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‘Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers’ Represents a TV Movie Turning Point

IndieWire has a meta chat with director Akiva Schaffer about the historic Outstanding TV Movie nominee, and what even makes a TV Movie now.

Chip Dale Disney+

“Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers”

Disney Enterprises, Inc.

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When director Akiva Schaffer first caught wind of “Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers” being nominated for the Outstanding TV Movie at the Emmys this year, he needed some clarification.

“I didn’t know that [nominations] were even being announced that morning. So when I got the first text I got from one of the writers, I wasn’t sure if it was like a bit, you know. Like a joke that I was missing, that I just wasn’t understanding,” the filmmaker told IndieWire over Zoom. “I basically had to go Google it to make sure.”

The confusion is understandable given how even Emmy voters are wondering what exactly qualifies as an Outstanding TV Movie in the age of streaming? According to this year’s Emmy rules, “A television movie is defined as an original program, which tells a story with a beginning, middle and end, and is broadcast/streamed in one part with a minimum running time of 75 minutes.” Under that definition, there is little that separates a film that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, like Netflix’s “The Gray Man,” from being grouped in the same Emmy category as Lifetime’s “The Bad Seed Returns” should both projects submit for it — a true representation of how blurry the lines between film and TV have become.

“Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers,” a meta action comedy that reunites the titular duo to solve a mystery, and shares DNA with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” in how it mixes live-action and various forms of animation, was shot and edited just like any other theatrical release, so when it came time for Disney to submit it for awards, Schaffer again had questions. “It never occurred to me what categories that would put it into Emmys versus Academy versus even Golden Globes, which still existed when we started,” recalled the director.

When he asked the studio “Why Emmys?” their response made him say, “Oh yeah, that makes sense on so many levels. We don’t qualify for the Academy Award section. And I don’t know where we’d fit since we’re a live-action movie that’s really an animated movie. So we wouldn’t have been able to be an animation [category],” Schaffer said. “So yeah, I was perfectly happy with the choice. And then extremely happy that we actually got the nomination.”

In fact, “Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers” has the distinction of being the first-ever animated film nominated in the Outstanding TV Movie category, but with how things are changing in terms of eligibility, Schaffer is sure the door is open for even more films from that specific medium to be acknowledged by the TV Academy in the future. “I’ll be very curious what the category looks like next year, because there’s gonna be so many straight-to-streaming movies. And definitely, if they all noticed, then there’s probably a bunch of things that could have been submitted, that maybe weren’t, that now will be,” said the Emmy-winning Lonely Island member.

Akiva Schaffer'Brigsby Bear' film panel, Comic-Con International, San Diego, USA - 20 Jul 2017

Akiva Schaffer at Comic-Con in 2017

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

Expanding the scale of his predictions for what’s to come in the world of made-for-TV movies, Schaffer presented a thought experiment. “Let’s say there’s 600 movies coming out. And 550 go straight to streaming, and 50 come out in theaters, then all of the sudden is the TV Movie category at the Emmys the most competitive movie category?” He added, “I don’t know, or does the Oscars have to go, ‘No, no, no, we’ll take those movies, too?’”

“It’s very arbitrary. It just always sheds light on [how] the whole thing is for fun and silly. And they have to figure out a way to categorize it,” said the filmmaker. “I know it’s difficult for all these places, it’s not easy. The moment they move something else over, somebody else is mad about it for a different reason. [But] it’s all for fun.”

While the film’s fellow nominees are much more standard continuations of shows that recently ended (plus a drama HBO acquired from the 2021 Toronto Film Festival), “Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers,” is an inventive reboot that fascinatingly gives Disney+ some edge with its myriad of hilarious, referential sight gags. One could say the movie, which went from a welcome surprise on its platform to an awards contender in under a month, is an innovative filmmaking achievement that represents how original Emmy-nominated TV Movies can be in this new streaming era.

If “Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers” does go the distance, Schaffer is likely to give many kudos to the project’s legal team. “If they do their billing hours and attribute them to each film, I bet you ours has hundreds of times the billing hours of any normal movie,” the director said. “I was really grateful that they seem to embrace the challenge of it, and get why it was important. And I would give all the speeches about how important it is for this not to look like an ad for Disney+, and how it needs to be this thing about all of animation. So we have to be able to get things like He-Man and Skeletor.”

Working for Disney+ is new to him, as it is with all creators at the burgeoning streaming service, but Schaffer said one highlight was the constraints the lawyers imposed ended up making them creative collaborators in a way. “There were certain people where after a certain ask, the lawyer is like, ‘We can’t ask that company for another thing.’ That was it. No more of them. So jokes and stuff would come out of necessity there,” said the filmmaker, who is also nominated this year for producing the Short Form series “I Think You Should Leave.”

“This would happen on things we did like ‘The Bash Brothers’ thing for Netflix, where the lawyers surprise you and go the opposite way you think they’re gonna go,” Schaffer said. “Where they’re like, ‘Yeah, but if you’re making fun of them, really make fun of them, so that we know it’s satire. Make it a little more fucked up. And you’re like, ‘OK, when the Disney lawyers tell you to make [something] more fucked up, then you know you’re doing great.”

“Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” is available on Disney+.

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