ONE LINER REVIEW:

A great, funny movie filled with lively ideas, this one has a modern take on the characters and is extremely clever at all times.

BRIEF REVIEW:

Now this is a clever movie. Completely meta in every way, this movie is about the chipmunk “actors,” from the nineties animated show, now in the real world trying to make it on their own. It’s a little like the Incredibles after the characters in that movie had to give up being superheroes and go out and work real jobs. And of course, just like in that movie, it leads to them having to go back and have areal adventure, or in this case solve areal mystery, even though Chip keeps reminding us, they are not actually detectives. The movie has tons of fun with pop culture references, including “Ugly Sonic.” Not all of the clues add up logically, but other than that this is a pretty terrific film.

REVIEW:

Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, the new film made for Disney Plus is impressive to say the least. This thing is bursting at the seams with humor, and that’s really due to two things. The cast, and the director. Let’s start with what those two things have in common. The Lonely Island. That’s the name of the trio of comedians that has worked together on tons of projects over the years, including lots of Saturday Night Live digital shorts (The Michael Bolton – Captain Jack Sparrow one being my personal favorite.) The trio is composed of three guys. Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaffer, and Jorma Taccone. Well, this new Chip and Dale movie stars Andy Samberg, and was directed by Shaffer. So while it’s not a direct Lonely Island project (like say the movie Pop Star: Never Stop Stopping is,) this one certainly has Lonely Island influences all over it. The other thing it has got is the studio Disney behind it. Which means an opened door to make as many references to anything Disney as they want, at any time. And boy does this movie have fun with that.

What we have here is a movie that combines three things… traditional 2D animation with CGI animation with live action. The only movie that’s had great success doing anything close to that was Who Framed Roger Rabbit (and this movie references that film a couple of times, from featuring the Rabbit himself, to a joke about Jessica Rabbit, to showing Dip on a tray of the villain’s tools.) Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the first movie to combine animation with live action. Made by revolutionary  filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, that movie took things to a whole new level. And there were other movies that did it afterward, with hardly the same level of success (Cool World, with Brad Pitt, being one of them,) but Roger Rabbit remains the gold standard. Well, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers is finally the movie that continues to push this niche kind of film forward, taking up the mantle where Who Framed Roger Rabbit left off.

The reason why this is the next stepping stone forward is not just because of the combo of animation with live action. Tons of movies have done that, from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Sonic the Hedgehog (not so much using 2D animation anymore, but certain computer animation.) What makes this movie so special is how it does that while pulling off a story that is actually about the industry. This movie is completely meta (self-aware, a movie within a movie kind of thing,) and has fun with that, every step of the way.  In terms of the humor, other than having the brilliant minds of the Lonely Island boys working behind the scenes (they didn’t write this movie, but their influence is felt all over it,) the movie also has perfect casting.

This includes not only Andy Samberg, but also John Mulaney and Seth Rogen, two comedic writers themselves. Both Rogen and Mulaney got their start with stand-up comedy. Both still write projects like crazy today. And both are perfect for this movie. Mulaney in particular is dead on casting as the neat, tidy-freak, disciplined Chip. The voice of this actor, combined with this character are a perfect fit. Mulaney’s voice is clearly ripe for animation (he also voiced Spider Ham in Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse, and was a huge part of that movie’s humor.) But in Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, it’s not just that Mulaney is perfect for voicing Chip, but also that he and Samberg, are perfect for playing / voicing characters who are exact opposites. Samberg is so great at playing the idiot goofball, and Mulaney so great at playing the straight man. Together it’s a pretty amazing combo.

And then there’s the story. Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers was an animated TV show in the early nineties. It was a kids cartoon on the Disney TV block (four 30 minute shows packed together that aired every weekday afternoon.) This movie doesn’t just pick up where that TV series left off, but instead imagines that Chip and Dale were actually just actors on the show, playing parts. That’s where the meta element comes in. The movie begins by showing how Chip and Dale met and then carries their story all the way up to the Rescue Rangers show in the nineties. It does this by using Dale’s voice over to explain everything and talk to the audience, and boy does he have a lot to say, starting with what we all think of when we hear Chip and Dales… the male strip club, referenced by things like The Full Monty or the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze (it would have been cool to get a clip of that sketch in here, considering the close ties both Samberg and Mulaney have to SNL.)

