokes about the 1990s, diverse styles of animation, and actors with distinct voices playing characters in multiple different movies.
Speaking of distinct voices, both Mulaney, who has a dry delivery, and Samberg, who’s super enthusiastic, make for a classic, Odd Couple-style pairing. Their unique comic style opens up the film to a larger audience, as do Arnett, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, and others. Tress MacNeille, who voiced Chip and multiple other characters on the show, makes an appearance, so there’s still a nod to the original voices.
Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is a success on all fronts, giving older millennials a chance to revisit their childhood and everyone else a hugely entertaining movie with jokes coming from all directions. The style of the film may not have worked with other, better-known characters, but it’s the perfect fit for two adorable chipmunks.
Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers debuts on Disney+ on May 20.