Directed by: Akiva Schaffer
Distributed by: Disney+
Written by Patrick Hao
There is something cynical about meta-commentary about modern conglomerate cinema’s obsession with IP-driven content. A trend with films like “The Lego Movie,” “Ready Player One,” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” all about loving and preserving “pre-existing IP” over those who exploit them. A cynical sentiment when you consider that the movie studios behind these films are attempting to squeeze every last penny out these properties. Even something made with lots of heart and sincerity like the new “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” cannot escape the overall feeling of gross content exploitation.
The new film, based on the Saturday morning cartoon of the same name, is not exactly based on the cartoon. Rather, it is a show biz film in which toons and humans exist in the same universe, much like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” which “Chip ‘n Dale” openly references. Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) are childhood friends whose two-person act gets them a Saturday morning show (the one that children of the 80s might remember). However, they soon have a fallout over different career ambitions. Now in the modern-day, Dale is touring the nostalgia circuit with brand new CGI surgery, signing autographs alongside Tigra from “Thundercats” and Lumiere from “Beauty and the Beast.” Meanwhile, Chip is selling insurance. They are brought back together when their old castmate, Monterrey Jack (Eric Bana) gets into trouble due to his stinky cheese addiction – a drug metaphor to sustain a PG rating. Together again, they team up with human detective Ellie Steckler (Kiki Layne) to find their old colleague and bring down a scheme in which the stinky cheese kingpin extorts his indebted IP characters into making bootleg films for the oversea markets.
Really the plot’s function is a game of if that then what. If cartoons and humans live in the same universe, then what is the natural progression of that thought process? Running gags like CGI cosmetic surgery or size disparity jokes are clever and funny. A large part of that is due to the creative team of director Akiva Schaffer, whose collaboration with Samberg and voice performance from Jorma Taccone makes this a pseudo-Lonely Island project, and sitcom writer stalwarts Dan Gregor and Doug Mand (“How I Met Your Mother” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”). There are a lot of gags with various degrees of success. But, like a Mel Brooks or a Zucker Brothers movie, there are so many jokes that a viewer is not allowed to dwell on a dud for too long.
There is also lots of care put into the animation. By virtue of the concept, various animation styles are utilized from CGI to traditional to claymation. This movie is not made by people who are simply getting a paycheck. However, it is hard to think what anyone not a millennial will take out of this.
Furthermore, beyond the cameos and references, there is not much to “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers.” Taking a look at the ultimate inspiration for the film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” that film could have succeeded as a film noir mystery if it did not have access to the various properties it had access to. “Chip ‘n Dale,” on the other hand, cannot stand on its own. Furthermore, it does not help that the idea of all these properties interacting together is much overdone now that it seems like a meta film of this type is released every year. It stops becoming a film in which I, as a viewer, am astonished that these characters are sharing the same screen as each other, and more me wondering how Disney got all the rights to these characters. When I care more about the legal mechanisms of a film rather than the film itself, that’s a problem.
“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is not a complete void of artistry. But, it has its tongue so far down its cheek, that when it asks us to care about this friendship between the eponymous chipmunks, it’s hard to do so. And much more frightening is that we are living in an IP world. Everything is content. Everything is referential.
“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” Trailer