Thirty years after their popular television show ended, chipmunks Chip and Dale live very different lives. When a cast member from the original series mysteriously disappears, the pair must reunite to save their friend. (from IMDb)
If you grew up in the 1990's, there's a good chance you enjoyed watching Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers after school on any given weekday. The show was part of "The Disney Afternoon," which was a block of Disney animated shows that included DuckTales, Gummi Bears, TaleSpin and Darkwing Duck (among others). Rescue Rangers centered around Chip and Dale acting as crime fighting sleuths (with Chip dressed as Indiana Jones and Dale as Magnum P.I.), alongside their friends Monterey Jack, Gadget and Zipper (who were two mice and a fly, respectively). The series was a lot of fun, and it reintroduced the classic Disney chipmunks to a new generation.
Over thirty years later, Disney is reintroducing the Rescue Rangers to a whole new generation of Disney fans. I was just 8 years old when the show debuted, and I've since passed an appreciation for the original show to my young son - who's now 11 - and we decided to sit down together to watch the new Disney Plus feature film, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. With the two of us being fans of both the original classic Disney cartoons for Chip and Dale (especially when they would terrorize poor Donald Duck), as well as Rescue Rangers, we found it both exciting and surreal to see Disney make a tongue-in-cheek "meta" version of Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers. The entire film takes a page out of The Book of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (so to speak), and creates a new world where toons and humans coexist. (In fact, Roger Rabbit makes a quick cameo in this movie, cementing his existence in this crazy fantasy world). In Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, these titular chipmunks met in school and had become fast friends, who eventually entered Hollywood and caught a break with their own show - Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers. This movie's version of the show is a little heightened, being a little more popular than it was in reality, and having had more episodes than it really did (I think they mention over 120 episodes at one point. In actuality, it was a total of 65). In the film's story, Chip and Dale have a falling out, their show was cancelled and the two didn't really see each other for about thirty years before they reunite to help a friend in trouble. What unfolds is one big wild and nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a hard movie to process. If you have little to no history with the television series, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is just one long joke about pop culture and celebrity status. It's rife with jokes about technology in animation, reboots, and even convention life. The 80's and 90's pop culture references are pervasive and random, but always entertaining. And that's kind of the problem with Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers as a movie. You could replace Chip and Dale - and their friends - with brand new characters and the movie would still work. (Actually, the later Disney Afternoon show Bonkers would have been PERFECT for this idea. In that show, humans and toons lived in the same world and the cat Bonkers was a toon cop working with a human detective.) It's almost a 2022 version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (people living in a toon world featuring a lot of familiar characters) mixed with Galaxy Quest (actors from a show who end up living a real adventure as their characters in their reality) and Ready Player One (a movie about the virtual reality video game world that involves countless pop culture references) or even Space Jam: Legacy (humans in a cartoon world that involves almost all of Warner Bros' franchises). Watching a movie like Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers starts to become more about the cameos and pop culture references than the actual story. It's loads of fun, yes, but that doesn't make it a good movie. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? worked as a brand new and unique story that introduced lots of brand new characters in a human and toon world that united a lot of familiar faces. However, the story didn't rely on those cameos to make it all work; Rescue Rangers sadly does. That's not to say the story, although thin, doesn't work as an entertaining one; it definitely does. But it seems to also cheapen what made Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers so beloved as a show. The characters we grew up loving aren't even those characters in this movie. To make matters more frustrating, Chip and Dale have normal, rather vanilla, voices, provided by comedians Andy Samberg (as Dale) and John Mulaney (as Chip). They sound nothing even remotely like what we've come to know these characters to sound like (which is a joke in and of itself). It's also super distracting for much of the first quarter or so of the movie as we have to adjust to hearing Chip and Dale sound like normal guys. And then, other Rescue Rangers characters are turned into jokes of their own, like Monterey Jack (who is inexplicably voiced by Eric Bana instead of Jim Cummings who was clearly present for other iconic voice roles), Gadget (Tress MacNeille returns to voice her), and Zipper (who is voiced by 24's Dennis Haysbert). The story even marries off Gadget and Zipper together, who then have mouse-and-fly mutant children. It's so weird. The movie seems to go out of its way to poke fun at itself while trying to remind you that anything you loved about Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers is long gone and not what you're going to get here.
Again, this all isn't to say that Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn't any good; it's actually a lot of fun and my son and I found ourselves laughing out loud several times. A lot of the gags do rely on knowledge of pop culture from the 80's and 90's -- and even some today. One of the best gags is seeing "Ugly Sonic," the largely maligned awful first design for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, who now appears at comic conventions to try to make a living. Another highlight is seeing Seth Rogen's Bob the Warrior Viking come face-to-face with other characters Rogen has popularly voiced through the years. And CCM fans will be shocked to learn that singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman actually voices Baloo the bear, a character who is noted for being popular again thanks to the success of the live action Jungle Book movie. There are all kinds of crazy gags and references like these, and you're likely to find yourself focusing on the background of a given scene more than what's happening in the foreground.
The content of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is relatively tame, with language being just a use of "God-awful" and what sounded like a single use of "Oh G-d" from a random character (Chip also says "I'm in hell" as an iffy statement). An IMDb user reported a use of "d*mn it" in the movie, but I personally didn't notice that one. The violence is mostly slapstick, but the plot largely involves the act of toons being kidnapped, having their appearance changed and deformed, and then forced to star in rip-off "bootleg" movies. The deforming of known characters (like The Little Mermaid's Flounder) is part hilarious and part disturbing, but it reminded me also of Judge Doom wanting to kill toons in the chemical "Dip" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. They also treat Monty's love of cheese like a drug addiction, which was funny, but also kind of an iffy gag. A muppet leads the chipmunks to a lab for "stinky cheese," which seems to be synonymous with the strongest of illegal drugs. Otherwise, there's a scene where it looks like Chip and Dale have beers with Ellie (side note: Although mildly charming, I didn't think KiKi Layne's live action acting was very good), and there are other references to partying (with visible "red cups") and talk of getting "drinks." There isn't any sexual content, but Gadget and Zipper are revealed to have a lot of kids, and a passing joke is mentioned about how a police officer isn't able to "have kids" after being attacked by the the PAW Patrol. (And, of course, there's a Chippendales joke.)
I was definitely surprised that I enjoyed Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, but as a Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers story, it's a huge disappointment. It's not a great movie, and again, I think it would have worked better involving brand new characters, a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Galaxy Quest, but it's still very entertaining and a lot of fun. If you're not too attached to Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers and don't mind huge liberties taken with the series and its characters - and if you enjoy shameless nostalgia mining and fan service - then Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers is a great one to tune into streaming on Disney Plus. (But I'd still definitely love to see a more faithful movie for Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers some day.)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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