 

There’s humor and references packed into nearly every moment here, from the opening when students walk into school and one animated character walks in without pants on, to which her teacher comments, “where are your pants? You’re not Donald Duck,” to the very funny moment when Dale steps in front of a new class to introduce himself and needs to do something to get the class’ attention, so he pretends to stick a pencil into his eye. That’s the moment where you know this is not your typical Disney movie. When the camera zooms in to the freaked out faces of kids as Dale screams in pain. That’s when you start to realize this movie will put humor above everything else (most Disney movies wouldn’t dare do something that could scare little kids, like this.)

 

Pretty soon we are onto the story of what happened after Rescue Rangers, or what lead to its cancellation. And then we take up with current times, where Dale is an out of work actor and Chip is an insurance salesman (Disney has really figured out how to market that specific job for comedy, starting with The Incredibles.) Dale goes to nostalgia conventions (similar to comic conventions, where former celebrities sit at tables signing autographs. There he runs into characters like Baloo from Jungle Book, Luminere from Beauty and the Beast, and Ugly Sonic. That one has to be the funniest reference in the movie. You see, when they were making the Sonic Hedgehog movie, they released a first trailer which featured a version of Sonic that audiences hated. The limbs looked too human and the teeth made him seem scary instead of cute. Paramount scrapped the whole concept and redesigned the look of Sonic. The character Ugly Sonic in this movie is the original version of Sonic, before Paramount scrapped it. And everyone can’t stop looking at his terrible teeth, in slow motion no less.

 

The story really kicks in when Dale gets a call from his old friend Monterey Jack (one of the five members of the Rescue Rangers team from the show,) and goes to Monty’s house to find him. Once there, he finds that Monty has also called Chip, and so Chip and Dale reunite, both to help their friend. Or at least to hear him out. Monty has got a problem. He got addicted to stinky cheese by a bootlegger named Sweet Pete, and now he is in debt and owes Pete. Clearly Pete is meant to be like a loan shark, and the stinky cheese is meant to be like drugs or money that Monty now owes. So Pete is coming to collect. Chip and Dale both end up leaving Monty, and the next thing you know, Dale is getting a call from the police that Monty has been kidnapped. Now the real mystery begins.
Chip and Dale work together to follow clues, and the movie doesn’t hesitate to joke about how they are not detectives, they are actors. At one point Dale says, “should I call Gadget and Zipper,” (the other two members of the original Rescue Ranger team,) and Chip says “no, because they’re not actually detectives.” But the two of these characters find clues (first by sniffing out stinky cheese and next by reading the label on it to see where it was made.) This brings them to Main Street in Disney World, (we don’t actually see the castle or hear that it’s Disney World, but the street has the same name and same look as that famous Magic Kingdom street that leads up to the castle.) Here the character comes across a muppet chef who runs an underground cheese store like its an illegal drug den. Pretty soon, they are being confronted by Sweet Pete, himself, who is an all-grown up Peter Pan. Sweet Pete makes boot leg movies by kidnapping characters from other Disney movies, using a machine to change some of their features, and then using them to make alternate versions of the popular films. This leads to more and more comedic references as we see tons of posters for alternate versions of Disney movies.
It’s unexpected that the movie has the characters find out who the villain is at only the halfway point or so of the film, but this turns out to be a good thing, because now it means the story can continue in a new direction, instead of the entire movie being about trying to find out who this is. The characters take a trip to the Uncanny Valley to find Pete (a term used to describe the first CG cartoon characters ever made who had expressionless eyes to the point where they never seemed like they were actually looking at who they were supposed to be looking at.) This movie jokes about that idea quite a bit, and even mentions the Polar Express, (the movie known most for using these dead eye effects. And then the mystery continues to unfold. It’s not so much about who did it at this point, but about where Monty is, what happened to him and who’s working with Sweet Pete on the inside. And as we travel though the plot, the references keep coming, from Paula Abdul and the cat (from her Two Steps Forward video,) t0 the show, Full House. Even Paul Rudd gets in on the jokes with a cameo and funny line about Ant Man. Bur aside from the ton of Easter Eggs and references, this movie also has fun with its own story and ideas too. Dale isn’t just CG animated, compared to Chip who is still a 2D cartoon, but instead we learn that Dale got CG surgery to make him this way. It’s clever jokes like that which keep this movie afloat at all times. And yes, some of the clues don’t quite add up from time to time (if they kidnap Sweet Pete’s watch, they can check his steps to see where he has been that day, then cross reference where they know he goes with other places on his walking route to determine where the kidnapped characters are being held.) Still, not every clue has to work every time. The movie is smart, lively, and incredibly fub.