For kids of the 1990s, DuckTales, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, and TaleSpin were the holy trinity of afternoon animation. The series aired as part of the Disney Afternoon lineup and helped cement the then-recently launched Fox channel’s status with a generation of young audiences.
It’s been nearly three decades since the series was removed from syndication, but with the wildly successful launch of a DuckTales reboot just a few years ago, it was only a matter of time before Disney turned its attention to Rescue Rangers. And what a return it is for the series’ chipmunk pals, who return to the screen in the feature-length Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers film that blends various forms of animation with a brilliant creative team and voice cast, along with a collection of cameos that’s one of the most wide-ranging you’ll find in a film. (That’s saying a lot, too, given the last few years of movies.)
Directed by Saturday Night Live veteran and Lonely Island comedy trio member Akiva Schaffer, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers casts John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the voices of the titular chipmunks, who find themselves reunited 30 years after the cancellation of their series when their friend and fellow Rescue Rangers actor, Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), goes missing under sinister circumstances. The script, penned by How I Met Your Mother writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, takes a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-esque approach to the world, with humans existing alongside animated characters, from The Simpsons to My Little Pony characters, who all try to make a life for themselves in the same shared universe.
It’s a familiar, but fun premise on its own, and it’s made even more entertaining — and unique — by the film’s clever script, which wastes no opportunity for jokes that cast a surprisingly wide net. Along with all the requisite humor for younger audiences, Rescue Rangers offers plenty of gags aimed at viewers who grew up with the original series, poking fun at ’90s pop culture, celebrity trends, and countless other topics that might go over younger kids’ heads, but never feel too “adult” for Chip and Dale’s world.
The wide net cast by Rescue Rangers is evident not only in the film’s humor, but also the animation styles represented in the film. Along with presenting Chip and Dale themselves as hand-drawn and 3D, digitally animated characters, respectively, the film also features characters depicted with claymation and stop-motion animation, as well as various styles (and eras) of digital animation. Lumped together, it’s a mix that shouldn’t blend well, but does thanks to the smart storytelling wrapped around all of those visual elements.
Without offering any spoilers, there is one particular plot point that might irk a small (Ok, tiny) portion of the audience, however.
The film makes the capital city of New York, Albany, a key location in Chip and Dale’s investigation, and suggests that the city has a very particular relationship with the history of the Rescue Rangers series in the ’90s. As anyone from Albany (for example, the author of this review) can attest, the connection between Albany and Rescue Rangers described in the film is, well … not true at all. A world populated by animated characters and talking chipmunks is perfectly fine, of course, but playing fast and loose with the history of an underappreciated state capital could very well be a step too far for certain, very specific, overly critical audiences.
All joking aside, though, Rescue Rangers is a spectacular, heartwarming love letter to animated storytelling and the characters it’s given us across generations of audiences.
It’s also a nice reminder of how far the medium has come, and how fresh it can still feel with creative people behind it. Mulaney and Samberg are two of comedy’s best and brightest stars, but it’s a testament to both the film’s storytelling and their talent that they never feel too big for the characters they’re voicing. Whether you’re a kid of the ’80s or ’90s, or the child of one of those aforementioned, grown-up kids, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a wonderful little film that feels bigger than it is, and it’s proof that with the right amount of humor and heart, good characters never get old.
Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers will premiere May 20 on the Disney+ streaming service.