Traditionally, when Disney films skip theaters and go straight to video, it’s not a good sign. That has changed somewhat now that the Disney+ content beast needs to be fed, yet the company still differentiates between “triple-A television” like The Mandalorian and “cheap, kid-friendly movies” like the Air Bud series.
Hence, today’s Disney+ premiere of Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers—a PG-rated reboot with little in the way of advance press screenings—had us assuming the worst, despite its comedy pedigree. The Lonely Island (“Lazy Sunday,” “Mother Lover”) is all over the film’s credits, but how much of the group’s boundary-pushing Saturday Night Live work could survive the family-friendly demands of a straight-to-Disney+ launch?
I’m here with surprisingly good news. Chip ‘N Dale is a self-aware comedy romp that families will appreciate. What’s more, it knows exactly when and how to toy with ’80s and ’90s gaming, cartoon, and pop-culture references without losing character development and physical comedy.
Time-to-male-strippers: Only a few minutes (but PG-rated, we swear)
The film is Disney’s best-ever hybrid of live-action, CGI, and hand-drawn animation, with lead characters Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) each offering different spins on modern animation. Chip combines 3D rendering with a cel-shaded filter, hand-drawn touches, and intentionally narrowed animation speeds in order to look like a living 2D cartoon, complete with tasteful touches of ambient occlusion and light-bounce rendering.
Dale, as part of a running gag in the film, has gotten “CGI surgery” and emerges as a fully 3D-rendered chipmunk. The film begins by zooming in on his disproportionate eyes and other uncanny-valley weirdness for comedic effect, but this quickly softens, and as the film barrels toward emotional, kid-friendly connections between the chipmunks, Dale eventually looks quite good, with his animated, glossy eyes standing out.
Mild spoilers ahead, but we’re being mindful of how easily spoiled some of the gags in this film are.
Samberg’s opening narration suggests that the phrase “Chip ‘N Dale” is likely to remind viewers of a few things—and it then flashes a PG-rated image of male strippers. The film’s script and visual gags do a masterful job of making similar above-kids’-heads references or blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jabs at the gaming and cartoon worlds.
The film’s most howl-worthy stuff skewers beloved Disney properties and Disney rivals alike. So much so, in fact, that I watched the entirety of the credits to see exactly who got thanked for allowing their biggest franchises to be either passive-aggressively mocked or outright, er, melted in this film. Though a few gags reach back to the earliest days of Disney’s film catalog, a majority will land for any parents in the room who grew up in the Gen-X or elder millennial camps. That’s probably not surprising for a film whose lead characters hail from the “Disney Afternoon Collection” of late ’80s characters. If you can imagine a cartoon that emerged or competed with Disney around that time, it’s likely to appear here in either obvious or subtle ways.
Mulaney and Samberg each double down on the archetypes of their two characters: Chip is brainy and assertive as a leader but also a stick-in-the-mud about pushing boundaries, while Dale favors impulsive and goofy solutions to serious problems, albeit while stomaching some raging insecurities. We get to see each lead character move on from early ’90s fame to their “adult” lives for the next 25 years or so before they’re forced to reunite. Their old castmate Monterrey Jack has crossed the wrong loan shark, and Chip and Dale decide to bury their decades-old feud to do some rescuing and rangering. (One of the plot threads has Mulaney’s Chip opining about Monterrey’s issues, and if you’re familiar with Mulaney’s real-life trials and tribulations, you may darkly chuckle the same way I did during these moments.)