Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)
Written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
So much nostalgia that you feel like you’re going to vomit; this is what American mainstream media feels like these days. Every week, another intellectual property is rebooted, remade, sequel-ized, etc. Most of it is complete garbage. Nostalgia is a type of feeling that appeals to very regressive, reactionary, infantile minds. People are reasonably on edge because Western civilization seems to have reached its zenith and is now in a spiral of decline. The Boomers were the first generation that began to dominate with nostalgia; we saw multiple television series from their childhood made into feature films. Nothing has rivaled the Millennials’ slavering thirst to relieve every Saturday Morning Cartoon and blockbuster movie they saw growing up. So it was only a matter of time until Chip ‘n Dale saw this treatment, shaped by the cynical nature of animated comedy.
Essentially cribbing from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, we enter a world where animated beings live alongside real live-action humans. Dale (Andy Samberg) meets Chip (John Mulaney) in elementary school and strikes out as a comedy duo. The two get a series with Rescue Rangers, which is successful but ends around the time Dale wants to strike out on his own. Jump to decades later, and the red-nosed chipmunk is in the convention circuit alongside other cartoon has-beens. Dale is reunited with Chip, an insurance salesman now, when their former co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), is kidnapped by the infamous Valley Gang. Playing their roles as detectives in real life, Chip and Dale tour the cartoon scene in Los Angeles while trying to save their friend.
There are many clever ideas in this movie. Having Dale modeled in more realistic CGI as a stand-in for the plastic surgery an aging actor would have is definitely worth a chuckle. The appearance of Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson), the original human-toothed model from the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer, was another funny moment. The Valley Gang’s entire racket is bootlegging animated characters, using the CGI machine to turn them into versions of themselves that won’t violate copyright, and then forcing them to work in shitty knock-off movies, which is also deserving of a laugh. But the jokes in this film are just that, a funny-ish idea, but never really explored in a way that finds new pockets of humor in them or goes deeper. They are just gags presented to the audience, and then we move on.
If the film was akin to something like Airplane, all gags but just non-stop, that could work, but it also wants to have an emotional throughline. We’re supposed to be invested in Chip and Dale rebuilding their friendship. Why? I think because we “loved” these characters when we were children and want to see the Rangers back together. By the film’s end, we get a shot with the entire team reunited, and I guess it’s meant to bring a tear to our eyes. Yet, the movie also wants to be a sarcastic, media-savvy modern picture, not taking anything too seriously and being as “edgy” as a Disney+ film could be. The one joke in this corner that certainly works is the Uncanny Valley, a neighborhood where all the weird CG animated characters from the 2000s have come to live. That meta-commentary on the history of animation is one area where the film pulls you in, and I wish more of the picture had been centered around it than the mid-tier detective mystery.
Much of the reflexive comedy comes out of critique over the story the characters are in. They will preemptively joke about plot elements, a third-act plot twist, for example, which I don’t see as excellent writing. It feels like the writers know this script is not too strong and are trying to joke about its flaws to pretend they meant it to feel lame. Jokes outside the animated world meta-commentary fall flat, and I doubt you’ll walk away remembering any of them. This is reference humor not at its worst but at its most mediocre. My wife fell asleep about a third of the way into the picture, and I don’t blame her.
If you want the feel of the Rescue Rangers animated series recreated, then you won’t find that here. You’ll find a few genuine laughs if you’re looking for a clever comedy about Hollywood. The filmmakers don’t take a stance in any clear direction, so we have a movie that is straining to be for adults but restrained by studio edicts to be family and kid-friendly. The main characters are not the same ones Millennial children came to love on television, so there’s not even that emotional connection. If you want to watch this one go for it. However, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go out of their way to make time for the movie.