“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” Has Its Chipmunk Cheeks Stuffed With Nostalgic References to Classic Cartoons
In 1943, Disney introduced the world to a pair of chipmunks, Chip and Dale, in the cartoon short, “Private Pluto.” The delightful duo made appearances in a number of other shorts over the years, and in 1988 they finally landed their own show. But what happened to Chip and Dale after that show ended in 1990? After three decades out of the spotlight, the classic cartoon characters have returned in an all-new movie, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Even though the new film seeks to introduce the beloved characters to a new generation, it’s just as much for the parents in the audience as it is for the kids. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a hilarious feature-length running joke about the evolution of animation, and it’s got its chipmunk cheeks packed full of references to nostalgic cartoon characters.
Rescue Rangers is directed by Akiva Schaffer (of The Lonely Island) and written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand (who both have a number of writing credits to their name, including “How I Met Your Mother” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”). John Mulaney (“Saturday Night Live”) lends his voice to Chip, the “straight man” of the comedic act, and Andy Samberg (Palm Springs, 2020) voices the “funny man,” Dale. In the style of Mary Poppins (1964), Pete’s Dragon (1977), and Space Jam (1996), Rescue Rangers presents a 2D animation / live-action combo world in which cartoon characters walk among humans. The movie begins with a flashback sequence that shows the chipmunks meeting for the first time in 1982. Dale is the new kid at Chip’s school, and they immediately form a bond. Their act begins to develop as they perform together in school talent shows, and they eventually set off to make it big in Hollywood. While they do land a big TV show, their fame is short-lived. Dale eventually abandons his buddy to pursue solo roles, hoping to break away from his reputation as “the stupid one” in the act.
Fast forward a couple of years, and the world looks very different. Suddenly, 2D cartoon characters aren’t the only kids on the block. Dale has undergone “CGI surgery” to give himself a more modern look, and he spends his days signing autographs at animation conventions alongside other characters like Lumiere (Beauty and the Beast, 1991) and the new and improved Baloo (The Jungle Book, 2016). Chip, on the other hand, lives a quiet life as an insurance salesman. The once-famous chipmunks haven’t spoken in years, but they find themselves working together once again when a friend from the past calls on them both for help. Chip and Dale are pulled into a real-life mystery when their old pal Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) disappears, which creates a puzzle that even the reputable Captain Putty (voiced by J.K. Simmons) can’t solve. In order to save their friend, Chip and Dale have to be as brave and as clever as the rescue rangers they played on TV.
Samberg and Mulaney both have a natural sense of comedic timing, and they deliver steady voice-over performances that make Rescue Rangers interesting (even during moments when the jokes begin to grow stale). It’s clear that both actors had lots of fun with their roles, which makes the movie fun for the audience, too. Simmons has the perfect voice for the serious Captain Putty, and he, too, seems to be having a ball with the dialogue. Viewers should listen closely for voice-over cameos from recognizable performers like Dennis Haysbert (Major League, 1989), Will Arnett (“Arrested Development,” 2003-2019), Keegan-Michael Key (“Key & Peele,” 2012-2015), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, 2007), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 2015-2019), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, 2011), and others. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, 2015) and Chris Parnell (“Saturday Night Live”) also make live-action appearances — but don’t blink, or you might miss them.
Rescue Rangers is like an Easter egg hunt for kids and their parents. Kids will certainly recognize many of the cartoon characters that make surprise appearances throughout the movie, and their parents will get a kick out of the brief cameos from characters like Randy Marsh (“South Park”). With so many Easter eggs, cultural references, and extended jokes at play, it’s no wonder that Dan Gregor and Doug Mand chose to write a simple and straightforward adventure plot. They tell a fairly predictable story and use familiar narrative devices that are easy to toss into a children’s adventure movie. As you might expect, there’s a kidnapping, a daring heist, a miscommunication between friends, chase scenes, a female sidekick (whose personality doesn’t get much deeper than her love for the chipmunks and their show), and a run-in with a frightening machine that’s sure to give your kids nightmares (the same way that the Scream Extractor from Monsters, Inc. (2001), the pie machine from Chicken Run (2000), and the incinerator from Toy Story 3 (2010) gave nightmares to previous generations). Using these familiar elements as the building blocks for a straightforward adventure story, Gregor and Mand explore a wide variety of themes that you’d expect to see in a kids’ movie, including friendship, loyalty, bravery, and the price of fame. But there are deeper themes at play that the adults in the audience will probably appreciate more than their kids.
Rescue Rangers explores the tension between old and new media while illustrating the awkwardness and frustration that each generation experiences when the culture that defined their childhood is no longer in vogue. It pays tribute to the beloved movies and shows that the adults in the audience grew up with, but it also reminds them that new movies, shows, animation styles, and technology have a lot to offer. Chip and Dale’s strained friendship may seem like a cliché kids’ movie conflict, but it also represents the clash between old and new technology. It’s kind of surreal to see nostalgic 2D characters sharing the screen with the good (Monsters vs. Aliens, 2009), the bad (Cats, 2019), and the ugly (the initial version of Sonic the Hedgehog) of 21st century animation. At times, the mix can feel overwhelming. But as Chip and Dale work through conflict and learn to resolve their differences, adults in the audience are also given the opportunity to reflect nostalgically on the past while appreciating the culture of today.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."