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‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ a surprisingly fun animated meta-adventure

May 23, 2022
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It’s no secret that I love it when things get meta.

I’m a huge fan of self-reference, particularly when that awareness is used as an entry point to satirize and/or deconstruct. I dig it in books, I dig it in TV shows, I dig it in movies.

Take the new movie “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” currently streaming on Disney+. Now, I was a touch older than the intended audience for the original TV show and its Disney Afternoon cohort, but I also had a younger sister, which gave me all the excuse I needed to watch. And watch I did.

So when I heard that we were going to get a movie – one directed by Akiva Schaffer and starring John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, no less – I was intrigued. Particularly when it became clear that this was intended as much for adult fans of the original as for today’s younger audiences, using the characters of the show as a jumping off point for a meta comedy about the rigors of fame and the entertainment-industrial complex.

Seriously – what’s not to like?

In this world, humans and cartoon characters exist alongside one another. You’ve got 2D and 3D and CGI and Muppets – the whole shebang. Two young chipmunks meet in elementary school, becoming friends and forming a comedic rapport. They grow up together and ultimately decide to head out to Los Angeles to break into entertainment.

And so it is that straight man Chip (John Mulaney) and goofball Dale (Andy Samberg) wind up with their own TV show. “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is a hit, with Chip and Dale coming together alongside their co-stars for a successful run. But after the third season, Dale decides that he’s going to strike out on his own, leaving the show to shoot a pilot for his own program, leading to a falling out between the longtime friends.

Thirty years later, things have changed. Dale has gotten the controversial CGI surgery to turn himself from 2D to 3D and is working the convention circuit, making ends meet by peddling merch to fans of the show alongside other former icons (including, among others, the legendary Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson), who was replaced after the internet hated his human teeth). Chip is now an insurance salesman – a good one – who lives along with his beloved dog.

But when their old friend Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) reaches out to each of them separately seeking help, they find themselves forced to deal with one another again. See, Monty’s gotten himself in too deep with some stinky cheese pushers – known as the Valley Gang – and is afraid of what will happen when he can’t pay. Specifically, he’s terrified of being bootlegged, where he’s imprisoned and altered just enough to duck copyrights and forced to perform in foreign ripoffs of classic films.

Chip and Dale find out soon after their meeting that Monty has in fact been taken. The police are investigating, with Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons) leading the way, but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do. Detective Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne) turns out to be a big fan of the show from back in the day and encourages Chip and Dale to investigate on their own.

And just like that, the two are thrust into a shadowy underworld of knockoff cartoons and cheese dealers, doing their best to find their friend before it is too late, only to discover just how deep the chipmunk hole goes (I won’t reveal who the mastermind behind it all is – spoilers, etc. – but I can tell you that the years have not been kind and he is voiced by Will Arnett).

“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is fun. Really fun. It’s a really entertaining exploration of the toxicity of nostalgic impulses and Hollywood’s eagerness to exploit any and all IP to the point of unrecognizability, all framed by a narrative where two animated chipmunks solve a mystery. It doesn’t go as hard as it might in the end – this IS Disney, after all – but it’s still surprisingly thoughtful in the manner in which it addresses the current entertainment landscape.

The obvious comparison, with its world of cartoons and humans coexisting, is “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The filmmakers display an awareness of that obviousness, even going so far as to bring old Roger in for a cameo at one point. Now, this film doesn’t quite reach that one’s level – no shame there – but gets a heck of a lot closer than any of us had any right to expect.

The jokes are constant and riddled with the sort of self-referential, self-awareness that you’d expect. And almost all of them work (at least for this adult viewer); there are some pretty keen satiric moments that land beautifully, along with some solid visual gags and one-liners. Again, this is all sanitized subversion, but it IS subversive in its way – certainly as subversive as you’re going to get under the watchful eye of Big Mouse.

The performances are a delight. Mulaney and Samberg have a wonderful rapport; it’s clear that screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand played to the strengths of their primary pairing. Their energy drives the proceedings. But the entire voice cast kills. Bana is great. Ditto Arnett. Simmons is an absolute hoot and Robinson shines in limited time. Seth Rogen is super fun as an uncanny valley-inhabiting dwarven guard (and the film takes advantage of his history of animated voice work). And Keegan Michael-Key is phenomenal as a shady Muppet cheesemonger. Oh, and Layne – who has the toughest gig of all as the sole primary player who is, you know, a person – handles her business wonderfully.

“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” strikes an interesting balance, condemning the nostalgic churn of the entertainment cycle even as it is a part of that churn. It is funny and unapologetically weird, evoking the spirit of the source material even as it veers off in wildly different directions. Today’s kids might not get it, but ‘90s kids certainly will.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 23 May 2022 11:14

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