A common complaint these days is that reboots and revivals are caused by a dearth of original ideas. Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is proof that a film can be both nostalgic and innovative.
The movie, released on Disney+ on May 16, isn’t treading new ground by getting a little meta, portraying Chip and Dale in a human and toon blended universe as actors fallen from the limelight. Chip has carved a comfortable, if lonely existence selling insurance, while Dale works the convention circuit, hell bent on a career revival. The plot focuses on a rash of toon abductions that the police can’t seem to get a lead on — one that hits home when the pair’s old friend and co-star, Monty, goes missing.
Armed with little more than their experience on the set of Rescue Rangers, Chip and Dale are drawn into a web of Hollywood intrigue and illicit bootleg film making as they fight to save their friend, and in the process realize just how important their little show truly was to the world, and to their friendship.
Sounds fairly formulaic, right? In truth, it is, but it’s how those old formulae were used that makes this movie so special. The meta commentary, the open lack of nuance, and even the manner on which it stands upon the shoulders of giants like Roger Rabbit is creative and refreshing.
What makes this movie original is both its lack of originality, and the spirit in which it was made: with love, respect, and admiration in every delightfully irreverent moment.
Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers does more than riff on Roger Rabbit, it evolves the concept. Rescue Rangers achieves similar feats, and with more rebellious gusto. In this day and age, where giving any ground to a competitor is a mortal sin, Disney opened the forbidden door and ushered in beloved characters from innumerable other companies, like My Little Pony, Chung Li, Batman, and the breakout star of this movie, Sonic the Hedgehog.
Not just any version of Sonic, however. No, this is a character they have dubbed Ugly Sonic, the highly humanized version of the character that was created for the 2020 film. This version of Sonic was summarily removed when the trailers resulted in catastrophic backlash from fans, and redesigned to more closely match the version from the games. Cast as a washed up toon star, Ugly Sonic is a prime example of how going back to the well can be a fresh move. Featuring him prominently in the film takes a risk that pays off enormously. As meme-able as he is memorable, Ugly Sonic isn’t a Disney character, but a cornerstone of what makes this movie so appealing.
This brings us to the next point, and that’s the spirit of the film. Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers takes a lot of potshots at everyone, including Disney themselves. One prime example is the sleazy looking grown up version of Peter Pan we’ve seen in the trailers. It’s not just a joke at the expense of a beloved Disney property, but a bit of a commentary on the plight of child actors in the industry, with Disney being a lead producer of such child stars. Hell, they even mock the concept of a reboot itself right up to the final moments preceding the end credits, complete with surprise returns by old cast mates Gadget (Tress MacNeille) and Zipper.
They make fun of literally everything without fear or remorse – and they do so with a special kind of love and admiration. In mocking animation’s successes and failures, they illuminate just how far the art form has come. They make the classics stand out all the more for their beauty and simplicity. Roger Rabbit himself even makes an appearance in the movie, doing the eponymous dance. Claymation officers use their own body parts to take finger prints, and when Chip loses an ear in an accident, he replaces it simply by blowing into his own thumb.
Even in the act of turning Ugly Sonic’s human teeth into a joke, they’re calling out an issue that fans commented on, transforming it into something that must, in its own way, be appreciated.
This is all down to the involvement of The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg, who voices Dale, and Akiva Schaffer, who directs the movie. Two great comedic minds, who were children of the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Era – and perhaps even the Disney Afternoon – were given the chance to apply their talents to a slightly obscure part of Disney’s catalog, and turned it into a loving spoof. Animation, overused Hollywood tropes, even the constant recycling of nostalgia – look as hard as you want, there’s not a truly mean spirited thing about any of the jokes in this film.
Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers is a love letter to fans. Fans of animation, of Disney, of Chip and Dale, of literally anything. Fans will mock and deride the things they love because they love them. Humor is how they appreciate their flaws and imperfections, and even sometimes how they express their affection for the good things. Fans don’t take anything too seriously, and like the character of Detective Ellie Whitfield, Rescue Rangers superfan, can often be inspired by their beloved fandoms to do great things, like become a police officer.
Or, perhaps, a great comedian. Even a great filmmaker.
Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers is now streaming on Disney+, and if you’re eager to watch a movie about friendship, fandom, and faith, this is, unquestionably, the movie for you.
Because there’s still no case too big, no case too small. If you need help? Just call.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.