Despite being the perfect age and growing up at the perfect time to be part of the show’s target audience I never really watched “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” the Disney children’s animated series about two chipmunk detectives and their friends Gadget: a small female mouse, Monterey Jack: a larger Australian mouse and Zipper: a small though loyal housefly. For 3 seasons between the 80s & 90s the group would get into all kinds of pint sized adventures often including other small animals. Despite not actually having watched the series it doesn’t change the fact that the hook from the opening theme song has somehow been etched in my, as well as many other people’s, permanent memory forever to get stuck playing on repeat in my head time and time again over the last 30 years.

Disney+’s “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is a 2022 animated/live action family adventure comedy film directed by Akiva Schaffer and while based on the aforementioned children’s TV show it takes quite a different “metafictional” approach as far as film adaptations go. Taking more inspiration from 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit and set in a world where toons and humans coexist the movie looks at Chip and Dale as if they were a performance duo who were themselves cast in the 80s/90s series. In this meta universe despite their popularity the series was cancelled after a falling out between the partners. Now 30 years later Chip and Dale (here voiced by John Mulaney & Andy Samburg) must reunite in order to investigate the kidnapping of their former co-star Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) as well as the disappearance of many other animated characters and their involvement in a nefarious “bootleg animation trafficking network”. Their investigation takes them across their world of entertainment and again seemingly inspired by Roger Rabbit they come in contact with multiple characters of various forms of animation. Live action, CGI, Claymation, even hand puppets everything goes in this creative yet bizarre adaptation.

The parallels between this and other animation/live action hybrid films such as Roger Rabbit or Space Jam are undeniable. Meta, self referential commentary on the entertainment industry and fourth wall breaking self aware humour is right up front in this film. As unique as it seems nothing that this movie does is especially ground breaking, just last year the Tom & Jerry film blended live action and animation. Likewise 20 years ago the largely forgotten film with Robert Deniro, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” dealt with the “in-universe” cancellation of an animated tv show and characters being brought out into the real world.

Where this movie really differs is just how much at one point the writers feel like they have some love for the source material series and yet in making a movie of that series they have strayed so completely away from its story and characters. This feels much more like it was birthed from a desire to create a cynical, although still safe, parody of the entertainment industry itself rather than anything that came about from a desire to make a “Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers” movie.

Even with this reviewer’s limited experience of the show I can tell neither Chip nor Dale behave like their characters should. Chip, once a heroic leader of an adventure series for children is now a jaded insurance salesman, while the characters were once portrayed in the standard sped up “Alvin & The Chipmunks” style voice now they just sound bland with Mulaney & Samburg speaking in their regular voices.

On the flip side various other performances are still “in character” including multiple cameos from various other animated personalities such as Lumière the talking french candlestick from Beauty & the Beast.

Storywise and character wise the movie suffers because while there’s a repeated reliance on nostalgia to draw us in at the same time there is a rejection of that nostalgia. All the characters and adventures you may have known from the children’s series now dont mean anything because they werent real even in the context of the in universe story itself. Compounding the problem is that what they have been replaced with isn’t very interesting or heartfelt the script itself admits how cliche’d and formulaic it is.

The thin plot and bland original characters serve only to string together one pop culture reference or cameo after another. Many of which will fall completely flat within a few years. For instance early fan reaction to the original appearance of Sonic the Hedgehog from the 2020 film was extremely negative leading to a redesign that was much better received. In this film theres a running gag of an “Ugly Sonic” character, this joke may be humorous to those in the know right now but in 10 years it will have aged horribly.

I have heard people saying they feel that this movie is extremely brave for various reasons. Either because of the amount of parodied IPs on display or because it seemed to really be sticking it to the higher ups at Disney. Neither really felt true in my opinion. For one Disney own nearly everything now and as such have a monopoly on nearly everything from Star Wars to Die Hard. If Spielberg could negotiate Bugs Bunny & Micky Mouse being on screen together in the 80s I couldnt imagine it would be much harder for Disney to get the ok on “Ugly Sonic” now.

As for sticking it to the higher ups the film never truly does. A handful of tropes and cliches are pointed out for a joke and then the film goes right on to the next one. It was just recently announced that Guy Ritchie’s next film would be directing a live action adaptation of Disney’s Hercules. Something nobody is really asking for and yet nobody could possibly be surprised by. This movie makes jokes about there being a “Batman meets ET” movie and other ridiculous concepts but never anything like a “live action Finding Nemo” because we know that this is in all likelihood something we will see happen if theres a few bucks to be made from it and while this movie is being cynical its still quite safe.

Story and character criticisms out of the way I must say that I did enjoy the clashing of so many varied animation styles. It was interesting seeing a Claymation character interacting with not only traditional 2D animation but also 3D and live action. These clashes in style also led to some amusing jabs at the “uncanny valley” style of awkward early 2000s CGI animation. I found myself wishing that this had been an entirely original concept of a film as it would have been much more successful at capturing the modern day Who Framed Roger Rabbit glory that they filmmakers were aiming for

This movie did have some interesting ideas and I cant deny that I found myself laughing quite a lot at the absurdity of its central premise. Unfortunately I feel that it was the wrong approach to take with a modern day reboot adaptation of a beloved classic children’s franchise. Far be it from from me to accuse anyone of “ruining my childhood” when my childhood didnt include Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers but I cant see how this meta deconstruction of animated children’s entertainment was the correct way to go about it.

And lastly something I found bizarre was the filmmakers quite tasteless decision to use the tragic life and misfortune of former Disney actor Bobby Driscoll as inspiration behind this film’s greatest villain. Driscoll was a child actor through the 40s & 50s who faced extreme hardship when he aged out of the cute kid roles. What followed was a battle with drug abuse and an early death at 31.

I don’t want to go too far into spoiler territory here but the villain in the movie more or less IS Bobby Driscoll or at least the character he provided the voice of and was most known for corrupted in such a way its impossible to not see a parallel between this character and Driscoll’s life. For such a self aware movie I find it hard to believe that nobody involved realised just how extremely tone deaf this decision was. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a villain in a Disney children’s movie be a parody of an child actor the Disney corporation arguably chewed up and spat out. 

Review by Kyle McGrath