If you were a kid in the late '80s/early '90s, odds are you watched and loved the Disney Channel's Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers show. It focused on the well-known chipmunk characters, who run a detective agency to handle crimes conventional law enforcement won't tackle. I was in college when the series debuted, so it was completely off my radar. My first experience with it, then, was the new Disney+ movie, also called Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers. As much a meta take on the idea as a straight reboot, the film caught me completely off guard. It's quite funny, with a streak of sweetness running right through the middle.
Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are estranged as the story begins. The former continues to exist in traditional hand-drawn animation, whereas the latter has undergone “the CGI surgery.” This is the first of many clever ideas in the picture. When old pal Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) disappears, Dale tracks Chip down, begging him to help in the search. They quickly come to suspect that a local criminal named Sweet Pete (Will Arnett) is the culprit. He kidnaps retired 'toons, ships them to an overseas factory where they receive alterations, and forces them to appear in cheap knock-offs of the movie or show that made them famous. (One of his other victims: Nemo.) KiKi Layne plays a human cop helping the chipmunks, and J.K. Simmons provides the voice of Captain Putty, a claymation police chief.
The mission in Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers is admirably witty. You've seen those knockoffs of animated hits in the DVD bargain bin at Walmart. The covers look like authentic Disney covers, and the titles are similar, yet they're just a little off. Instead of Frozen, you get Frozen Land, or A Car's Life instead of Cars. Using them as the basis for a crime gives the movie a central mystery that's both original and rooted in something identifiable. The two furry detectives endure a lot of adventures as they investigate, including a couple close calls with the machine that warps toons. Underneath that is a touching subplot about how Chip and Dale re-connect through this ordeal, learning to appreciate each other more. Sure, it's predictable. It's nice anyway.
Above all, the factor that makes Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers work is its non-stop satire of the modern-day entertainment business. Animated characters from Disney franchises pop up for cameos, as do many from other studios. These are not empty, “Hey, look!” references, though. Instead, they serve to comment on Hollywood's obsession with rebooting beloved properties. (Yes, the movie knows it's doing the same thing.) As one example – given away in the trailer, so no spoilers here – Seth Rogen voices a motion capture Viking dwarf who helps Sweet Pete. At one point, he runs into Pumbaa from The Lion King, who was also voiced by Seth Rogen. The gag builds from there, poking fun at how certain actors have become “regulars” in animated fare.
The biggest laughs are often throwaway jokes. Watch the billboards in the background carefully, as they contain spot-on spoofs of Hollywood sequel-itis and non-sensical intellectual property mash-ups. One running bit is a fake movie that's at least as funny as the “Raccacoonie” joke in Everything Everywhere All At Once. It's impressive how much care has gone into crafting the dozens and dozens of referential moments that fill the 97-minute running time.
Samberg and Mulaney deserve credit, as well. They hit just the right notes, nailing the jokes while still making sure to give Chip and Dale personalities. Mulaney's dry wit bounces nicely off Samberg's boundless enthusiasm. Between their vocal work and the wall-to-wall gags, Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers proves to be a thoroughly entertaining family film and a smart commentary on the “more of the same” mentality that increasingly drives the movie/TV landscape.
out of four
Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers is rated PG for mild action and rude/suggestive humor. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.