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Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers offers a joyful refresher for a reboot-weary world

It’s a modern-day riff on Who Framed Roger Rabbit packed with cameos, in-jokes, and meta-commentary

In a world full of reboots and crossovers, the Disney Plus live-action movie Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a refreshing antidote. Yes, it’s something of a reboot and something a crossover. But against all odds, it’s also a joyful celebration of what makes these modes of entertainment so popular.

Lonely Island director Akiva Schaffer (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) and How I Met Your Mother writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand turn what could be a tired concept into one that brings back the excitement of reboots and spinoffs and crossovers and sequels. The plot is relatively simple, but that just gives the meta shenanigans and animation-world in-jokes more room to shine.

[Ed. note: This review contains some setup spoilers for Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers.]

chip and dale watch a cheese-addicted rat Image: Disney Enterprises

Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers kicks off when animated chipmunks Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) reunite years after their animated series Rescue Rangers was canceled. Chip left show business behind and now works as an insurance agent, while Dale keeps touring the convention circuit, still hoping for his big break. Their friendship collapsed when Dale tried to go solo on a project, which cost them the show, and they haven’t talked in years. They’re called in by their old castmate Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), who has gotten himself into a bit of a bind. When he suddenly disappears, it’s up to Chip and Dale to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Much like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which it openly references), Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers takes place in a world where animated characters live alongside humans. Unlike in Roger Rabbit, there isn’t really any tension between cartoons and real people. It’s just a fact of life that the animated characters are actual beings too. The approach of exploring the world of show business — now with animated characters — remains the same, though. It’s an inherently fun setup that lends itself to some great jokes. Dale gets a “CGI surgery” so he can look like a modern 3D character, instead of a hand-drawn 2D one like Chip. The grim fate that awaits kidnapped toons is being altered enough to be used in the kind of terrible bootleg animated movies that turn up in grocery store checkout lines. So many of the obvious questions about that setting get answered in hilarious ways.

True to the genre of “animated characters in the real world,” the movie is chock-full of cameos and Easter eggs in just about every frame. Blink and you’ll miss half a dozen preexisting characters wandering around, from the depths of Disney’s history to up-to-the-moment gags. It makes for an intense game of I Spy.

chip and dale standing with a viking that’s not-NOT one of the Beowulf vikings Image: Disney

The cameos also lend themselves to some pretty great jokes. It helps that the movie doesn’t solely rely on Disney characters popping in. Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers pulls in cameos from across studio lines, making it feel less like a glorified brand-deposit ad and more like just a chance to have some fun with beloved characters, whether they’re CGI, cel-shaded, stop-motion, or even puppets. As with Roger Rabbit, they don’t feel gratuitous so much as they feel like natural details for this particular world.

The film’s straightforward conspiracy plot does get lost with all the gags, references, banter, and action hijinks going on. Chip and Dale need to put their differences aside so they can solve the mystery and find their friend. Naturally, by the end, they realize they’re still important to each other. There really aren’t many surprises plot-wise apart from the occasional identity reveal, like the question of who’s behind all the bootlegging.

But the movie actually lampshades that simplicity. Most of the plot just exists to get Chip and Dale to another fun place, introduce another surprising character, or make another clever joke about Hollywood. And that’s all fine, really. The heartwarming end message about friendship is on par with other family movies, and also not so cloying that it overpowers the witty jokes.

Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers seems primed to draw some cynical eyebrow raises from people who haven’t seen it and find it hard to believe that these slapstick cartoon chipmunks could fuel a film made for adults. The movie makes fun of reboots and crossovers while itself being a reboot and a crossover. But Schaffer and the writers walk the line of making loving fun of the whole phenomenon of this kind of modern meta update, and the movie just ends up being so much fun that some of that cynicism may melt away. It’s sweet enough to not be totally mean-spirited, but not overly saccharine in the way some family movies tend to be.

More importantly, the jokes are sharp, and a lot of them lean on adult sensibilities — though in the way the union bit in Shrek 2 does, instead of being crude or cruel. And the cameos and Easter eggs lend color to the world and become solid jokes of their own. Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a great reminder of how much fun it can be to reimagine childhood classics when it’s done right — a rare thing in this day and age.

Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers hits Disney Plus on May 20.

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