Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers
2022, PG, 97 min. Directed by Akiva Schaffer. Voices by John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Tress MacNeille, Dennis Haysbert, Corey Burton. Starring Kiki Layne.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 20, 2022
Remember the Nineties, when Disney cornered the market on halfhearted straight-to-video animated sequels? Then how they moved on to CG-driven live-action remakes that generally proved how great the originals were? Well, 2022 seems to be the year of meta origin stories. Upcoming there's Lightyear, the Buzz Lightyear movie inside Toy Story for which the original Buzz Lightyear toy in Toy Story was merch (no, don't think about it for too long). But first, there's the straight-to-Disney+ Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, a truly baffling succession of entertainment industry in-jokes about life after fame, framed with a Roger Rabbit-style live-action/cartoon hybrid.
Robert Zemeckis' landmark lampoon of Hollywood and its cartoon stars was a technological gamechanger, with humans and animated characters interacting seamlessly. Now such pairings are de rigueur, so everything depends on the quality of the script … which is where Rescue Rangers gets weird. Throwing out the first 45 years of their animated history during which they were explicitly brothers, Rescue Rangers creates a new backstory for the chaos-causing chipmunks. Now they're school friends who became aspiring actors, then TV stars when they headlined the TV show Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers, a Tales of the Gold Monkey-esque action series that became a fan favorite of the Disney Channel in the late Eighties. Cue the inevitable falling out, with Dale (Samberg) splitting up the duo when he gets tired of standing in the shadow of Chip (Mulaney). All this is explained via narration from Dale, who has had CG surgery and is signing autographs on the convention circuit, while Chip is working in insurance. Of course they're forced back together when old co-star Monterey Jack (Bana) gets kidnapped and forced into making bootleg Disney knockoffs for overseas animation houses. Oh, and of course they have a token flesh-and-blood human friend, a cop and superfan (Layne) who occasionally helps out. Why is she involved? Because the rest of the team – Zipper (Haysbert) and Gadget Hackwrench (MacNeille) – are busy raising a family, a visual that can only cause a shudder among fans of the original animated series.
Who is this aimed at? Maybe the more important question is, who thinks they're aiming this at anybody? Rescue Rangers feels like a weed-and-martini-fueled proposal for one of those overly expensive Saturday Night Live film spoof skits that accidentally got sent to Disney as a real pitch – and then whoever it was that greenlighted the live-action Dumbo signed the checks before they were escorted from the building. If only Rescue Rangers had a fraction of the bizarre gumption of Tim Burton's tale of the flying elephant, in which he spent tens of millions of Disney's own dollars to make a movie castigating its current corporate strategy. Instead, former How I Met Your Mother writers room veterans Dan Gregor and Doug Mand make a weirdly safe piece of corporate propaganda, where the real villains are those studios tracing over originals from the House of Mouse. If anyone wanted a concrete metaphor for the difference between Bob Iger as head of Disney and the increasingly controversial tenure of new CEO Bob Chapek, the compare-and-contrast between the two films serves shockingly well.
Aside from the predictable can't-they-just-get-along banter between Sandberg and Mulaney, much of the comedy rests on awkward juxtapositions of a vast number of animated characters from wildly divergent franchises passing through shots. This is where Rescue Rangers falls down the same pit as Ready Player One: Just because you can shove a bunch of IPs together, should you? Especially when the motivation is a 90-minute joke about beloved TV series, with a lot of cheese-as-cocaine gags. Who is it for? People who still laugh at uncanny valley jokes. For those that don't, no reason to worry, because most of the references will be explained to you. But if your definition of entertaining is having Doc McStuffins and Voltron as background set dressing in the same scene, well, I bring glad tidings.
Available now on Disney+