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"Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)": An Adventurous and Animated Meta-Fest

Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.

The Rise & Fall of Live-Action/Animation Hybrid Films

Mixing animation and live-action was such a phenomenal filmmaking technique since the Golden Age. It was breathtaking to see a live actor interacting with a cartoon character in the frame, whether seeing Mickey Mouse shaking hands with Leopold Stokowski or a talking Jerry Mouse dancing with Gene Kelly. But, of course, the textbook example of this technique was 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I wrote a review on this film some time ago when animation director Richard Williams passed away. While the article itself hasn't aged well, I still find the movie to be a childhood masterpiece that cannot be recaptured. Since then, Hollywood has tried to replicate the movie's success with varying results. Some have worked fine, but when computer-generated imagery was on the rise, many fall under either good, okay, mediocre, or down-right forgettable. With technology advancing, it would be impossible to find a movie to be as revolutionary as Roger Rabbit. The same goes for making movies based on cartoons. Again, they have mixed results. There are a few diamonds in the roughs while others were critically panned for being products of their time.

Out of all the Disney animated television shows that have potential as films, Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers was an odd choice to adapt. Personally, I am very familiar with Chip n' Dale themselves as iconic Disney characters and have appeared in various media, yet I did not grow up watching Rescue Rangers. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying it is not a bad show at all. I am well aware it was the most famous incarnation of the titular duo during the Disney Afternoon. It's just that I was more of a Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon kid around my time. With that out of the way, I did watch some episodes and found this show to be entertaining. It is neat seeing these two solving mysteries around the world with thrilling action, good morals for children, and memorable characters. So, it was difficult to imagine seeing these two in a live-action/animated scenario.

Initially, many have assumed this would be Disney's desperate attempt to capitalize on [their own acquistion] Fox's live-action Alvin & the Chipmunks films, and the project was planned as an origin story directed by Robert Rugan. However, Akiva Schaffer from SNL's The Lonely Island replaced Rugan and took the project in a completely, unexpected direction. When the trailer came out, it blew everyone's mind. Because of Schaffer's love for both the original show and Roger Rabbit, the movie now became a self-referential comedy with not just Disney characters, but other animated properties in general. People were excited yet skeptical about the concept of whether it is a tribute to Roger Rabbit or just a shameless commercial similar to Space Jam: A New Legacy. So, do Chip n' Dale manage to solve this unusual case?

When their castmate goes missing, Chip n' Dale (voiced by John Mulaney and Adam Samberg respectively) must reunite and solve the mystery together.

A Smart and Satirical Case

Upon first impression, the story would take a similar approach to Roger Rabbit where humans and animated characters co-exist with each other, and the latter would have acting careers starring in their own television shows or films. On top of that, the scenario also centers on two investigators that must come out of retirement to solve the case. One is hard-boiled and the other is optimistic. On paper, it is a typical, straightforward detective story with its predictable and plot twists moments.

However, when given the right hands, the execution surprisingly not only makes the concept enduring but also beneficial to its meta-commentary. This writing is fueled with clever jokes that definitely poke fun at Hollywood for how making movies and rebooting franchises. There were many billboards for fake movies that I wish were real. It also applies to its world-building. For example, some 2D animated characters would get "CGI surgery" which is equivalent to plastic surgery, in order to keep up with the current trends. There is also the concept of "bootlegging" which is an illegal business where cartoon characters would change their appearances and work in mockbusters for the rest of their lives if they don't pay their dues.

Since this movie is also based on the television show, it does naturally play out like an episode of the show whether it is the clues, the action scenes, or the main characters' personalities, which I'll talk about later. Hardcore fans will definitely enjoy the references while newcomers will feel welcome and get the basics of the show's premise. The only downside is that Chip n' Dale solve the majority of the case themselves without help from their castmates till the third act. It may disappoint some fans, but the chemistry between the leads adds charm to this adventure. It was a risky concept, but the story manages to be humorous yet respectful to the source material.

The Meta-Ful World of Animation

Ever since the trailer came out, my curiosity kept blooming about how much this movie cost because of the visual effects and licensed characters outside the Disney name. This live-action/animation hybrid world takes the phrase "animation" and expands it with different mediums. There are stop-motion characters, anime characters, Muppet-like and sock puppet characters, motion capture characters, and even one character rendered in a 3-D where you have to put on 3-D glasses in order to watch! In terms of the production values, there was plenty of passion and effort thrown into most of the visuals.

