The Rescue Rangers movie is pretty good

Photo: Disney+

There is a scene at the beginning of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers in which Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) walks down Hollywood Boulevard and stares at the ads for the latest creatively bankrupt industry deals he’s ditched to get a decent job in insurance. There’s one for what looks like one muppet babies–style spinoff the Fast & Furious Franchise featuring a bunch of toddlers sitting on the hood of a car (slogan: “babies take the wheel”). There is a gender specific version of Mrs Doubtfire with Meryl Streep in a bald cap (“stream now,” the poster promises). Then there’s the billboard for Batman vs ET, featuring the superhero and beloved Spielberg alien staring at each other with laser eyes. Behind them, a full moon carries the double silhouettes of Bat-Signal and Elliott on his flying bike. “This,” Chip reluctantly admits, “looks pretty good.”

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is aware that as a combination of live-action and animated sequel (of sorts) to the Disney show of the same name, it’s as much a product of the current IP hellscape as any of these parody titles. It just aims to be the unlikely pretty good. That it succeeds speaks to how low the bar is set and the strength of his creative team, which spans two-thirds of Lonely Island with Andy Samberg as the voice of Dale and Akiva Schaffer as director. (Jorma Taccone, who was about to do this MacGruber Series, swing by to address a few background characters.) Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers has more in common with Who tricked Roger Rabbit? than the series she shares a name with — to the point where Roger makes a cameo appearance. Like Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 film, it’s set in a reality where cartoon characters live among us and takes the form of a Hollywood mystery where animated stars of their heyday have vanished. And like the 1988 film, it’s not really a children’s film, replete with adult visual gags that require frequent use of the pause button and flaunt some disturbing ideas about toon mutilation.

What it really is is showbiz satire about media ownership and our nostalgia fixation, though it messes up its message before the tone gets too scathing. It’s still a Disney film, after all, even if it’s a perverse pleasure to play around with Disney’s vast catalog of characters. Chip and Dale are two of them created by animator Bill Justice in 1943, although it’s their reimagining as the stars of a Disney afternoon series from the late ’80s and early ’90s – not coincidentally, when most Gen-Xers were involved in that project were young – that really counts here. In the film, Chip and Dale are childhood friends who head to Hollywood together in search of fame and fortune. The original Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers makes them stars until Dale tries to go solo, their show gets canceled and an embittered Chip pulls off to live a normal life while Dale undergoes 3D surgery and rides his fading fame, signing autographs on fan conventions and waiting for a restart. Then her former mouse co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) becomes the latest disappearance, leading the chipmunks to reunite to find him with the help of a detective and fans named Ellie (KiKi Layne).

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, is full of fun business ideas. A villain’s lair is in the valley, as in Uncanny One, populated by the cats cats and a bunch of dead eyed motion capture characters The Polar Express and Beowulf (another, less flattering reference to Zemeckis). JK Simmons is a delight as Captain Putty, a Gumby-style police chief who can use his claymation for some impressive combat moves. Ugly Sonic – as in the version of Sonic the Hedgehog that was scrapped after fans rebelled against his unsettling human teeth – has a small but crucial role as another animation D-lister (even voiced by Tim Robinson). And the main villain, Sweet Pete (Will Arnett), is actually Peter Pan, who grew up and turned to a life of crime after, like many previous child stars, being deemed uncast as an unsweet adult. For all this cleverness, the story itself lacks bite and overall coherence, depicting a world where copyrighted corporate property is a prison, but being released to the public is even worse.

In that moment, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers perhaps the exhilarating feeling of comedians managing to do something subversive right under the nose of an iron-fisted media conglomerate, but that’s only because this iron-fisted media conglomerate has accustomed us so much to the level of control it has normally exercises. In the end, this is still a product of the house that built the mouse, although it’s weirder than the norm – just the company proving it can laugh at itself, provided the jokes aren’t too pointed. Nobody really gets away with anything.

See everything The Rescue Rangers movie is pretty good

Lindsay Lowe

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