Just when you think you can’t handle one more of Hollywood’s blatant attempts at capitalizing on a known IP through reboots and projects about lesser-known characters, something comes along that may actually make it work.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which premieres May 20 on Disney+, tries this hat trick with a film that’s both a send-up of this trend as well as a look at the changing scape of animation in general. (In addition to briefly reprising his Lion King role as Pumba the warthog, Seth Rogen plays a motion-capture Viking dwarf from the early 2000s era of animated films and games who can never quite make eye contact.)
“When I’m making a movie like this, I’m trying to make it a crowd pleaser, so to speak,” film director Akiva Schaffer told Rotten Tomatoes of adapting Dan Gregor and Doug Mand’s extremely meta script about two cartoon chipmunks who live in a world where humans and animated characters coexist and who are also former best friends and former stars of their own show, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers — an actual show that did exist for three seasons on The Disney Channel. But in this world, Chip and Dale aren’t two anthropomorphic chipmunk detectives who solve crimes; they are two anthropomorphic chipmunks who once played characters who solved crimes.
(Photo by Disney Enterprises, Inc.)
Schaffer means he wanted to create “90 minutes where the audience is very much in mind” and that even though the movie is streaming in homes, he wanted the “feeling of being in a big theater with a bunch of people reacting to the surprises and enjoying it together.”
“This movie is right in line with a lot of stuff we’ve done in the past,” Samberg said, “Which is to say, we like making stuff that rewards people like us, who are people that like to watch a lot of stuff and know a lot about it and are huge fans of things. I think Kiv did with this what we what we always try to do, which is make something we would, personally, really want to watch after watching almost everything ever.”
It’s a kid’s movie, but it stays away from obvious material geared toward kids, meaning a toilet is only used for dramatic purposes and only once mention of the word “fart.” Schaffer says that there was “it was a conscious decision to take note of bathroom humor.”
In the film, the chipmunk friends have gone their separate ways since their show’s cancellation: Chip still trying to make a name for himself on the autograph-hound circuit where he hangs out with other has-beens like an earlier iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog from the 2020 film (voiced by Tim Robinson and not Ben Schwartz, who actually does voice the character in those films) and Dale killing it as a mild-mannered insurance salesman whose one true friend is his dog.
But cartoons are starting to disappear, including their friend Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). So Chip and a reluctant Dale team with KiKi Layne’s Ellie Whitfield, a rookie detective and avid Rescue Rangers fan, to try to crack the case.
(Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle, SMPS/Disney Enterprises Inc.)
In real life, Rescue Rangers was a bit before 30-year-old Layne’s time. But the actress, who grew up on Nickelodeon cartoons like Rugrats and Hey Arnold!, said the beauty of this film is that “they grounded these animated characters in the real world. So we see them navigating real-world things that we all deal with, whether it be making sure you get home in time to feed your dog, or being at a job that you don’t really like.”
“I was literally just looking at a piece of tape on the wall and being told, ‘OK, the green tape is Chip and the pink tape is Dale,'” she said.
But, she said, “something as real and human as looking at what does a friendship look like 30 years later and being able to connect to those really human things helped me to do my job a bit better.”
It’s also a show about two actors who can no longer get work in the industry; something that has not gone unnoticed by the actors or director — especially considering Samberg and Schaffer made their 2016 mockumentary music industry comedy Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping with their third childhood friend and frequent collaborator, Jorma Taccone.
(Photo by Disney Enterprises, Inc.)
Rescue Rangers is more a story about friendship, but Samberg laughed that “Akiva loves projects about the industry. That’s what he’s gravitated toward. He’s a student of it.”
Layne added, “As an actor navigating this wild wild business, there were so many things that they referenced that I just feel. I understand what it’s like when you’re just waiting for your agents to call.”
It’s also the latest in a series of projects that feature Samberg playing a character wearing a Hawaiian shirt (the others include the rom-com Palm Springs and an episode of his comedy TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine). Samberg has resigned himself to the comparisons, noting that “at least I wasn’t physically on camera this time.”
Schaffer and Samberg are also aware of the inevitable comparisons the film will have to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the seminal 1988 film that also mixes human and cartoon characters from various studios and also involves disappearing ‘toons. It’s so unavoidable that Roger, and his dance moves, are even referenced in Rescue Rangers.
“It was super important to me from the day I read the script to the finishing day to get a lot of third-party IP in there,” Schaffer said of the choice to not just use Disney or Fox-owned imagery. He also mentioned how expensive it was to make Roger Rabbit because of the licensing deals and that he’s happy for comparisons “as long as the comparisons are nice and fair…[because] it is the gold standard.”
The biggest irony of doing a film that’s a comeback story that makes fun of reboots and comeback stories is that there is probably already talk of a sequel. When asked, Schaffer joked, “We just announced that this is just chapter one of eight to 10. It depends if we can split the last one … and Harry Potter the last book.”
Layne pointed out that the Rescue Rangers ends with her character going in a direction that seems like an obvious jumping-off point for a sequel. As to who she’s like to see show up in that film, she laughed, “If Phil and Lil [from Rugrats] made an appearance, I would probably faint.”