As a critic—or even a simple, discerning moviegoer—it’s important to understand your own biases when examining a film. One needn’t agree with a message to appreciate its artistry and vice versa: a good message cannot be allowed to negate shoddy filmmaking no matter how badly you wish God to be undead.
I bring this up because Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers presents a quandary. Did I enjoy the animated feature starring my childhood chipmunk pals and brought to life by the Lonely Island guys, the comedic trio who rose to prominence in my twenties, because it resonated so strongly with my own personal priors? Or is it genuinely good filmmaking that just happens to align with so many of my ideals?
I ask because rarely have I felt so nakedly pandered to by a big Hollywood production. After all, Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a movie that not only activates numerous nostalgia centers in my member-berry-ravaged cerebral cortex, it also argues heavily in favor of corporate intellectual property rights (the political issue I care most about, aside from the whole “integrity of our elections and stability of our democracy” thing) and makes a mockery of labor activists (who are outraged by the film’s villain, about which more in a moment) all while starring a guy (John Mulaney) whom Eternal Outrage Twitter has been taking to the woodshed as a result of his inviting the most talented man in standup (Dave Chappelle) to open a show for him.
It’s hard to imagine a film more suited to my interests, is what I’m saying. So, caveat emptor and all that. But I quite enjoyed Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers—a movie that’s a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the modern set—and I imagine you might enjoy as well even if you aren’t quite as nakedly reactionary as your humble narrator.
Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers posits a universe in which animated characters of all stripes (traditional 2D, computer-animated 3D, Claymation, etc.) live around, interact with, and work for humans (again, the Roger Rabbit of it all). Chip (Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are the Chip and Dale from the cartoon show of the late-1980s and early-1990s, that Disney Channel standby that played in the afternoons around the same time as DuckTales and Darkwing Duck. Or rather, Chip and Dale are the chipmunk actors who starred in that show. We see as they meet, find success, and then grow alienated from one another.
Chip gets out of showbiz after their program is canceled, while Dale tries to make some money on the nostalgia circuit, working festival booths across from the likes of the ugly, rejected version of Sonic the Hedgehog (Tim Robinson), Lumiere (Jeff Bennett), and Paul Rudd (Paul Rudd). After their old buddy Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) goes missing, Chip and Dale have to put aside their differences to rescue him from the clutches of Sweet Pete (Will Arnett) and his gang.
The first thing one notices when watching Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers is the sheer density of reference points in the picture. This isn’t a movie content to wallow in Disney’s (sizable) IP cabinet; it’s one that borrows from every animation studio imaginable, grabbing almost willy-nilly as it goes. Just as a quick example: At one point, our heroes are running by a bench that features on it the face of one Butthead (as in, Beavis and) who, we see, is a senator running for re-election on an anti-bootlegging (movies, not booze) platform. It’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but worth noting just because of the amount of work that undoubtedly went into securing this appearance by the (Paramount-owned, I think?) character. It’s no wonder Bob Iger had to personally sign off on the script before it went into production.
However, the references are more than mere reminiscences; they’re integral to the plot. Sweet Pete is actually Peter Pan, all grown: paunchy, middle-aged, balding, and bitter about his ejection from the magical kingdom years ago by the House of Mouse. He’s decided to kidnap cartoons, alter them slightly, and produce bootleg knockoffs of classics like Aladdin to make a quick buck without clearing copyrights.
Others have noticed this, but it’s an extremely dark way to go about addressing the whole “labor versus management” question, given the real-life fate of Bobby Driscoll—the original voice of Peter Pan—who died following years of drug abuse, unloved and unknown, after the end of his usefulness to Disney. Questions of taste aside, the idea of the boy who doesn’t want to grow up wallowing in the muck of memory by turning beloved remembrances into playthings has more than a little resonance, given that Chip ’n Dale is sandwiched on the release calendar between Marvel movies and a few weeks before Ewan McGregor returns as Obi-Wan elsewhere on the Disney+ dial.
Speaking of: I am a bit surprised this movie went straight to streaming, given the absolute paucity of kiddie flicks in theaters right now. I don’t know that this would’ve been an enormous hit, but it would’ve gotten great word of mouth from parents who want a little more from the movies they’re forced to watch with their kids, and there hasn’t been a single kid-appropriate release in a month. If The Bad Guys can nudge up to $100 million domestically, I see no reason Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers couldn’t do the same.