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‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ Review: Disney Series Gets the ‘Roger Rabbit’ Treatment in Clever Reboot

Andy Samberg and John Mulaney voice the iconic crime-fighting chipmunks in Akiva Schaffer's self-reflexive, adult-skewing animated and live-action mash-up.

(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.

“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers”

Disney

First things first: if you’re wondering why Chip and Dale, the animated crime-fighting chipmunk stars of Disney’s popular ’80s and ’90s animated series “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” have such distinctly different looks in Akiva Schaffer’s cinematic reboot, it’s all part and parcel of the new film’s cleverly self-referential style. Taking a cue from the imaginative world of Roger Rabbit — Schaffer’s film is set in a Hollywood populated by both humans and “toons” — the zany new film leans hard on winking references and throwback jokes, a much more adult-skewing offering than the original series that inspired it.

Part of that bent? Chip (voiced by a well-cast John Mulaney) remains firmly in the hand-drawn animation camp, while flashy former best pal Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg, also excellent casting) has undergone “CGI surgery” to keep him, quite literally, hip and young. No, younger viewers might not get it, but fans of the original Disney series (a staple of the Disney Afternoon lineup in the early ’90s) will eat it up. The final result is a film a bit more clever than explicitly funny, but still a canny reminder that even in a remake-obsessed industry, fresh ideas and gentle jabs can still break through.

Despite the film’s title, Schaffer’s “Chip ‘n Dale” is not an exact remake of the series: Instead, it imagines a world where Chip and Dale are actually, just stay with us here, tiny animated chipmunk actors who simply portrayed said “rescue rangers” on their massively successful show. The duo met as youngsters in an Anytown, USA, where their status as, again, tiny animated chipmunks isn’t what made them such outcasts: It was their shared obsession with jokes, humor, and big-time performance. By the time the pair graduated high school, however, they’d ascended to popularity, beloved for their two-handed comedy and zippy tricks.

Of course, they took the act to Hollywood, where small roles (always together) soon beget bigger ones, and then, BOOM, their very own TV series. But even that success couldn’t temper Dale’s feeling that he’s somehow second banana to Chip, arguably the brains of their nutty operation. And so that’s why Dale went hunting for his own gig, eventually landing on a knockoff James Bond series starring just him and titled “Double O Dale.” Hollywood, of course, is fickle, and Dale’s big gambit only landed him in worse territory: He breaks Chip’s heart, ultimately ends “Rescue Rangers,” and never becomes a solo TV star.

Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) 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.

“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers”

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises,

Years later, the pain of that break still stings. Chip has burrowed deeper into his strait-laced, traditional outlook — yup, he’s still sporting a hand-drawn look, and now he’s an insurance salesman! — but Dale is still hoping for mega fame, spending his time fan conventions where he’s barely even a third-string talent. (Put it this way, he’s shilling autographs alongside other “stars” like, um, “Ugly Sonic.”) Talk about needing a reboot!

When Chip and Dale are unexpectedly reunited, care of former co-star Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) and a complicated, yet extremely smart plot involving toons being kidnapped, altered, and forced to star in terrible bootleg movies (again, this is really not for the kids), they must work together to save the day. And, yes, that involves basically becoming Rescue Rangers for real (as accompanied by KiKi Layne’s Ellie, a plucky cop and major “Rescue Rangers” fan) and undergoing the kind of wacky plots that punctuated their fictional TV series.

Along the way, the film happily skewers remake culture. During a particularly amusing sequence, a downtrodden Chip strolls Hollywood and is barraged by billboards for increasingly deranged new feature films (from “Mr. Doubtfire” starring Meryl Streep to “Batman vs. E.T.”). It also giddily nudges against the kind of out-of-ideas industry that has made it possible. Schaffer and his craftspeople ably wrangle a wide range of animation styles to craft the wider world, not just CGI and hand-drawn characters, but also Muppet-style puppets, Gumby-tinged claymation, even sock puppets.

Kiki Layne as "Ellie" in Disney's live-action CHIP 'N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle, SMPSP. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers”

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle, SMPSP

It makes for a creative, clever watch, though one that seems exclusively imagined to cater to the series’ older fans and otherwise mature audiences. This is, after all, a film in which the Uncanny Valley is literally a place, not necessarily the kind of thing that appeals to tykes. The “Roger Rabbit” comparisons might be obvious enough, but they are also apt, thanks to the film’s bent toward the kind of self-referential gags that require a few more years on Earth (and in the entertainment milieu) than the usual Disney animated series watcher might possess.

And that’s totally OK! Remake culture has gone absolutely haywire in recent years, and if “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” exists to make the case that there really is fresh life in old stories, that’s the exact kind of reminder Hollywood needs to hear ASAP. Just don’t expect the younger set to go nuts for it, at least not yet.

Grade: B

“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” will start streaming on Disney+ on Friday, May 20.

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