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Starting with the 2-D components, the character designs remain very faithful to both the show and Disney whether in the foreground or background. While the side and background characters are traditionally hand-drawn, the show's characters and primary villain are CGI models with a cel-shaded look to appear 2-D. This was a similar type of technique used in the 2021 Tom & Jerry film. Comparing these movies, that style can be a mixed bag. It is probably passable due to budgetary reasons and has a design consistency with the show's cast. On the other hand, it feels off at times whenever the cinematography and lighting don't hit their marks. The CGI animation is well-done with Dale himself staying true to his 2-D counterpart along with nice textures on his fur. The stop-motion animation leads to fun and creative movements, and the motion capture animation accurately portrays how this technique was performed in the early 2000s. Additionally, the action scenes are fast-paced and keep the spirit of the show intact, along with an inventive gadget that can change cartoon characters into monstrous proportions.

The setting obviously takes place in Hollywood but added some distinctive locations to give diversity to the animated characters. There are neighborhoods, vehicles, and buildings that are constructively fitting for cartoon characters big or small. You would wind up in the colorful, and bustling business corner of Main Street or at the dark, shady corner of the Uncanny Valley full of literal uncanny motion-capture characters. Don't forget to meet your favorite cartoon character for an autograph at Fan Con.

If the movie had more time, the production values would be up there with Roger Rabbit. Yet, the effort still shows that there was a definite love for the animation medium.

The Detective Duo & Cartoon Cameos

Besides the detective genre itself, the characters and their personalities also remain true to the show, along with some familiar and new faces to add some interesting layers to this mystery.

Beginning with our titular duo, Chip is the brave and serious adventurer while Dale is the happy-go-lucky goofball. They were close friends since childhood and became stars of Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers during their prime. However, years after the show got canceled and the two grew apart, Chip is now living a mundane normal life while Dale tries new acting opportunities while keep up with modern times. Once their cheese-obsessed castmate Monterey Jack gets kidnapped, the two must rekindle their friendship while uncovering the bootlegging business. Again as predictable as their character arcs are, their personalities remain intact which shows that there was care when adapting a television series. As for the inventor Gadget and sidekick Zipper, their roles are minimal and would later help the duo during the climax. As out of place as these voices are, Joe Mulaney and Andy Samberg surprisingly give out solid performances and chemistry between the chipmunks. Plus, it was also neat to hear the original voice actors reprise their roles on occasion.

Among the case, there are the sarcastic clay-animated Police Captain Putty and rookie officer Ellie who is also a fan of the television series. Together, they face the Valley Gang which consists of a polar bear and an unsettling motion capture Viking dwarf named Bob. For the latter, Seth Rogen does have his funny moments. I won't reveal who their leader is, but I have to say it is the darkest and most subtle portrayal of the character. At first, it may confuse or upset those that adore the character. However, once you do your research on his original actor's life, the puzzle will then fit. But, that is second, compared to the cameos.

As mentioned before, it's not just Disney characters, there are characters from other properties ranging from DreamWorks to even adult-oriented shows like South Park and Big Mouth! Certain characters like Roger Rabbit and Skeletor also appear with their original actors reprising their roles. There is one exceptional cameo that Disney of all companies would allow but I dare won't spoil it here. This character is the funniest not only there for a sake of a joke but later serves a purpose in the story.

Even if you spot so many characters and Easter Eggs, the movie knows how to keep its focus on Chip n' Dale and will entertain you through thick and thin.

The Tagline Speaks For Itself

Overall, Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers is a proficient and self-aware comedy that ridicules Hollywood while containing the heart of both the show and animation. At first, it would seem like a Roger Rabbit clone with predictable tropes and some fans would not expect a full-fledged reunion of the Rescue Rangers. But, thanks to Schaffer's direction, passionate visual effects, and captivating performances, this movie proved to be a faithful adaptation rather than a commercialized Disney product. For those that generally adore Chip n' Dale, the television series, or Roger Rabbit in general, this is a must-watch on Disney+. Yes, we are aware that Disney has poked fun at itself before, but this movie took a big risk and prevailed with it. I'll even go as far as saying that this is the closest sequel to Roger Rabbit we'll ever get.

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