Streaming review: 'Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers' (2022)
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is the Disney+ streaming service's newest exclusive movie, directed by Akiva Schaffer and starring John Mulaney as the voice of Chip and Andy Samberg as Dale, the titular pair of cartoon chipmunks. The movie is mostly live action, but features cartoon characters interacting with this live action world. The movie's relationship with the Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers animated television show is a bit complicated. This movie is not a sequel or reboot, but instead takes as its premise that the characters of that show were actors playing parts in a world where cartoons and humans coexist.
The obvious point of comparison is the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, made even more obvious by the fact that Roger Rabbit himself makes a small cameo in this movie. If anything, a few people have interpreted this as taking place in the same world as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though I'd argue it's actually a bit more meta than that. Unless I'm getting this wrong, the Roger Rabbit that cameos here is another actor who played himself in a movie that is equally fictional in both our world and the world of this movie. Cartoon actors share their names with their characters, for whatever reason. But, the point is, the movie is very meta like that, and though it never explicitly acknowledges it's own fictionality, it's showbiz savvy characters are likely to treat their situation as if it were a movie.
Also like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a major appeal of the movie is nostalgia for its animated characters, both specifically for its titular duo, as well as a series of cameos and walk-ons from others. While this sort of thing can be fun, it can also come off as a cynical branding exercise. However, the movie manages to avoid the pitfalls of this sort of thing better than most.
Chip and Dale, according to this movie, met and became friends in grade school, bonding over their shared misfit status, rather than their shared species, as one would suspect. Discovering they worked well together as entertainers, they moved to Hollywood, eventually becoming the stars of their own show with Rescue Rangers. However, when Dale tries to start up his own show, it puts a rift between him and Chip, leading to the cancellation of Rescue Rangers. Three decades later, Chip is now an insurance salesman, and Dale makes his living selling autographs on the convention circuit. Note that the character's roles in Disney animated shorts before Rescue Rangers are never brought up, with the implication that they don't exist in this universe.
They're brought back together when fellow cast member of the show Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) calls them asking for help. He owes a lot of money due to a crippling cheese addiction to a notorious cartoon crime boss, Sweet Pete (voiced by Will Arnett). If he can't pay, he fears he'll be kidnapped and turned into a "bootleg" copy of himself and be forced to make cheap knockoff movies to be sold on the black market. The movie is actually really dark, though the tone stays light and the pace quick, so it never seems as dark as it is in the moment. Before the duo of chipmunks can even begin to help their friend, his fears prove correct, and he is kidnapped. The duo end up having to put aside their differences to come to the rescue of their friend. They're helped by human police officer Ellie (KiKi Layne) and claymation police captain Putty (voiced by J.K. Simmons), while Seth Rogen plays a motion capture dwarf henchman of Pete's.
The two remaining cast members of the show, Gadget and Zipper, are in the movie. They don't appear for most of the movie because, in universe, unlike Monty, they seem pretty content with their post fame lives, and just never got mixed up in any nefarious dealings, and out of universe, eventually being brought into the plot in the third act serves as a nice final pop for the fans. It is revealed that Zipper's mute status in the show was part of the act, and he's actually got the voice of Dennis Haysbert. Gadget fans will be pleased she retains her original voice actor, Tress MacNeille, and even her personality, admitting that she was essentially playing herself in the show.
Besides the meta commentary on the situation, a lot of humor derives from the sheer weirdness of the setting. Scale jokes abound, including the absurd image of Chip being absolutely dwarfed by his pet dog, or scenes set in a mouse sized hotel which is shot at a mouse eye level causing officer Ellie to loom like Godzilla in the background. The world, which features puppet characters in addition to animated, is full of nefarious types who use the fact that they look like a Muppet reject or cute child to their own advantage, both a plot point in universe, and pretty funny out of it.
Most of the animated characters are not actually cameos, but just people who happen to be animated characters. The movie is set in and around Hollywood, however, so when there are cameos, they do have an in universe explanation. For instance, there are a lot of cameos at the convention Dale is a low tier guest at, where it would make sense for a lot of "stars" to appear. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the cameos are not Disney IP, but seem to mostly come from NBC/Universal. In fact, most Disney characters appearing are either portrayed as outright villains, hapless victims, sad has-beens, or some combination thereof. Perhaps in order to get access to those characters, the trade off was the toned down use of Disney's own characters. Either way, while there are a few background appearances that are there just to be there, most of the characters featured were chosen for either specific plot points, world building or to make a joke work. It did not come off as just IP based marketing disguised as a movie to me.
The animation is good, but you can tell the supposed "traditionally" animated characters are also computer generated, but just made to look hand drawn. Honestly, Dale's "CGI upgrade" looks pretty good, and the joke behind it also works. J.K. Simmons' character, Captain Putty, is a visual stand out, with his stop motion inspired visuals.
I've seen a few other reviewers say this was good enough it should have gone ahead and gotten a theatrical release (unlike Turning Red, this was always planned as a streaming exclusive). I can't argue too much with that assessment, though it maybe would have been better in a less competitive month if it had. As it stands, if you have a Disney+ account, there's no reason not to watch this. I'm not sure it's worth getting the subscription for this alone, but if you can't find something you like on Disney+ as a furry, you need to relax your standards. Okay, this movie may not be as good as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but you also get Who Framed Roger Rabbit, anyway.