A kids' movie for adults who like to pretend they're still kids, "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" is an exceedingly clever riff on the late '80s-early '90s cartoon that is tailor-made for millennials who would come home from school, plop in front of the TV and watch the adventures of the two titular chipmunks, and now have jobs and kids of their own.
The Lonely Island's Akiva Schaffer had to be one of those kids. He directs "Rescue Rangers" with a love and affection for the property like he's just been handed the keys to the "Batman" franchise.
In Schaffer's hands, along with those of writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand ("How I Met Your Mother"), "Rescue Rangers" becomes an orgy of pop culture references and a robust celebration of cartoons, the way we interact with them and the inner lives of their characters. It's what "Space Jam: A New Legacy" would have been if it wasn't so busy being annoying.
"Rescue Rangers" is narrated by Andy Samberg, who voices Dale and makes a Chippendales reference in the first few seconds of the film, so immediately you know we're not in typical Disney territory. Dale exists in a world where humans and cartoons co-mingle, a world which Schaffer establishes without dwelling on it, and moves on.
Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale weren't actual Rescue Rangers, out in the world solving mysteries and having adventures, they were actors starring in the "Chip 'n Dale" series, in which they played the Rescue Rangers. It's an important distinction in "Rescue Rangers'" deconstruction of reality.
It's been years since the pair has been a team, and Dale — longing for the fame he once enjoyed — has undergone a 3D makeover to make himself more palpable to today's audiences.
He links back up with a reluctant Chip — still in flat, 2D form — when their old partner Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana) goes missing. It turns out he's been kidnapped by Sweet Pete, a down-on-his-luck Peter Pan voiced by Will Arnett, who has a bootlegging ring where he makes cheap knock-off movies based on known 'toon properties (where "Lady and the Tramp" becomes "Spaghetti Dogs," and so on).
"Rescue Rangers" is packed to the gills with tossed-off asides; its background jokes (a billboard for "Lego Miserables," a quickie appearance by Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat) are better than most kids movies' A-material. Seth Rogen voices a Viking dwarf with the dead eyes of early '00s motion capture characters (the "Polar Express" joke is made for you), Tim Robinson voices the "Ugly Sonic" with the human teeth who was replaced in favor of the eventual big screen Sonic the Hedgehog, and J. K. Simmons lends his voice to a Claymation police chief who helps out Chip and Dale.
Actual kids can follow along but "Rescue Rangers" is engineered for older audience members, the ones who will pick up on the references to Pogs, "Cats" and Butt-head, of "Beavis and Butt-head" notoriety, appearing on a campaign poster for his Senate run. The adventure itself gets a bit overloaded. But "Rescue Rangers" is a surprisingly good time, a reboot that earns its rebooting.
'CHIP 'N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS'
MPAA rating: PG (for mild action and rude/suggestive humor)
Running time: 1:37
How to watch: On Disney+ Friday
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