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“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is easily the best non-Pixar Disney+ original film yet (Review)

Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises

To folks of a certain age, this geriatric millennial among them, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers was something of a gold standard in Saturday Morning cartoons. Before the early ‘90s superhero adventures of Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, and X-Men there were two chipmunk detectives (always paired with quacking adventures of DuckTales on the TV schedule). Chip and Dale’s adventures stood as a winking introduction to noir detective stories and police procedurals next to DuckTales boys’ serial adventuring. And, of course, it has perhaps the greatest TV theme song ever.

It is only natural that with the need for constant IP revitalizing content on Disney+, the House of Mouse would return to the Chip ‘n Dale well. With the relative success of the recent DuckTales revitalization (it ran nearly 70 episodes), it’s surprising that the choice was made to eschew the easy option – a modern, more-of-the-same revival – in favor of something far more creative.

Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises

Enter Akiva Schaffer and Andy Sambert, two thirds of the comedic triumvirate The Lonely Island. Clearly given some real freedom to reimagine the material, Chip ‘n Dale are brought back to life in a world where the original series was a TV show and the actual Chip and Dale were chipmunk actors from the show. Like in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? cartoon characters and humans live side-by-side. Now, decades later, Chip is an insurance salesman and Dale, after CGI plastic surgery, makes a living signing autographs at various comic cons. The story sees both dragged into a detective story much like what their characters would’ve experienced decades prior. It’s a fun post-irony set-up clearly indebted to films like Galaxy Quest and the Lord/Miller Jump Street reboots. Tonally, there’s a sweetness and a genuine affection for these characters that undergirds all the snarky jokes.

Voice actors John Mulaney (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Chip, and Andy Samberg (Palm Springs), Dale, manage to capture the spirit of the original characters while shifting them into something closer to each of their unique comedic voices. The rest of the voice cast – often in roles too funny to spoil here – including J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Spider-Man: No Way Home), Seth Rogen (Long Shot, Superbad), and Will Arnett (The LEGO Batman Movie, Murderville, Rumble) is perfectly tuned to the snarky but sweet comedic tone of the film. Perhaps the only misstep is the live action lead, KiKi Layne (The Old Guard). The otherwise talented performer often seems flat and a bit befuddled by the challenge of acting against non-existent scene partners.

Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises

Much of the humor is mature for a Disney+ property, but I suspect over the heads of most younger viewers. There’s a constant feeling of excitement in the way the writers have not only skewered so much about the last thirty years of animated film, but how much they’ve been able to get away with. I’m loathe to spoil individual jokes, but the intellectual property gymnastics for some of the characters included here is a bit head spinning. It has all the breadth of Ready Player One’s IP treasure chest, with a more effective deployment. It’s also a film that rewards attentive viewers – and would’ve slayed in theaters – as background sight gags are often some of the film’s cleverest and most uproarious moments.

And so Chip ‘n Dale stands as the best film yet developed for release on Disney+ (so excluding the Pixar films). It’s a symbol of ‘drawing outside the lines’ creativity within the strictures of IP filmmaking that should serve as an inspiration for how these types of legacy characters can be deployed. 

Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers will be released on Disney+ tomorrow, May 20.