CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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(L-R): Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) and Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) in Disney’s live-action CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

School’s almost out for the Summer! Who’s up for a trip? Or at least one through one of your favorite streaming services? Yes, the suitcase can remain in the back of the closet for a bit. But what’s the destination for this virtual excursion.? Well, for many of us, this new film is a nostalgic journey back in time, though it is set in the modern-day. A little over 30 years ago, before most kids’ cartoons were shuttled off to basic cable channels and eventually streaming apps, broadcast TV animation was in the midst of a creative (and ratings) explosion. Yes, Saturday mornings were still hanging on, but the place to be was the late afternoon, from around 3 PM (Central) to 5, as first-run syndicated television entertained kids just home from a hard day at school. And things got really interesting when the biggest of the studios, Disney, arrived on the scene in 1988 to build the “cartoon block” that would eventually be known as the “Disney Afternoon”, Following the smash “Duck Tales” another duo, who had debuted on the big screen in 1943, made the TV plunge with stories of adventure and friendship. And now this new feature tells us of the current exploits of CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS. And if you want to break out the post-school snacks, well go right ahead…

So it’s 2022, but we’re not in their TV show world. It’s the real world now, though animated actors co-exist with flesh-and-blood human beings. Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) takes us down memory lane, to his first grade-school exchange with future show-biz partner Chip (John Mulaney), through bit parts until they became huge stars in the early 1990s with their hit TV show. But it couldn’t last. When Dale gets an offer for his own action spy show, the two split. Chip is now a top seller at an insurance company that trudges home to his regular-sized dog in their suburban ranch-style home. Ah but Dale is still reaching for the “brass ring”, having gotten “CGI surgery”, so he looks more “3-D textured”, he goes on auditions, sets up at “autograph shows” and even joins the Chippendale dancers for “side gigs”, Then a desperate call from their former co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) brings them back together. Turns out MJ is hooked on the “hard stuff”, really “stinky” cheese, and he’s in over his head. When henchmen from “Sweet Pete” grab him, Chip ‘N Dale joins the police to find their ole pal. The ‘toon in charge, Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons) offers little hope (seems a lot of “second-string’ cartoons have vanished), but an eager new policewoman, Ellie (played by human KiKi Lyne) wants to help the boys. Can she really protect Chip ‘N Dale when their search for clues sends them to the seedier sidestreets of the animated underground of “Tinsel-town”, or could the re-united Rescue Rangers get “erased”?

Well, as you may have surmised so far, the highest recommendation I can give to animation fans is that this is the closest we’ll probably (never say never) come to the WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT sequel we’ve been clamoring for over the last five decades. The story seems to be set in that same universe (maybe a cameo), but things have changed as the ‘toons are no longer “second class citizens” regulated to living in “Toon Town” when not working at the movie studio or in nightclubs. In the opening scenes, we see them with the human students, though with chairs that match their “scale” (love that Chip lives in a shoe-box-sized “ranch house in between two regular-sized suburban homes, while MJ’s condo complex is about five feet tall). Oh, and it’s not just classic (2D)characters along with CGI critters. As you might guess Captain Putty is a clay stop-motion creation (many think of the Raisins or Wallace & Gromit, while I think his roots are in Gumby), plus there are “superhero” style folks, video game avatars, and even some puppets. It’s a wondrous world you’ll be sad to leave thanks in part to the great voice actors enlisted to inhabit these roles. Mulaney conveys just the right amount of wiseguy snark as Chip that plays well against the eager but dimwitted Dale perfectly voiced by Samberg. A special mention should be made of the bad guys, namely a CGI polar bear rockin’ a holiday sweater vest (hmm) and Seth Rogen who’s a hoot as a badly rendered motion-capture Viking dwarf from a twenty-year-old or so video game (“Yes, I’m looking right at you!”). He’s perhaps the best “insider joke” in a setting full of intentionally “off” computer creations (complete with a nod to a holiday classic). Oh, and like WFRR you’ll want to hover over the pause button to catch all the wonderful cameos and the “knock-offs”. Ah, that’s another great joke as the story explains the cheapo “rip-offs” (called “bootlegs here) that populated the bargain bins at “dollar only” shops (“The Un-aging Pixie-Boy”, etc.).

Now, it’s high time that I lavish some praise on the very clever screenwriting team of Dan Gregor and Doug Hand for somehow delivering a warm nostalgic homage to a beloved show and its fans that’s also a skewering of Hollywood story cliches and the animation industry itself. Like much of the best cartoons, adults may be laughing harder and longer at the satiric barbs than the kids who may only want to see the cute critters. Of course, all this wit wouldn’t work without the top-notch direction of Akiva Schaffer (one of Sandberg’s “Lonely Island” pals), who keeps the story rolling on while knowing went to slow things a tad for the two leads to mend their tattered friendship. And it truly soars thanks to the army of craftspeople who make us believe in this modern fable, from the puppeteers who allow the ‘toons to move real items to those who build the sets to many different scales, to those animators at the computer and those at the “desk/lightbox” who “sweated” every detail (the airbrush-style shadows of WFRR aren’t here, but they even recreate the scratchy early 60s “copy-machine” outline for some of the extras). Though I wasn’t a fan of the original series (I dug the later shows, “The Shnookums & Meat Funny Cartoon Show” and Disney’s only action/adventure offering, “Gargoyles”), I found this “comeback” (as the poster says, “Not a reboot”) surprisingly entertaining and even a tad touching. If you’re in need of someone to save you from the family flick doldrums, then call on (or download) CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS. Sorry (um, not sorry) Alvin, Simon, and Theodore!

3.5 out of 4

CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS streams exclusively on Disney+ beginning on Friday, May 20, 2022

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.