Movie Review: ‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Cast: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, Kiki Layne

Plot: Chip and Dale, formally big stars in the 1980s, are forced to work together and confront their falling out to help out an old friend.

Review: Sometimes a movie will come out and be enthusiastically and positively received by everyone and you just have to ask: why? What is there to this film that got through to people? It could be the talent involved managed to hit the right beats, it may be the nostalgia tickling people, or perhaps some of the surprise cameos caught people off guard. Although Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers has been almost universally praised by audiences and received high scores from critics, we can’t see it as shallow, having more in common with Space Jam 2 and Family Guy than Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which it is often compared to.

This last point really perplexes me. This could be because Roger Rabbit briefly cameos in the movie, and they both blend live action and animation, but that’s really is the only connective tissue. It must have been a long time since anyone making this comparison saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, as the artistic intent and humour between these two films are on completely different levels. Yes, I know I’m an asshole for breaking down ‘artistic intent’ on Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers in a pompous review, but I’m trying to make sense of this. Roger subverted a dark and gritty film genre by setting it in a world with cartoon characters, Rescue Rangers is a cliched script about friendship that’s been done to death. Roger blended a mystery with a period piece with an industry commentary, Rescue Rangers uses memes and nostalgia instead of jokes.

Get it?

Initially I wasn’t sure who this movie was made for. The story and level of humour is for children, but the endless cameos and references to the 1980s are for the older set who grew up with it. What I should have realised that the target audience was obvious: content farms making videos of the ‘Easter Eggs You Missed!’ and the Member Berries from South Park. Speaking which, for all the references and cameos in this movie, they rarely do anything with them. Randy Marsh from South Park is in a scene…get it? Because you wouldn’t expect him to be in it! My Little Pony are in a scene, you recognise them! Dale just put on an outfit like MC Hammer…because 80s! To beat a dead horse, Roger Rabbit had a logical consistency of animated characters making up the background of their world. This one is just…everything. Animated characters, video game characters, live action movie characters, comic characters, Muppets, it doesn’t matter if it makes sense in the world of the movie. In it all goes.

Without wanting to sound precious about a childhood cartoon, I’m not convinced this had to be a Chip ‘n Dale movie. They change the characters so much from their original incarnations this could have been Gummi Bears or Tailspin. When you give the chipmunks deep, normal people voices they don’t feel like the same characters, and when you take away the rest of the team (aside from cameos) you don’t have the Rescue Rangers. I guess this is the one with the most nostalgia appeal apart from Ducktales, and that already as a reboot. A really, really good reboot that not enough people saw. It’s much better than this, because it has a story, characters and jokes rather than sticking recognisable characters in the background. Ok, Chip ‘n Dale has jokes, like the jokes about having a step tracker. How topical.

This next comment applies to this movie, but needs to be a blanket statement for Disney during this era: lamp-shading a cliche is not a joke. The characters comment that a movie like this would have a pop-star perform a cover of their original theme song when people would rather just hear the original – then they play a pop-star cover of the original theme. You don’t get credit for pointing out the unimaginative trope when you then lazily do it anyway. Doing this is rapidly becoming a tired cliche itself.

Time to concede that there are some aspects of this movie I did enjoy, although the basic premise and structure is weak. The city slum of Uncanny Valley characters is a very funny concept, although I really didn’t need to see the Cats again. Mulaney and Samberg both have fantastic comedic timing and bounce off each other really well. It never works as well when they’re talking to live-action performers, as they never feel like they’re in the same space. The fight between a cop and a man made out of putty was very cleverly done (although referencing movies from 30 years ago in children’s media always annoys me). The whole plot thread about cartoon characters being abducted and being forced to appear in knock-offs was also funny, even though they had to skirt around the idea of them being kidnapped after failing to pay their drug dealers.

This movie has been a crowd pleaser, but it isn’t going to have any lasting appeal. The meme humour and reliance on nostalgia will see it fade from the zeitgeist quite quickly, whilst Roger Rabbit remains a classic for putting character, story, themes of discrimination and ground-breaking film-making at the forefront. I will say that I was dumbfounded that they got the rights to use Dreamworks characters in a Disney movie, considering the history behind the companies. That’s as surprising as Bugs and Mickey appearing alongside each other in Roger Rabbit. I’d love to know the details of how that deal was made.

Rating: THREE out of TEN

P.S. This is my pettiest gripe, and I couldn’t fit it in anywhere else. They keep referencing old episodes of Rescue Rangers, but only one of them is a real episode. What’s with that?