By all rights, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers should not work half as well as it does. It’s a nostalgia grab that isn’t a big-screen blockbuster adaption of the property it is loosely based on. It is rated PG despite some incredibly dark jokes that are metaphors for incredibly adult things. And the humor is largely aimed at animation nerds and arrested adolescents rather than the kids the original Disney Afternoon shows were made for.
Naturally, I loved it, as an animation nerd and arrested adolescent.
Set in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit style world where cartoon characters live alongside flesh-and-blood humans, Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are introduced as childhood chums who broke into Hollywood together. They found success with the comedy/action series Rescue Rangers. Sadly, they grew apart after Dale sought success as a solo act.
Three decades later, Chip is a successful but lonely insurance agent and Dale is eeking out a living selling his autograph to fans at cartoon conventions. The two former friends are reunited after they answer a call from their old castmate Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), who has fallen off the cheese wagon and wound up in debt to a local gangster called Sweet Pete (Will Arnett). When Monterey Jack disappears, it will fall to Chip and Dale to do what the police led by Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons) can’t and “find the wheres and whys and whos,” like the detectives they once played, while bridging the gap that grew between them.
If this story sounds familiar, that’s hardly surprising. The story is so full of cliches that it’s a wonder the writing credits go to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend alumni Dan Gregor and Doug Mand rather than TVTropes.org. You have actors who played detectives trying to do the job for real, an earnest young cop/fangirl inspired by said fictional detectives (KiKi Layne) and two friends grown apart who must work past their differences to rediscover why they were friends in the first place.
Thankfully, Gregor and Mand lean into the predictable story to subvert expectations, and Lonely Island‘s Akiva Schaffer milks every last metatextual moment for its comedic potential. For instance, Chip decries classic cartoon characters rapping as the bottom of the barrel in modern movies while watching a commercial where those other animated chipmunks start busting rhymes. (Naturally he has to rap by the movie’s end to maintain his cover.)
The end result is probably the closest thing we could get to a modern day Mel Brooks picture, with a lot of sly commentary on Holywood culture and the animation industry. Dale gets CGI surgery to look young and hip, washed-up cartoon stars are trafficked into making low-budget mockbusters for the streaming market and there are countless cartoon character cameos and parody posters up to and including a clip from the non-existent (at this time) Batman Vs. ET. (My personal favorite was LEGO Miserables, which hopefully does not feature Russell Crowe singing.)
It’s unlikely you’ll see any movie quite like Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers ever again. The sheer amount of legal chicanery that had to have been executed to make this movie happen is mind-boggling. Watch it once for the cute story then watch it again with the pause button at the ready so you an catch all the little gags you’re sure to have missed the first time.
Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) is now streaming on Disney Plus.