Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers Review: Disney+ Attempts Chipmunk Neo-Noir in Live-Action Reboot

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The Pitch: An odd couple are stuck together on a mission where, along the way, they’re forced to work through their mutual disdain/broken trust/fractured relationship on the road to becoming best friends. Sound familiar? If the set-up is a cinematic trope, it’s certainly not one you’d expect from a duo like Chip n’ Dale. Yet that’s precisely where viewers find the iconic animated chipmunks in Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, the new live-action-meets-animated reboot premiering May 20th on Disney+.

Where Did the ‘90s Go? The movie brings in the big guns when it comes to voice talent, with John Mulaney bringing a world-weary logic to the always-more-reasonable Chip and Andy Samberg imbuing Dale with a fame-hungry drive if not the dopey naivete of his original animated personality. And everyone from Eric Bana and J.K. Simmons to Keegan-Michael Key and Will Arnett appear in supporting roles, though you might be hard-pressed to recognize their voices as they stretch their acting chops in new directions.

(Meanwhile, Seth Rogen will always be Seth Rogen, even in animated form.)

In the universe created by the film, ‘90s cartoon characters are the old guard of animation, relegated to has-been status as they cling desperately to the fame of their 2D heyday. It’s a place where Beauty and the Beast’s Lumiere burns away the hours at fan conventions, Flounder’s gone from Ariel’s sidekick to being caught up in krill payments and Dale has resorted to getting the controversial “CGI surgery” in a bid for 21st century relevance…now in 3D!

Chip, meanwhile, has eschewed the limelight completely in favor of a practical job selling insurance, countless employee of the month plaques, and, apparently, a taste for screamo. How did they get here, exactly? Well, it’s a classic E! True Hollywood Story that Dale’s more than happy to narrate. And that’s when perhaps the biggest bombshell gets dropped of the entire film: Chip and Dale…aren’t…brothers?

According to the movie’s version of events, long before moving to Hollywood to turn their buddy act into stardom, the two chipmunks met in elementary school when the latter was just the lonely, friendless new kid in school. From there, they find success on Disney Afternoon, though their ascent is dashed after Dale reaches a bit too high and wants to venture out from under Chip’s shadow with an ill-fated solo project called Double-O Dale.

chip n dale rescue rangers 5 Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review: Disney+ Attempts Chipmunk Neo Noir in Live Action Reboot 
chip n dale rescue rangers 5 Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review: Disney+ Attempts Chipmunk Neo Noir in Live Action Reboot

Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (Disney+)

Hard-Boiled Chipmunks: Stylistically, Rescue Rangers obviously owes a debt to 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, what with its world in which ‘toons and humans coexist in harmony. And it’s one the creators nod to early in the story, with Roger Rabbit himself making an appearance at the wrap party for the Rescue Rangers show-within-the-show — coming full circle from Chip and Dale’s planned cameo thirty-four years ago that was cut from the final version of Who Framed

And the similarities don’t stop there. The neo-noir aesthetic of the pioneering Oscar winner is also baked into Rescue Rangers’ plot. Though rather than Roger Rabbit, it’s Chip and Dale’s pal Monterey Jack who brings them together. A washed-up actor with a stifling addiction to cheese (the stinkier the better!), the years haven’t exactly been kind to good old Monty.

See, Monty’s in over his head with his illicit cheese dealer, and he’s heard rumblings of a conspiracy targeting your favorite childhood cartoons: Someone in the Hollywood underworld is running a terrifying bootleg operation — kidnapping beloved but forgotten characters, editing them against their will to get past copyright laws and shipping them off for a lifetime of making off-brand B-movies like Beauty and the Cursed Dog Man and The Small Fish Lady.

Welcome to Toon Town: It’s a clever conceit, and one that provides proper motivation for our heroes to team up and solve the case, especially when Monty disappears and the LAPD — led by Simmons as Gumby-lite police chief Captain Putty — are of no help, besides KiKi Layne as an intrepid rookie detective and Rescue Rangers superfan. As for who’s behind the nefarious abductions, that’s best left un-spoiled, though it’s someone you’re all familiar with, who has every reason to take being an aging cartoon worse than most.

As Chip and Dale wade deeper and deeper into unfurling the central mystery, the settings get increasingly amusing. There’s Main Street, U.S.A, where the cartoon community’s illicit underworld hides in plain sight beneath a veneer of Disneyland-level wholesomeness, and Uncanny Valley, an L.A. enclave relegated to the awkward motion capture animation of the early 2000s (think Polar Express eyes).

However, the characters encountered by our fearless duo in each of these settings largely fail to live up to the expectations set by their surroundings. And given the nearly endless well of sidekicks, villains, and minor characters Disney has to draw from, that’s a bit of a disappointment.

chip n dale rescue rangers 4 Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review: Disney+ Attempts Chipmunk Neo Noir in Live Action Reboot 
chip n dale rescue rangers 4 Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review: Disney+ Attempts Chipmunk Neo Noir in Live Action Reboot

Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (Disney+)

Where’s My Disney Channel? Sure, this reviewer was a few years behind the sweet spot the original Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers occupied in the Disney Afternoon lineup from ‘89 to ‘90. But even with a decade of reruns and a childhood spent religiously watching Disney Channel under my belt, I kept asking if I was supposed to know some of these characters already on sight, but was simply missing the cues. (By the time I finally spotted Bonkers late in the final act, it felt like a relief that I wasn’t going crazy.)

Sadly, much of the plot also feels like a missed opportunity to get the whole Rescue Rangers gang back together. It may have just been a TV gig within this story, but when Monty goes missing, wouldn’t it make sense for Chip and Dale to call up Gadget and Zipper right away? Instead, the two characters are relegated to the sidelines, though OG fans are in for a treat to hear Tress MacNeille and Corey Burton reprise their roles from the original series — even if it’s mostly in flashback form.

The Verdict: Right from the start, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers knows what it wants to be. It’s clever! It’s playful! It’s meta! Turning the story into a tale of Hollywood has-beens is surely intriguing, and the appeal of the chipmunks investigating a neo-noir mystery largely worked in its favor.

However, all the hard-boiled, real world capers may leave fans of the original longing for an altogether different type of revival, more in line with Disney+’s successful, if tragically canceled, reinvestment in DuckTales. If Dale gets the reboot he’s been chasing after all these years, maybe he can pitch that idea to the network.

Where to Watch: The investigation begins Friday, May 20th on Disney+.

Trailer:

Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers Review: Disney+ Attempts Chipmunk Neo-Noir in Live-Action Reboot
Glenn Rowley

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