WHAT IT’S ABOUT Classic characters return to the screen in “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” the most high-profile project starring the crime-solving chipmunks since their Disney Afternoon TV series that ran from 1989 to 1990.
That series — and, in particular, its catchy theme song (go ahead, sing along: “Ch-ch-chip n’ Dale, Rescue Rangers!”) — remain nostalgic staples for older millennials, so it was probably a matter of time before Disney+ offered this venue for them to return in a movie.
Evoking “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in its blending of live-action and animation, as well as its knowing, self-referential nods to backstage Hollywood and pop-culture icons, the picture finds Chip (the voice of John Mulaney) and Dale (the voice of Andy Samberg) decades after they last tasted stardom.
They’ve grown apart, with Chip having left the business to work in insurance and still going through life as his familiar hand-drawn animated self. Dale’s continued pursuit of his acting dreams has led him to CGI-enhancement surgery.
They reunite when their old pal Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) gets abducted by a criminal syndicate that transforms beloved characters such as prior victim Flounder, from “The Little Mermaid,” into bootlegged versions of their former selves — basically, cheap knockoffs of the real thing.
These warped toons are then compelled to star in movies with titles such as “Beauty and the Cursed Dog Man” or “Jasper The Dead Ghost Kid.”
The director on “Chip ‘n Dale” is Samberg’s Lonely Island compatriot Akiva Schaffer, and the rest of the voice cast includes Will Arnett and Keegan-Michael Key. KiKi Layne (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) plays the most important live-action character — the LAPD Det. Ellie Steckler, who helps the Rescue Rangers.
MY SAY This movie is far better than it had to be: it’s genuinely funny, and not interested in just scoring cheap nostalgia points.
That’s not to suggest this amounts to a second coming of “Roger Rabbit,” forever the shining star when it comes to this sort of project. “Chip ‘n Dale” does not have the same degree of satiric edge as that classic, which used animation as a pretense to deconstruct the film noir genre.
But the new picture stands as a worthy descendant, even if it’s really just one long bit, a parody spanning the past generation of animation history and beyond. Virtually every frame is devoted to some sort of sly reference.
These encompass everything from high-end barbs about the unsettling uncanny valley quality of the dead-eyed “Polar Express” period of motion-capture technology to cheap, but still amusing throwaways, such as Lumiere from “Beauty and the Beast” suddenly, briefly becoming an action star.
There’s clear affection for this world on the part of everyone involved, as well as a deep understanding of it.
Plus, this all happens at a rapid, attention-grabbing pace, as if Schaffer and the screenwriters (Dan Gregor and Doug Mand) understood that if anyone stopped to think for a minute, there might be the potential for some nitpicking.
BOTTOM LINE This movie is clever and fun, a perfect venue for parents who grew up on these characters to introduce them to their kids.
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