Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers review: A funny, self-aware spoof
Mark Harrison | On 28, May 2022
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Cast: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, KiKi Layne, Will Arnett, and Seth Rogen
“It’s not a reboot, it’s a comeback.” Whether it’s Ralph Breaks the Internet or Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there’s a real trend of Disney showcasing the “intellectual property” (or IP) it’s amassed, Smaug-like, in its coffers. On the one hand, this can occasionally look a bit like a presentation to stockholders and, on the other, you get 2022’s Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, one of the wilfully sillier meta-reboots of recent years.
In a world where cartoons and live-action characters co-exist, Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are childhood friends who become overnight successes in the late 1980s with their hit show, Rescue Rangers, but fall out when the show is cancelled. 30 years later, Chip sells insurance while a CG-augmented Dale dines out on nostalgia and keeps stoking rumours of a Rescue Rangers reboot. When one of their old co-stars goes missing, the erstwhile TV detectives must reconcile and help super-fan rookie cop Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne) solve a real-life(ish) mystery.
Writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand (How I Met Your Mother, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) take broad aim at the trend of mining beloved TV shows and movies for new content, while also rummaging through Disney’s toy box for comedic effect. Meanwhile, having shown such a great eye for the absurdity of celebrity culture in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, director Akiva Schaffer (alongside Samberg, another third of The Lonely Island) unleashes the same perspective on a part-animated Disney comedy. Although it’s inevitably IP-heavy, it’s also very funny.
As reboots go, it’s very much in the vein of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street and its sequel, affectionately mocking the state of the medium rather than a specific genre. There are also similarities to one of Disney’s funnier modern movies, Zootropolis, in the habitat-like neighbourhoods of California that host both animated chipmunks and their full-size live-action pets.
Mulaney and Samberg have a blank slate to play the characters as troubled former TV stars rather than furry gumshoes, while Eric Bana’s Monterey Jack and returning voice star Tress MacNeille’s Gadget are played more for nostalgia. Live-action Layne holds her own where Bob Hoskins and Michael Jordan have gone before, and other animated characters are memorably voiced by the likes of Will Arnett, JK Simmons and Keegan Michael Key.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? also looms largest on the film’s creative ledger, with a cameopalooza that not only incorporates the Fox characters that Disney acquired in 2019 but various shout-outs to Paramount and Warner Bros franchises too. Elsewhere, the film takes a funny shot at Robert Zemeckis’ other major contribution to the medium with a character played by Seth Rogen, a leftover from that era of mo-cap animation “when everything looked real, but nothing looked right”.
But Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’s crossovers and Easter eggs were quite matter-of-fact – it was Roger’s world and Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse et al were just living in it. By contrast, Chip ‘n Dale has its cake and eats it, commenting upon cameos like, say, a dancing Roger Rabbit, while also flexing its IP agreements in the background. It doesn’t stand alone like Zemeckis’ film, but rather riffs on it for the “I understood that reference” audience.
It’s also fair to say that the film quickly goes from lampooning knock-offs and reboots of beloved properties, with a deliciously demented plot about cartoon trafficking, to villainising those who infringe on the House of Mouse’s copyrighted characters. The real-world context of a corporation that warps copyright laws to suit itself is ripe for mockery, but Disney’s approval only makes it a fairly safe spoof in the end.
For what it is, though, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers doesn’t labour its point and revels in its approved mischief. The Jump Street comparison stands up not only because of its meta-gags, but also because the fanbase for this family-friendly movie will comprise a lot of suspiciously big kids. Happily, what it lacks in adventure, it more than makes up with in laughs.