(WXYZ) — Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.
It will take a bit of nuance to understand my take on the new "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" movie (coming to Disney+ on Friday, May 20th).
Is this new movie funny? Oh absolutely (my wife and I actually had to stop the screener at one point during a "terrible rap" that the characters were doing, because we were laughing so hard). So if you're looking for laughs and laughs alone, this one might be for you.
But whatever it is, this is not a "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" movie, even if it proclaims to be. Those are not the characters that many 90s kids fell in love with, and in fact, there is nothing at all recognizable from the TV show's spirit or overall vibe. And if you were a fan of Chip n Dale prior to the "Rescue Rangers," (the characters appeared in just 23 animated shorts, debuting in 1943 and continuing into the mid 1950s), well, that history is completely and utterly discarded.
No, this version is a satire aimed squarely at adults, albeit adults that grew up watching the TV show (debuting back in 1989, its three-season run from 1990-1993 as part of Disney's afternoon line-up was how most Gen-Xers came to know of it). At it's core, it's a generic buddy-comedy, with story beats so worn-out that its almost shocking that this was the direction the filmmakers decided to go in. It's dressed up WONDERFULLY with Easter Eggs galore, which make the time spent in this world a fun-filled trip down memory lane for those with eagle-eyes or access to a pause button and yet, it's as hollow as some of the uncanny-valley characters that we're introduced to.
And call it what you will, but it's DEFINITELY not a movie about the Rescue Rangers, not the ones that we've come to know and love, nor is it about those two cuddly and fast-talking anamorphic chipmunk brothers that many of us grew up with.
That makes it a disappointment.
The keys to the "Rescue Rangers" kingdom have been turned over to the Lonely Island boys: Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, the comedy trio who first made it big with their popular SNL Digital shorts series as seen on "Saturday Night Live." Schaffer directs, with Andy Samberg voicing Dale (Chip is voiced by fellow comedian, John Mulaney).
The new film feels like it brushes up against the intuitiveness of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" without ever tapping into it fully. Like that film, "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" imagines a world where "toons" and humans live side-by-side (with some Muppets mixed in as well) in a shared universe.
The "Rescue Rangers" TV show that we know of was also a TV show in this world, with the lead roles given to two chipmunks cast as squeaky-talking, exaggerated versions of themselves...who just so happened to be best friends off-screen. Their old pal and co-star from the show, Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), has gotten hooked on the "stinky cheese" - a euphemism for an addictive street drug - and mixed up in a world of bootlegged, Disney-knock-off films like "The Small Fish Lady" (think "The Little Mermaid"), ran by a middle-aged, grown-up-after-all Peter Pan, who goes by the name of Sweet Pete (voiced by Will Arnett).
The trouble starts after years of estrangement between Chip and Dale. The "Rescue Rangers" apparently was cancelled when Dale tried to launch a solo career as an actor, and Chip never quite forgave his old pal. Now with the help of a Claymation-animated Police Chief (J.K. Simmons) and a caring police officer (KiKi Layne, in what amounts to the only human role of note), Chip and Dale must reunite and set off on a mission to save their old friend, Monty.
Where are the other Rescue Rangers, Gadget and Zipper, you ask? It's a good question. They're included, but not in any real way that would make you think they had any fans at all back in the 90s (they did).
Instead of getting characters that we would have liked to see again, we end up getting stuck with some pretty boring new characters, like a Seth-Rogen-voiced CG-character (complete with "Polar Express" eyes), and the uber-lame villain, Sweet Pete. The main "Rescue Rangers" villains from the TV show, Fat Cat and also Professor Nimnul, are seen and acknowledged, but not given a second thought.
Worst of all, the moment we find out that the Chip n Dale that we've come to know and love are just - well - fictional characters, the film undercuts the very audience it looked to service. The "real" Chip and Dale are stripped of all personality, devoid of any characterization. Look, the source material wasn't Shakespeare, but at least Chip and Dale had defined personalities throughout their entire animated history. Here they are literally Chip and Dale in name only.
This loose "dressing up" makes this movie an odd experience, despite some of the clever jokes and the nonstop references to other animation, toy and video game properties. It's actually quite impressive to see all of the characters that they did get approved to appear in this movie (spoiler: It's not just Disney characters and property that are lampooned and/or exploited). Nostalgia doesn't drip onto the screen, it is shot out of a fire hose and into the viewers' collective faces. For some, that might be enough.
But some odd choices were made. Like, remember "Ugly Sonic"? The version that Paramount Pictures first put online before the first "Sonic" film and was met with outrage from fans for his beady eyes and human teeth? Paramount redid the film and remade its main character. If you don't live on Twitter, you might not remember "Ugly Sonic." He not only appears in this movie, he becomes an important character. This was the best The Lonely Island could come up with?
I guess my main issue is that the "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" movie does nothing with the original characters, not as we knew them. It appears to love and honor the past, but it actually discards most of it when it comes to the main characters. Would I have preferred a straight-up Rescue Rangers adventure where they go toe-to-toe with Fat Cat? No, that's not at all what I'm saying. But how about a single reference to Chip n Dale's early years, you know, the popular shorts that made people tune in to "Rescue Rangers" in the first place? Could they not have found a more creative way to get Gadget and Zipper more involved?
In the film, Chip has had the "CG Surgery" to appear like a CG-version of himself, while Chip is still in 2-D. It's a perfect encapsulation of what went wrong...not that Dale was "upgraded" in any way or made anew, the problem lies with Chip. His animation style in this feels...off. Different. Not what we're used to.
Everything in "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" looks familiar, but nothing is as what we want it to be. The Lonely Island gang has created a bizarre Roger Rabbit knock-off, in the same way that Sweet Pete has remade "Lady & The Tramp" as "Spaghetti Dogs." It's a cheap imitation, using known character likenesses in order to cash in on consumer nostalgia.
In some worlds, such a practice should be illegal.
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Animation.Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes.Rated PG.
Starring: KiKi Layne, Andy Samberg (voice), John Mulaney (voice), Eric Bana (voice), Dennis Haysbert (voice), Tim Robinson (voice), Seth Rogen (voice), J.K. Simmons (voice).
Directed by Akiva Schaffer ("Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," "The Watch," "Hot Rod").
"Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers" is available to stream on Disney+ on Friday, May 20th, 2022.