Disney’s Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers movie reboot is an ambitious failure
“Who is this for?” is often a reductive question to ask about a movie. Not every film is for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine.
However, for movies based on existing IP, it’s an appropriate one to ask. Reboots, sequels, franchises, and adaptations have built-in audiences willing to spend money to see familiar characters. The more specific you get with the property in question, or the more you mess with the formula, the more prominent that question becomes.
Take Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, out this Friday on Disney +. While some millennials have lingering fondness for the three-season animated Disney Channel series, it’s been roughly 30 years since the show aired, with scant updates since the mid-90s.
The new Akiva Schaffer-directed movie is decidedly cynical, casting the adventuresome chipmunks as washed-up actors pulled back into the industry, plopped alongside a cavalcade of other animated characters old and new, Disney and non.
To give the film credit, writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand have the courage to go to unexpected places. This iteration of the chipmunks shows Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) living in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-style world where animated critters and humans live together. The movie frames the animated series as the chipmunks’ big Hollywood break, a creative product of their lifelong friendship, which dissipates after Dale attempts to go solo.
Years later, Dale is a has-been, signing photos at fan conventions alongside the likes of Darkwing Duck and Ugly Sonic (the original more “realistic” iteration of the 2020 movie character to which the internet took an instant, vocal disliking).
Dale had CGI surgery to help his career while Chip, now an insurance agent, remained 2D. When the Chipmunks’ former Rescue Rangers co-star Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) becomes the latest in a series of toon-nappings, the ex-pals reunite to solve the case.
Creatively, Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers makes the most of its considerable sandbox, playing with a variety of animation styles and new, more adult contexts for beloved characters. Roger Rabbit is clearly a major inspiration, and the script—and Schaffer’s direction—take advantage of the technological advances since that film.
The concept of CGI as a form of cosmetic surgery, for example, is brilliant, as is a side trip to a shady business located in the “Uncanny Valley,” a neighborhood populated entirely by discomfitingly off characters with “Polar Express eyes.”
As neat as these ideas are, however, it’s tough to pin down who would get the most out of this movie. It’s not kids, who have no connection to the original Rescue Rangers, and won’t have a frame of reference for the industry satire plot.
The self-aware storytelling doesn’t offer the quick nostalgia hit fans crave, and though a number of recognizable characters pop up, it’s in an unfamiliar context. Considering the movie’s use of visual mashups and memes, the best answer may be Twitter, but social media changes so quickly that even by now, the movie’s references feel dated.
It doesn’t help that the movie also introduces a number of animated characters not tied to any existing IP, a choice that ends up taking the air out of the movie’s climax. Disney’s own Wreck-it Ralph successfully combined original characters with classic video game figures, but that movie and its excellent sequel gave them all interiority that Rescue Rangers does not.
Rescue Rangers may be clever, but that’s all it is. A Wreck-it Ralph callback late in the film only emphasizes the gap, leaving you with the feeling that you’d rather be watching that movie instead.
Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is an interesting way to come at rebooting a long-dormant property, and that effort is worth noting. It makes an appreciable attempt to be savvy, and to call on a deep bench of knowledge.
Unfortunately, the movie’s so wrapped up in trying to be with the times that it lacks heart, and that’s a fatal flaw. Rescue Rangers wants to prove it’s for everyone, but in so doing, only proves it isn’t really for anyone at all.