When Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers was named as Disney’s next reboot for streaming, the decision simply made sense.
After all, Disney+ has provided the House of Mouse with an entirely new way to bring their content to the next generation with very little risk. From DuckTales to Darkwing Duck, their investment in bringing back popular franchises for the kids of the modern era have been fairly successful thus far. (I’m still waiting for the return of The Adventures of the Gummi Bears but I digress…)
But things began to take a turn for the strange when it was announced that the franchise would be passed to director Akiva Schaffer, who intended on taking a more meta-approach to the material. Usually, that’s often a bad sign. After all, every reboot (especially a beloved one like Rescue Rangers) comes with certain expectations in tone, humour and style. When you mess with the formula entirely, it can alienate the audience. (See Ferrell and Kidman’s Bewitched)
Amazingly though, Schaffer has come through.
In Disney+’s Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, Chip and Dale have seen better days. After the cancellation of their fame animated series over 30 years ago, the characters have both moved on. With Chip (John Mulaney) now living in obscurity as an insurance salesman, Dale (Andy Samberg) spends his days attending fan conventions with the hope of garnering enough interest to resurrect their franchise. However, when one of their beloved former co-stars is kidnapped, the two estranged rangers reluctantly come together to solve a real crime in the face of overwhelming odds.
Using his signature sarcasm, Schaffer infuses Rescue Rangers with a winking eye and sardonic edge that still feels like a love letter to the property. By blending multiple animation styles ranging from claymation to puppeteering but still grounding the project in the human world, the film feels very much like a spiritual sequel to Disney’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. (In fact, any comparisons to the classic 80s animated classic are absolutely deliberate as Schaffer includes numerous references to it.) Sharply written and executed, Rescue Rangers is absolutely eye-candy across the (story)board that features a never-ending stream of pop culture references that should make the film enjoyable on rewatch. (The billboards and advertising that adorn the film’s streets are worth the watch alone.)
And no franchise is sacred.
Somewhat surprisingly, Rescue Rangers is more than willing to break out of the Disney canon and satirize other studio properties as well. (Again, another key ingredient for Roger Rabbit.) Whether it’s poorly rebooted animation like ‘Ugly Sonic’, or beloved franchises like My Little Pony, Looney Tunes, Pokemon or even ET: The Extra Terrestrial, there’s a surprising amount of support from other studios to let Disney lampoon their products.
As such, Rescue Rangers feels more like a meta-take on the challenges of rebooting old properties than it does trying to feed you the same Disney product again. In essence, rather than offering a strict reboot of Rangers, the film leans into the difficulties of doing so. Characters who were once beloved by fans have now been relegated to the convention circuit, with the hopes that enough interest will bring them back into pop culture relevance.
At the same time though, there is no doubt that this film is made with love. Schaffer does not use the film to mock the franchise but rather to somehow reinvigorate it with the understanding of an adult. Jokes referencing CGI surgery, cheese addiction and even references to a strip club and [cartoon] trafficking are made with an adult audience in mind.
In this way, while the film’s primary story may focus on the missing characters, the true antagonist of the film is getting older. From Lumiere to Tigra the forgotten Avenger, none of these animated characters are ready to settle into the dustbin just yet. (“It’s gotten tough out there for us old timers”, Monteray Jack groans.) Emotionally tied to their faded fame, each one wants to prove that they’re still worth something. This desire to hang onto the glory days is especially true of Chip who yearns to be remembered as more than a ‘2nd banana’. From begging for attention on social media to having CGI surgery, Chip is left scratching and clawing at the elusive celebrity status that he once enjoyed. Though the rest of the world has moved on, he simply wants them to know that he still has value. In a world where no one cares to know your name, how do you know you matter? What does hope look like when your best days seem behind you?
Middle-age is tough, even for animated chipmunks.
But that leads to the film’s biggest question: who is the target audience? Unlike other kids fare that includes the adults, Rangers does the opposite by targeting adults first. Ultimately, this approach works fine, except for the fact that Rangers comes with the baggage of a being known property. For example, in the case of Roger Rabbit, Disney had a blank canvas upon which to create their adult-targeted story. Not so for Rescue Rangers, a series which is known for targeting little ones. (It’s also worth mentioning that, as recently as last year, Disney rebooted Chip ‘N Dale as an animated series that targeted kids). So, with this in mind, parents of young ones may need to exercise caution before hitting play.
Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a reboot win. Fast and furry-ous with its humour, Schaffer manages to walk the line between parody and preposterous in ways that revive an old property without feeling stale. So, even if it does seem odd to target the parents over the kids, it’s absolutely worth dusting off these two gumshoes for old time’s sake.
Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers streams on Disney+ on Friday, May 20th, 2022.