In 1988, Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? accomplished one of pop culture’s biggest dream castings, placing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse in the same frame.
Thirty-four years later, the (kinda) vaunted Lonely Island comedy troupe modernizes that schtick with Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which debuts Friday on Disney+ and is pitched like Roger Rabbit with a more consolidated bank of character rights.
Does it fill the overalls of its predecessor? P-p-p-p-p-please.
Three decades after the end of their popular animated television series, Chip (voice of John Mulaney) and Dale (voice of Andy Samberg) have gone their separate ways, either to move on from their fleeting brush with fame or desperately cling to it. The series ended, the film posits, because Dale wanted to go solo, leading to the show’s cancellation.
When Chip and Dale’s buddy Monterey Jack (voice of Eric Bana) disappears, though, the former pals reunite to solve a mystery without the Rangers, diving into the seedy Hollywood underbelly that sees animated and live-action burnouts alike falling victim to a cartoon-animal trafficking ring.
The world is virtually identical to that of Roger’s mythos — cartoons and real people live together in virtual harmony, with CGI characters added in for yet another wrinkle. And while Chip is more traditionally animated, Dale had “CGI surgery,” leaving him looking more like the movie versions of his cousins Alvin, Simon and Theodore, who are also referenced in the film.
But the animated characters aren’t simply entertainers. They often hold other jobs, like police captain Putty (voice of JK Simmons), who puts Ellie (KiKi Layne) in charge of Jack’s case.
The premise never really gets off the ground. Instead, the Lonely Island team sort of just throws a bunch of old bits and jokes into a blender and watches them aimlessly bounce off of each other. Chip and Dale never really develop as characters; Dale is the irresponsible one while Chip is more pragmatic, and that’s the extent of their measurable traits.
There are some fun bits scattered throughout, with Disney’s wide swath of IP allowing quite the range of cameos, and this film looks to cram in just about every one it possibly can. In fact, the film’s villain is listed as “Sweet Pete,” and the character’s true identity is easily the film’s most fun tidbit and an unusually gutsy one for Disney. I’ll not spoil it here, but suffice it to say given the timeframe and characters here, it’s not who I assumed it was.
But even this is ultimately wasted through a lack of real motivation. The antagonist is also a largely faceless heavy wearing the clothes of a particular character before yielding to one more well-known in the Rangers universe.
The film seems born from fandom of the original show, which is one of the gems of early-1990s animation. It’s obvious Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Samberg love the show, but they struggle to fill a feature-length film out of the concept, even given a well-worn premise like the one they undertake. So they fill the film with a variety of meta gags that speak to the show, Disney, cartoons and film in general. Few of the jokes actually land, and those that do have little to do with the actual film.
But the production is oddly Disney-less, with most of the major characters taking a powder here, instead focusing on characters of the ’90s. This is fine, but in the Chip and Dale origin, we don’t get any indication of their past work in classic Disney shorts. We’re led to believe their relationship began and ended with Rescue Rangers.
Ultimately, that cameo overload turns real and palpable, overwhelming the plot after a while. Characters connected to the show either directly or peripherally pop in, and others to whom Disney owns the rights just appear, mug for the camera and disappear.
It’s a cute novelty to see some of them together, but quickly devolves to empty fan service. At least give some of them something meaningful to do.
Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn’t as iconic as some cartoon heroes brought to life. But it shares the unfortunate and unnecessary shortcomings of recent adaptations like Scoob! and Tom and Jerry. It’s a franchise reboot that could’ve played it straight to deliver a solid, new version of something tried and true but went in a different direction toward a muddled mess that neither serves memories of the show it’s updating nor creates anything that’s even the least bit memorable.