Amidst Disney’s own trend of live-action remakes of their most popular live action films, surely enough it took a while before they decided to go ahead and catch up with rebooting one of their own animated series. With director Akiva Schaffer taking the helm at bringing Disney’s beloved chipmunks to the screen to a completely new generation of viewers, what he brings out with Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers seems to be born out of a parody for how they’ve continuously seen their animated fare as of late – but even knowing that this is still under Disney’s own noses, they can’t fully reach the levels of lampooning that you know the material at hand would be opening themselves up to.
Starring John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the beloved chipmunk duo, this new Chip ‘n Dale film tells the story of what supposedly had happened in the years since the cancellation of their television show. The two had went on to go their separate ways after Dale gets his own show without Chip, and Dale also undertakes a surgery to turn himself from his cel-shaded animated self into a fully CG-rendered body, but are called back into action together when former castmate Monterey Jack disappears. What follows is an adventure through many familiar animated characters, across different styles going from hand-drawn to CG and motion capture, though even the mischief-causing chipmunk duo can’t quite carry much of that on their own.
It’s inevitable that comparisons to Who Framed Roger Rabbit would be made especially when coming to consider how the film brings the viewers into a world of many noted animated characters mixed together with a live-action setting, and while it may be similar in terms of the mystery setting, unfortunately, that’s about as far as the comparison really holds any weight in my eyes. For the most part, I was reminded mostly of Space Jam, which, much like said film’s sequel, seemed to be a showcase more of the numerous IPs that Warner Bros. owned at the expense of a story with enough heart to really resonate. And while Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers certainly is better made than Space Jam: A New Legacy, I also can’t help but feel like there’s not terribly much at play for Akiva Schaffer to really turn this into an effective meta-commentary on the state of the film industry’s treatment of animation as a medium – especially with Chip’s supposed “hand-drawn” look not really being that at all.
Most of the film’s meta-commentary seems to rely on tired gags and punchlines that wear out their welcomes very fast, because of how easy their targets are: coming from the concept of the Uncanny Valley reminding people of Cats or the revitalization of Ugly Sonic following the poorly received initial trailer for his own film (whose sequel only came out earlier this year). While some of this might have made room for some funny gags (there’s one pertaining to Seth Rogen’s previous voice roles that did make me laugh), it can’t be helped but the gags don’t really amount to anything meaningful other than a clear “hey, I recognize that.” Perhaps it would be unfair to go back to comparing the film to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it’s also true that said film may have set the highs so high, and no film that combined both the animated and live-action characters within a similar setting would be able to reach those heights ever again, without at least falling into the trapping of wanting to indulge in the cameos more than go anywhere substantial.
Even then, if it weren’t for the pairing of John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, I don’t think that the film would probably be near as watchable as it is, because of how well the two of them work with each other. As expected with Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer bringing what they can as part of the Lonely Island team, it’s always fun hearing Samberg’s voice shining through as the always energetic Dale with Mulaney playing the perfect contrast as the cynical Chip, remaining within an era that’s long gone. By that point, it’s where Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers starts to feel less like a nostalgia-filled reboot in the same sense that all of Disney’s past live-action remakes have felt, but ultimately, I’m not seeing much else of substance to be taken from there.
I think that with Disney at the helm, you can’t really make this film into a truly parodical one – and it’s also the biggest problem that I have with how the villain of this story is crafted. The film’s villain is none other than Sweet Pete, a supposedly grown up Peter Pan played by Will Arnett, and it’s hard to really see the film featuring said character in the villain role as a vilification of the actor who played Peter Pan in Disney’s own animated classic, Bobby Driscoll. Even if this wasn’t an intentional mistake on the part of the filmmakers, it still can’t be helped but felt that the parallels found are incredibly tasteless, given the tragic history of Driscoll following his tenure at Disney, but it’s even worse when you’re considering the supposed allegory that he serves: in which those who make mockbusters to cash in on famous Disney characters are a part of a scheme akin to human trafficking.
While it’s easy to give Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers the credit it deserves for being more than your average nostalgia reboot courtesy of Disney, its attempts at satire are ultimately brought down by none other than the studio that made this possible in the first place. Some really funny moments come about, but if this were supposedly a satire on the film industry’s treatment of animation as a medium (especially Disney’s own, for the matter), it can’t be helped but felt as if it’s just an incredibly toothless satire all around. For what it’s worth, you could probably find a better commentary of this sort through Netflix’s own BoJack Horseman series – because Who Framed Roger Rabbit this film certainly is not. You can give credit to Disney for attempting to be self-aware, but to that end, even they take themselves way too seriously.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Screenplay by Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, based on the Disney television series
Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Starring John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, KiKi Layne, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Flula Borg, Dennis Haysbert, Keegan-Michael Key, Tress MacNeille, Tim Robinson, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons
Running Time: 97 minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2022