If you must reboot an over 30-year-old Disney Channel cartoon like “ Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” you could do much worse than looking to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for inspiration. But it is a high bar and though “Chip ‘n Dale” might not reach the heights of that Robert Zemeckis film, it is still a pleasant surprise stuffed to the brim with pop culture references that children of the “Chip ‘n Dale” era may enjoy.
Now, wait, you may be thinking: Aren’t children of the “Chip ‘n Dale” era in their 30s and 40s at this point? And was “Chip ‘n Dale” even that beloved enough to warrant a reboot? The answers are yes and no, but the minds behind this movie know that and aren’t pretending otherwise. In fact, they lean heavily into the “who cares?” note by establishing a world where Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are actors who were once on the real television show that was cancelled in 1991. They’re also animated in the real world, which is full of both toons and humans. So, not only is it Roger Rabbit-esque, but it has shades of a PG-rated “BoJack Horseman” as well.
This script comes from “How I Met Your Mother” veterans Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, and it’s directed by Akiva Schaffer, a member of The Lonely Island with Samberg and the director of the cult favorite satire “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” With those kind of credentials, in addition to the voice talent involved which includes BoJack himself Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, Dennis Haysbert and Eric Bana, it is not surprising that “Chip ‘n Dale” is clever. Someone also had fun packing every frame with inspired background gags (many of which are movie posters that we won’t spoil here), that may find audiences wanting to pause, rewind and rewatch, which will be especially easy since this film is going straight to Disney+ instead of theaters. Cleary they had full access to Disney’s vast catalogue of intellectual property (and some other studios) and are not afraid to be playfully unsparing.
They also made the delightful choice to cast Tress MacNeille as Gadget. If you’re unfamiliar with MacNeille, who voiced the original Gadget and Chip, Dot Warner, Daisy Duck and Charlotte Pickles, to name a few, you might have fun poking around her IMDB and Wikipedia pages. There are not many animated properties she hasn’t contributed to in the past three decades.
The premise is that Chip and Dale are childhood friends who made their way to Hollywood and found brief success with a show bearing their name. But by the time the show had cancelled, Chip and Dale had grown apart. In the present, they’re estranged. Chip is working a regular white-collar job and Dale is coasting on his fame, which is dwindling, and lingering hopes for another moment in the spotlight. Dale has even gotten “CG” surgery to make him 3D, while Chip is still his classic 2D self.
They find themselves together again, though, when a friend from the old television show, Monteray Jack (Bana) goes missing. Lots off toons have disappeared lately — there is a mob boss and a bootlegging operation afoot — and a human cop, Ellie (the always delightful KiKi Layne), asks Chip and Dale for their help. The plot is, perhaps, beside the point which is the biggest failing of “Chip ’n Dale.” Roger Rabbit, by contrast, managed to be both referential and meta within a framework of a compelling mystery. This mystery is simply a vehicle for the gags and observations, which are enjoyable, but it stops it short from being a great movie by itself.
“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” a Walt Disney Co. release on Disney+ Friday, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “mild action and rude/suggestive humor.” Running time: 97 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr