Like most people, I was surprised that Disney hadn’t tried to reboot Who Framed Roger Rabbit? yet. Turns out, they’ve just been prepping its successor. The Lonely Island Boys like all of us probably grew up on Roger Rabbit and cartoons like Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers as kids. So now that they’re adept filmmakers themselves, it was probably a mini dream to get a chance to make a version of the thing they loved, but with more 2022 sensibilities.
The Rescue Rangers movie imagines a Roger Rabbit like world where cartoons and people live together. Dale (Andy Samberg) and Chip (John Mulaney) actually met in elementary school, grew up, and made their fun little 1990s sitcom for a few seasons. However, bad personal and creative decisions caused the two of them to fall out for decades. Chip elected to go straight into corporate America, but Dale still is hanging on, going to conventions to make ends meet with other hanger ons like Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson). Fate, however, brings the ranger boys back together in the form of their sitcom co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), who’s fallen on hard times and asked for advice from his old friends how to get out of debts to the mysterious Sweet Pete (Will Arnett) of the Valley Gang. Also interested in the Valley Gang is Ellie Steckler (Kiki Layne) and Capt. Putty (JK Simmons) from the LAPD, investigating a series of disappearances in the LA area that might be related.
By transforming a kids TV movie into was is basically an animated crime thriller, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, and Akiva Schaffer and the Lonely Island basically have a blank slate from which to craft their story. So most of their time is spent on building Chip ‘n Dale’s world. And that world is the gift that keeps on giving. Let’s start with the leads: Chip and Dale are two different animated styles, as a result of their fallout, a clever way to differentiate them. And like our chipmunks, the referenced characters used in this movie are not Moana. Or Cinderella. Or The Beast. No, we’re getting the supporting players and random throwaways/deep cuts from Disney history. There are incredible gags involving Flounder, Tigra, and to my howling laughter Ugly Sonic. You remember, when everyone flipped out about this! But it’s not just random character cameoing. The Los Angeles of this movie is a crazy place. Main Street apparently is where the seedy underbelley of puppet/animated society gets their business done; while little kids cackle with glee above, some maniacal puppet tortures animated characters under the street. There’s also a literal Uncanney Valley, filled with so many visual creepy treats they have to be seen to be believed. This movie’s secret “medical” facility is also inspired, replete with crazy devices that produce some sinister looking animations.
When you become an adult, years of experience give you an ironic detachment toward your surroundings. Those feelings pervade Chip ‘n Dale, acting as a double eged sword for the movie. On the one hand, that tone gives the movie a pretty acid tongue, openly mocking several aspects of Hollywood and Disney itself, while giving no effs about it. That potency keeps the audience consistently laughing, which is great, hoping that laughter will turn into genuine affection for either of the chipmunks. But that detachment is strong, and only a herculean effort by a great voice actor could draw people in emotionally. Andy Samberg could do it, but Dale isn’t written to be the emotional character, relying on John Mulaney to carry the emotional weight of Chip’s fallout with Dale, which he doesn’t have the chops for yet. That means everything we enjoy is fun, but ultimately a hollow passing exercise great in the moment but quickly forgotten.
But when you’re watching Polar Express’ed Seth Rogen insisting he’s staring at Chip ‘n Dale even though he’s looking straight ahead, who care ultimately? Rescue Rangers is a fun ass time, especially if like me, you happen to have seen any of the plethora of shows the creative team is referencing. Plus, props to you Ugly Sonic, overcoming those vile beginning to make something of yourself!