In Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, the new re-imagining of the ’90s cartoon IP, the eponymous rangers are washed up celebrities, has-beens of an earlier time only faintly remembered by the few fans who wax nostalgic. Mostly, though, no one has any clue who they are. Chip (John Mulaney) has retired from the spotlight and has made a good go of it as an insurance salesman. Dale (Andy Samberg), meanwhile, still clamors for the high of fame at fan conventions at a booth in “Retro Alley.”
Like most characters in the film, I have only vague recollections of Chip ‘n Dale — if anything, I have more of a memory for Darkwing Duck than Rescue Rangers. In either case, I only really know Chip ‘n Dale as a reference. There is no nostalgia there.
Perhaps it is this lack of affection that allows this 2022 reboot, directed by Akiva Schaffer, to work for me, but only to a very specific extent. The film’s self-awareness is filtered through a restraint on reverence, which I appreciate. And the meta-humor more often functions as plot motivation than as hollow appeals to nostalgia. Very much appreciated.
This plot involves a kidnapping ring in which outdated cartoon characters mysteriously vanish, only to reappear as cheap bootleg versions in knockoff films. When former Rescue Ranger Monty (Eric Bana) fears becoming the next victim of this bootlegging scheme, he asks Chip and Dale for assistance. And the madcap adventure begins.
One could read Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers as itself a knockoff of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both are crime stories involving a mixture of live action and animation and which feature outside intellectual property as cameos and set dressing. But I think it would be disingenuous to call this new film a bootleg. It is clever in its own right (I think E.T. vs. Batman speaks for itself), and it is good for some lighthearted fun.
That said, there are a few things keeping Chip ‘n Dale from being nearly as effective as Roger Rabbit. While clever moves in the script (like making an area of town dedicated to early-2000s poorly rendered CGI creations) keep the proceedings lively, the plot is fairly rudimentary. The dialogue points out the cliches as they occur, but that doesn’t fix the problem of them on the story, which ultimately is burdened by the simplicity.
On a more minor note, it is somewhat difficult to become invested in the title characters when casting has given them such recognizable voices. When I hear the performances, I distinctly hear stand-up comic John Mulaney and former SNL cast member (current Corona spokesperson) Andy Samberg. It is difficult to see these characters as ’90s cartoon heroes when all I hear are the voices of notable comics.
Some of the pop culture references, too, are more eye-roll inducing than they are humorous. Without spoiling the reveals of such characters and background images, suffice it to say that the references are hit or miss. One social media reject character design, for example, is a recurring gag that feels of its time and which I never found effective.
On the whole, though, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a light bit of entertainment with enough clever moments to keep it afloat through a manageable runtime. In other words, it’s harmless fun.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)