Nobody wants a reboot is a recurring thought that comes up whenever popular childhood nostalgia is revitalized to reignite interest in older fans and introduce audiences of a new generation to the joys of the past. Of course, it is a trend that hasn’t been welcomed with open arms. But for Disney+’s Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, it’s not so much of a reboot as it is a fun, bizarre, self-deprecating comeback with a Lonely Island twist.
Leaning heavily into his Lonely Island roots and taking inspiration from the Who Framed Roger Rabbit framework, director Akiva Schaffer tries to balance between the animated meta-jokes and his comedic styles to self-referentiality stage a comeback for the titular chipmunk gumshoes. Although, it’s not entirely sure if it wants to be an homage to the classic Disney afternoon show of the past or proving ground for family-friendly Lonely Island material. Still, it’s surprising how much the film can get away with and still come out with a PG rating. And if you were wondering what a Disney afternoon revival would look like in the hands of SNL alums, then Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers would be it as it is unafraid to poke fun at itself and hilariously rip at studios for their more questionable decisions like the use of the dead eyes of the uncanny valley or reliance on sequels and reboots.
Set 30 years after the cancellation of the Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers show, the film finds its once inseparable titular characters living separate lives amongst cartoons and humans in modern-day Los Angeles. While a CGI-Dale (Andy Samberg) tries to live out his glory days working the nostalgia convention circuit, the traditionally hand-drawn Chip (John Mulaney) has succumbed to a life of suburban domesticity as an insurance salesman. But when they find out that Monterrey Jack (Eric Bana), a former castmate, has suddenly gone missing, they reconcile with their pasts to save a friend.
And the film explores the Chip ‘N Dale dynamic by giving the Rescue Rangers characters a cold opening to separate them from their animated shorts origins. Here, we see how a young Dale had trouble fitting into school and used a seemingly harmless prank to break the ice. But, of course, given Dale’s mischievous personality, the “pencil in my eye” trick doesn’t go quite as planned – much to the shock of kids, a unicorn vomiting a rainbow, and an animated cow teacher falling out the window.
Though rejected by most of his class, a young Chip encourages him to continue making these jokes, saying that the biggest risk is not taking any risk. It’s a familiar conceit where we see how the friendship evolves into something more akin to one realizing the other is like the older brother he never had. What’s more, the film never loses sight of the character’s personalities but doesn’t make them a laughingstock either. Chip is still the logical straight man who’s the brains of the operation, while Dale is more laid-back and accident-prone fun-loving goof. The only thing updated about the dynamic is that screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand gave it a contemporary spin with a few nostalgic touches that allows us to connect with the two critters.
So, of course, since Chip ‘N Dale is known for their friendship, the film spends most of its time redefining it through repair. And in true Hollywood fashion, we see how fame and success got the better of Dale, who grew tired of being the second banana in a two-chipmunk act. As such, he left the group to strike it out on his own, not knowing that Rescue Rangers‘ success hinged on Chip ‘N Dale being together. Before he knew it, Rescue Rangers was canceled, and his hope to be the lead in the Double-0 Dale show was scrapped shortly after the pilot. As a result, the group split at the height of its popularity, and Chip has resented Dale ever since.
Though the case of missing iconic cartoon characters is a means to help Chip and Dale rebuild their friendship, it doesn’t coalesce into an entertaining, family-friendly mystery. At times, the film doesn’t give audiences a reason to care about these missing characters who have fallen on hard times. And there is a larger mystery at play with Sweet Pete (Will Arnett), a middle-aged and overweight clone of Peter Pan, at the center of it all. Together with Bob (Seth Rogen), a motion-capture Viking dwarf, and Jimmy the Polar Bear (Da’Vone McDonald), they kidnap beloved but forgotten cartoon characters who are unable to pay their debts and smuggle them overseas to the black market industry, where they are doomed to be “bootlegged” and produce cheap knock-offs of animated hits.
To help solve the case, Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons), a no-nonsense claymation police detective, assigns Ellie Whitfield (KiKi Layne), a rookie detective and avid fangirl of the Rescue Rangers, to assist Chip and Dale. But Putty and Ellie are so far removed from the central story that you could take their material out, and it wouldn’t have an effect on the totality of the film. Still, Simmons and Layne work with what they got, and it’s okay.
The idea of satirizing the industry through classic insider tropes provides some hilarious moments and funny and unimaginable cameos, like the rejected Sonic the Hedgehog (Tim Robinson) with human teeth, who works as a reality TV star that goes on ridealongs with the FBI. It’s a clever examination of the history of animation and our attachment to nostalgia. And while the jokes are more than enough to make pop culture enthusiasts laugh, it’s unclear if they will land for the younger generation or those outside the industry loop.
And Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers has difficulty walking that fine line between being an homage to the title Disney Afternoon cartoon of the past and Lonely Island’s vision of a Who Framed Roger Rabbit sequel. Though the film tries to convince us that it is both, it doesn’t quite stick to the landing. There’s no doubt that fans of the mischievous duo will cheer over the nostalgic delight and laugh over how the comedic group modernizes the material through their self-deprecating humor. Unfortunately, the bizarre pacing made it hard to keep track of what was happening and ultimately took me out of the film. But when the jokes work, they bring a gut-wrenching laugh. And when the nostalgia hits, it hits so hard that birds will materialize and fly circles over your head. Though flawed, it’s a clever animated mysterious filled with enough nostalgia and self-deprecating humor to entertain you to the very end.