CAST: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, KiKi Layne, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Flula Borg, Keegan-Michael Key, Tress MacNeille, Tim Robinson, J.K. Simmons, Chris Parnell, Corey Burton, Seth Rogen
RUNNING TIME: 97 mins
BASICALLY…: Former TV stars Chip (Mulaney) and Dale (Samberg) must reunite to rescue their kidnapped friend…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
If ever there was to be a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit – which has been rumoured for many years, but is unlikely to ever get off the ground for many, rights-related reasons – it probably would have looked a little something like Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Now, that is something nobody would have ever thought to say about a movie based on the popular late-80s Disney Afternoon show, starring those two pesky chipmunk characters Chip and Dale as day-saving detectives, but by going the route of Robert Zemeckis’ all-time classic blend of animation and live-action, director Akiva Schaffer (who forms one-third of comedy trio The Lonely Island, with Andy Samberg forming another third) comes alarmingly close to recapturing the madcap, cameo-filled energy of that movie. So much so, in fact, that the need for an actual Roger Rabbit sequel just became less necessary than it already was.
The premise frames Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (Samberg) as the 2D-animated former stars of their own show, the one we all know as Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which came to an abrupt end when Dale, eager to branch out on his own, leaves the show in favour of a pilot that ends up going nowhere. Thirty years later, Chip now works as an insurance salesman, while Dale – now fully CG, having gotten “surgery” to keep up appearances – is desperately clinging onto what little fame he has left, including appearances at fan conventions. Both are forced back together when their friend and former co-star, the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack (Erin Bana), is kidnapped by a criminal outlet known as the Valley Gang, run by mob boss Sweet Pete (Will Arnett) who’s a middle-aged version of Disney’s Peter Pan. Despite Chip’s reluctance to resume his and Dale’s detective work, the two of them must work as a pair once more to save Jack and other abducted cartoon characters from the dreaded fate known as “bootlegging”, which if you’ve ever seen an animated knock-off movie in your life, then you’ll know exactly what horrors lie in store.
Schaffer’s film, from a script by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, satirises a great many things in Disney’s current IP-obsessed ideology, from needless CGI reboots and remakes, to styles of animation that are either out-of-touch with the modern world or poorly rendered with creepy “Polar Express eyes”. In keeping with Lonely Island tradition, it is often very, very funny with a lot of the jokes landing on all the right spots, but there are also parts where, much like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you could logistically spot how this could easily become a horror film were it not for the cutesy Disney animation. The glimpses we get of the villain’s evil scheme, as well as the long-term implications that come with them, are nothing short of active cartoon body horror, which is of course treated in a much more humorous manner here, but it goes to show that the ideas in this movie are so inventive and wild that they can be interpreted in many other ways without sacrificing the insanity of the script’s creativeness.
It is also a visual treat for animation lovers, for the movie not only combines several styles including CGI, traditional 2D, stop-motion Claymation and puppetry, but also features background players who aren’t even a part of Disney’s catalogue: you can expect appearances, no matter how brief, from inhabitants of separate properties like DreamWorks, He-Man, South Park, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and in what is already proving to be the film’s breakout cameo (and for good reason), a nightmarish being known best as “Ugly Sonic”. Once you stop wondering how in the hell Disney managed to get the approval of all these companies to use the likeness of all these other characters, this would be a hell of a movie to do a full shot-by-shot breakdown of in the future, because this is one of those films that requires more than one viewing just to point out all the appearances by other cartoon characters in the foreground, background, on billboards and just about everywhere, because it’s guaranteed that nobody will be able to spot all of them in one viewing. It’s one of the many things that make this movie feel like a true spiritual successor to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the charm of which comes from seeing so many of these cartoon characters, and not just Disney ones, function in the same universe with real life humans, only here it’s on an even greater scale than Zemeckis could ever have imagined (though, it has to be said, nothing will ever top Roger Rabbit in terms of overall quality).
Regarding Chip and Dale themselves, as someone who definitely watched the actual Rescue Rangers show as a kid (but not religiously like a lot of other kids at the time), there’s a great deal to like about how they and their former co-stars are represented here. Both John Mulaney and Andy Samberg work great together here, even if it’s just through their voices, and while other characters like Gadget, Zipper and Monterey Jack don’t get nearly as much screen time, they have functions which will amuse nostalgic fans to no giddy end. The two leads, though, shine in their multiple scenes together, either opposite other cartoon characters or humans like KiKi Layne’s fangirl cop (the character is probably the film’s weak link, only because she’s not given as funny stuff to do as everyone else), and if nothing else it’s cool seeing these two wildly different animation styles (Dale is fully CGI, while Chip is more 2D-looking albeit with a slight CG render; the effect works nonetheless) acting opposite one another in a film where the writing is strong enough to support their solid friendship.
Once the easy comparisons to Who Framed Roger Rabbit are out of yours and other critics’ minds (what, no love for the Space Jam movies?), Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a hugely enjoyable watch, one that’s not only laugh-out-loud hilarious, but also wildly clever in how it uses animation and multiple IPs to lampoon reboot culture, while also being a pretty fun reboot in and of itself.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a very funny and enjoyable satire of Disney’s IP-obsessed ideology which owes a great deal to the legacy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, from the clever use of multiple cartoon characters that stretch beyond even Disney’s catalogue, to the amusingly dark villain plot which hilariously borders on body horror, and although it’s not as immediately iconic as that movie, it’s a worthy enough spiritual follow-up.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is now available to stream on Disney+.
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