Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)
Walt Disney/rated PG/96 minutes
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand
Produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman
Starring John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons and KiKi Layne
Cinematography by Larry Fong, Edited by Brian Scott Olds and Music by Brian Tyler
Debuting on Disney+ courtesy of Walt Disney on May 20
Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers remembers to be a movie first. Throughout its 96-minute runtime, it keeps its focus on the story it is telling, namely two old showbiz friends who fell out years earlier reluctantly reuniting to help a friend in mortal danger. It’s a well-acted, sharply written crime comedy about two actors who stumble upon a grisly human trafficking plot straight out of a more adult-skewing version of their show. It also just happens to be self-satirizing exploitation of the 1980s Disney Rescue Rangers show and the nostalgia it engenders among those old enough to remember. The highest compliment I can pay this Akiva Schaffer-directed comic adventure is that my son and I watched it on a screener this past weekend and, had it not conflicted with another obligation, I would have happily taken him to tomorrow night’s big-screen premiere entirely for pleasure. We’ll probably watch it again on Disney+ this Friday night.
As the marketing correctly details, this is a Chip n’ Dale movie set in a kind of skewed Who Framed Roger Rabbit? reality where toons are working professionals living side by side with humans. Yes, there is a boatload of in-jokes, Easter Eggs and related meta-commentary including some non-Disney characters whom I am shocked were allowed to take part. However, the disciplined screenplay remembers to make the in-jokes and viral gags mere seasoning rather than the main course. No, it’s not as breathtakingly good as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? nor is it as explicitly political as Zootopia, but Rescue Rangers still plays like an authentic approximation of a Shane Black movie, even if it doesn’t take place at Christmas. The abridged version of the plot: Dale and Chip are reunited after years apart after Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) is kidnapped by an organization that disfigures former cartoon stars and sends them overseas to star in bootleg knockoffs.
The movie doesn’t shy away from the darker implications of that respective plot, even if it never becomes remotely heavy or grim for the kid-sized viewers. While some of the cameos and sight gags deliver their expected laughs, much of the humor just comes from the genuinely compelling interaction between the former tv star turned insurance salesperson (Chip, played by John Mulaney) and the struggling actor making a scarce living capitalizing on his brief showbiz glory days (Dale, voiced by Andy Samberg). Their interactions are quite funny and always rooted in past-tense sorrow and feelings of betrayal, resentment and regret. Penned by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, the various jabs at animated fads (#TeamPolarExpress and #TeamBeowulf unto death), evolving trends (Dale has gotten “the CGI surgery”) and templates (the whole film is essentially “What if 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle were good?”) to add spice to a thoughtful and compelling buddy comedy.
The subplot involving a human police officer (Kiki Layne) is comparatively extraneous, especially considering how little we see from Gadget (Tress MacNeille, and yes, her entrance is going to please the those with adolescent crushes) and Zipper (voiced by… nope, that’s a fun surprise). But Layne (who was quite compelling in If Beale Street Could Talk and held her own alongside Charlize Theron in The Old Guard) is a good sport throughout even as she shares 99% of her screentime with cartoon characters (including her boss, a Gumby-like police officer voiced by J.K. Simmons). To top it off, the film, shot by Larry Fong of all people (that’s an incredibly positive “of all people”), looks appropriately big and to-scale with at least what we used to take for granted for a theatrical studio programmer. As the headline states, this shockingly enjoyable and smart action comedy damn well should have been a Disney theatrical release.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in that conversation, at least not right now, but Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is good enough and crowd-pleasing enough to have quite possibly been a solid commercial success had it been marketed as and released as such a thing. Yes, it was always intended for Disney+, but Toy Story 2 was once intended to go straight to VHS (as was Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, although that film’s minuscule box office probably doesn’t help my cause) and theaters right now are being starved for content. Moreover, as we’ve seen with The Batman and Free Guy, there is little reason thus far to presume that a strong theatrical run for a movie like this or, I don’t know, the Predator prequel Prey, won’t result in as good, if not outright better, streaming viewership numbers two or four months later when said film makes its Disney+ debut.
Existential battles for the future of filmed entertainment notwithstanding, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is a shockingly enjoyable action comedy that walks the line between affectionate satire and compelling genre flick. It is on par with the recent Duck Tales television reboot in terms of justifying itself as high-quality comic entertainment for fans and unaware or indifferent general audiences. It takes shocking liberties with established animated IP in a way that always qualifies as courageous in this fan-driven era, consistently putting its own needs ahead of the needs of the brands. My ten-year-old isn’t remotely a fan of the original Rescue Rangers toon, but he is very much a fan of this specific picture. It is, perhaps by default, one of the absolute best intended-for-streaming Disney+ original movies from the last three years and probably the funniest pure comedy of the year, animated and live-action. And yes, dammit, it shoulda played in IMAX this weekend.