Once upon a time, television was a breeding ground for really weird and silly adventure shows. Among these was Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, a show about two adventurous chipmunks that partnered with two mice and a housefly to solve crimes and rescue clients from the certain doom of a variety of evils (lotta cats here people). The 2022 continuation of the series is not this story, instead serving as a metatextual continuation that imagines the two leads as actors that had a show and have now fallen on hard times. Hilarious, mildly upsetting, and deeply indebted to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the film debuted on Disney+ a couple of weeks back and I just got around to it, considering it a backburner release that was probably going to be mildly entertaining at best.
I like being wrong. I get a lot of surprises that way.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers follows the lives of two animated chipmunk actors in the wake of their show being canceled. Thirty years after losing their livelihood Chip (a beautifully deadpan John Mulaney) is selling insurance and is unsatisfied with his life, his social circle, and basically everything but his dog. Dale (Andy Samberg) is still trying to live up his glory days, getting CGI-surgery to match the current animation environment and hitting up conventions with other out-of-work animated actors like He-Man (Alan Oppenheimer), Flounder from The Little Mermaid (Rachel Bloom), and “Ugly Sonic” (Tim Robbins). These characters are all trying to stay relevant, posting on social media about their autograph booths and becoming increasingly online. When their old partner, Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), goes missing after getting in debt with a black market cheese salesman, the duo reunites to save their friend. They quickly learn that the disappearance of older animated characters is an epidemic that’s tied to bootleg versions of classic properties (think The Small Fish Woman) and it becomes a race against time to save their friend.
This is about as self-aware as it gets, but combining it with a sincerity worthy of a Zack Snyder film helps sell what might have been a hollow cash grab. It’s not often that I enjoy a film where every frame has a dozen Easter eggs (I find it distracting), but this is a movie that spends its entire runtime celebrating those references while taking the piss out of them at the same time. This is what Marvel has been trying to do for ages, but director Akiva Schaffer (1/3 of the pop group The Lonely Island, who has helmed other films in this same vein like Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) is deft with this sort of thing and keeps focus on the primary goal – entertainment. What other film would dare to feature a fat, middle-aged Peter Pan (Will Arnett) as the villain? Few, if any, but in Schaffer’s hands it feels like home.
It helps that animation has come so far. I would not have expected this twenty years ago (and the film makes reference to it by calling out The Polar Express, with its dead eyes and frighteningly uncanny valley visuals), but we’ve reached a point where traditional 2D animation and modern CGI can exist in a live-action world as long as you remain aware of the fact that they’re supposed to look, well, animated. The inherent silliness of this premise is what keeps things from going too dark, an unfortunate thing for a film that borrows heavily from its predecessors (nothing will ever top the horrifying “shoe dip” scene, though this might have if it had gone for it), but it manages to make up for that in a charmingly realized world that feels full of life.
Are your kids going to like this? Probably. It’s fun enough and kinetic enough to translate to an audience that isn’t going to care about references to Peter Pan  and the online discourse around a Sonic the Hedgehog with human teeth. Hell, the latter only became public knowledge due to articles about it when that whole ordeal could have remained a Twitter nightmare instead. Still, this will land harder with parents my age that remember the golden days of Disney Channel television and remain online enough to stay in the discussion. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is funny from start to finish, but it’s funny in a way that sometimes gives me anxiety because it’s about two deeply sad people who long for a lighter, more fun era of their lives. Take that as you will, but I recommend giving this thing a shot. Rarely is Disney so self-aware of their foibles, and it almost feels like this one snuck in under the radar.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is streaming on Disney+.