Despite being the perfect age and growing up at the right time to be part of the show’s target audience I never really watched ‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ the Disney children’s animated series about two chipmunk detectives and their friends.
Their friends consisted of Gadget: a small female mouse, Monterey Jack: a larger Australian mouse, and Zipper: a small though loyal housefly. For 3 seasons between the 80s & 90s, the group would get into all kinds of pint-sized adventures, often including other small animals. Despite not actually having watched the series, it doesn’t change the fact that the hook from the opening theme song has somehow been etched in my permanent memory forever and has been on repeat from time to time over the last 30 years.
Disney+’s ‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ is a 2022 animated and live action family adventure comedy film directed by Akiva Schaffer, and while based on the aforementioned children’s TV show it takes quite a different metafictional approach as far as film adaptations go. Taking more inspiration from 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit and set in a world where toons and humans coexist, the movie looks at Chip and Dale as if they were a performance duo who were themselves cast in the 80s/90s series. In this meta universe, despite their popularity, the series was cancelled after a falling out between the partners.
Thirty years on, Chip and Dale (here voiced by John Mulaney & Andy Samburg) must reunite to investigate the kidnapping of their former co-star Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), as well as the disappearance of many other animated characters and their involvement in a nefarious ‘bootleg animation trafficking network’. Their investigation takes them across their world of entertainment and again seemingly inspired by Roger Rabbit, they come in contact with multiple characters of various forms of animation. Live action, CGI, Claymation, even hand puppets, everything goes in this creative yet bizarre adaptation.
The parallels between this and other animation/live action hybrid films such as ‘Roger Rabbit’ or ‘Space Jam’ are undeniable. Meta, self-referential commentary on the entertainment industry and fourth wall breaking self-aware humour is right up front in this film. As unique as it seems, nothing that this movie does is especially groundbreaking. Just last year, the ‘Tom & Jerry‘ film blended live action and animation. Likewise 20 years ago the largely forgotten film with Robert Deniro, ‘The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle’ dealt with the ‘in-universe’ cancellation of an animated tv show and characters being brought out into the real world.
While some films are made with love for the source material, this one feels like it was birthed from a desire to create a cynical, although still safe, parody of the entertainment industry itself rather than anything that came about from a desire to make a ‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ movie.
Even with this reviewer’s limited experience of the show, I can tell that neither Chip nor Dale behave like their characters should. Chip, once a heroic leader of an adventure series for children is now a jaded insurance salesman. Although the characters were once portrayed in the standard sped up ‘Alvin & The Chipmunks’ style voice now they just sound bland with Mulaney & Samburg speaking in their regular voices.
The movie suffers because while there’s a repeated reliance on nostalgia to draw us in, yet at the same time, there is a rejection of that nostalgia. All the characters and adventures you may have known from the children’s series now don’t mean anything because they weren’t real. Even in the context of the ‘in universe’ story itself. Compounding the problem is that what they have been replaced with isn’t very interesting, exciting, nor heartfelt. The script itself admits how clichéd and formulaic it is.
Story and character criticisms out of the way, I must say that I did enjoy the clashing of so many varied animation styles. It was interesting seeing a Claymation character interacting with not only traditional 2D animation but also 3D and live action. These clashes in style also led to some amusing jabs at the ‘uncanny valley’ style of awkward early 2000s CGI animation. I found myself wishing that this had been an entirely original concept of the film, as it would have been much more successful at capturing the modern day ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘ glory that the filmmakers were clearly aiming for.
This movie did have some interesting ideas and I can’t deny that I found myself laughing quite a lot at the absurdity of its central premise. Unfortunately, I feel that it was the wrong approach to take with a modern-day reboot adaptation of a beloved classic children’s franchise. Far be it from me to accuse anyone of “ruining my childhood” when my childhood didn’t include Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, but I can’t see how this meta deconstruction of animated children’s entertainment was the correct decision.
And lastly, something I found bizarre was the filmmakers quite tasteless and disrespectful decision to use the tragic life and misfortune of former Disney actor Bobby Driscoll as inspiration behind this film’s greatest villain. Driscoll was a child actor through the 40s & 50s who faced extreme hardship when he aged out of the cute kid roles. What followed was a battle with drug abuse and an early death at 31. I don’t want to go too far into spoiler territory here, but the villain in the movie is Bobby Driscoll, or at least the character he provided the voice of and was most known for, corrupted in such a way that it’s impossible not to see a parallel between this character and Driscoll’s life.
For such a self-aware movie I find it hard to believe that nobody involved realised just how extremely tone deaf this decision was. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a villain in a Disney children’s movie be the parody of a child actor the Disney corporation arguably chewed up and spat out.
The paper thin plot and bland original characters serve only to string together one pop culture reference or cameo after another. Many of which will fall completely flat within a few years, if not already.