I was really happy when I saw the trailer for Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers. It looked like a hell of a lot of fun. Finding out that it was being delivered by a couple of the main figures behind Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping just made me even more keen to see it. Then I started watching it, the smile fading from my face quicker with each passing minute. You can find a lot of people around who really liked this movie. I'm not one of them. There are some good gags, but I'll attempt to highlight some of the biggest problems I had with the film here.
Having gone on separate career paths over the years, Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) are reunited by a worrying phonecall from their friend, Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). Jack's addiction to stinky cheese has landed him in trouble with the wrong people, and he fears that he will soon be kidnapped, altered slightly, and trafficked to somewhere overseas that has characters creating bootleg versions of their works in perpetuity. Chip and Dale have to get back into old habits, hoping to crack the case in time to save their friend. They end up dealing with the police, in the form of Captain Putty (J. K. Simmons) and Officer Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne), a variety of twisted cartoon creations, and a big baddie who goes by the name of Sweet Pete (Will Arnett).
When you look at the separate elements here, this is hard to view as anything other than an easy win. Chip ‘n’ Dale have always been my favourite animated chipmunks, nostalgia is arguably one of the most profitable filmic commodities right now, and the direction from Akiva Schaffer is decent throughout. There are also some fun gags in the script, written by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, who also wrote the very enjoyable, although formulaic, Magic Camp and the less enjoyable Dolittle. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough good gags, especially when you have scenes too busy cramming in familiar personalities and entertainment archetypes. And those gags feel harder to laugh at when you realise the dark truth being reconfigured as something of an extended punchline throughout the second half of the film. I am willing to give both Gregor and Mand the benefit of the doubt, willing to believe that they were trying to pin the comedy on one serious point, on one subversive critique of the Disney studio system (of old?), but it doesn’t work. It rankles as much as that book by O. J. Simpson called “If I Did It: Confessions Of The Killer”. I would never want to read that book, and I never want to revisit this movie.
Another big problem that the movie has, and I know this will sound like a very silly complaint, is a lack of any rhyme or reason to the different types of characters. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the nearest touchstone for this, underlined in a scene that actually has a cameo from the man himself, but that had clearly defined populations of people and toons. This doesn’t. You get some people living their lives, some cartoon characters everywhere, some cgi creations, muppety puppets, even the difference between Chip and Dale feels very random (one traditionally animated and one fleshed out into a CGI animated character). I know there is a reason for it, but the reason feels a bit arbitrary.
Mulaney and Samberg are a great fit in the lead voice roles, Simmons is equally enjoyable, and there are entertaining turns from Arnett, Seth Rogen, Eric Bana, Tim Robinson (in the absolutely brilliant role of Ugly Sonic), and many others. Layne also does well, playing one of the few actual humans onscreen, and there’s no faulting the mix of live-action and animation throughout.
There are jokes that work, and some scenes are very funny. References to the uncanny valley are a lot of fun, as is a special appearance from Post Malone, and the meta commentary of older properties being freshened up for a new audience is surprisingly effective, acknowledging that all of these things are just as formulaic as standard sequels or remakes. This is fairly easy to like and enjoy, and many people have done just that. I just couldn’t manage it, especially when I kept circling back to the backstory of the villain (not to mention the way in which it attempts to put a darkly comic spin on people trafficking, which is equally misguided). So I guess I will just wait to see if the inevitable Roger Rabbit sequel will work better. There’s going to be a Roger Rabbit sequel now, right? Right??
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