Most children’s movies have special references or hidden jokes for parents to enjoy that will sail over the heads of younger audiences.
It’s a general kindness afforded to adults whose theater going experience may be limited to family friendly films for several years and many of these movies are downright entertaining for older audiences as much, if not more so, than the kids that are the intended audience.
Every once in a while, a “kids’ movie” comes along that is so much better when viewed as an adult than as a child and it’s a surprise pleasure to watch regardless of age.
Disney didn’t quite understand the diamond in the rough they had when they dropped a seemingly routine reimagining of a 1990s syndicated cartoon show, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers.
Director Akiva Schaffer perfectly blends live-action performances with a wide assortment of animated characters in various styles that both pay homage and poke fun at the world of comedically drawn characters. The film, which takes its name directly from the 90s television series, is exceptionally well-written for a children’s movie by screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand and leans heavily on meta-commentary as Chip and Dale fight through a modern era filled with bootlegs, knockoffs and reboots.
It’s a script that allows younger viewers to simply watch two small chipmunks play detective while searching for their missing friend, while adults will get plenty of opportunity to smirk or outright laugh at inside jokes about everything from Pogs to “Rugrats” to failed CGI animation itself.
Rescue Rangers is set in the present several decades after the show originally aired with Dale longing to recapture the magic and nostalgia for their old detective show while Chip lives alone selling insurance. When their former co-star Monterey Jack is kidnapped to make endless bootleg versions of animated movies, Chip and Dale reunite to work with a rookie cop to save Monterey and take down cartoon crime boss Sweet Pete.
Andy Samberg gives a playful charm as the voice of Dale and the oafish innocence that he brings to the role doesn’t really diminish Dale as a dope but accentuates his naivety nicely in a way that helps endear the character to audiences young and old. As the central character of the film, Samberg helps draw viewers in with a kind and warm brightness to his affectation and while it’s constantly clear to those familiar with his work that it’s Samberg behind Dale’s voice, Schaffer does a great job of creating visual moments with Dale that help pull the wool over and maintain the suspension of disbelief.
It’s tougher to separate the nasal, almost monotone cadence that John Mulaney’s vocal work does as Chip, although the role works in Mulaney’s favor as the more straight-laced, rule following Chip has a stick-to-it-ness that plays into Mulaney’s comic strengths.
The secondary vocal cast are strong as well with Seth Rogen getting to relish in the dialogue of a foolish henchman who gets face to face with several other Rogen-voiced characters from films like the CGI version of The Lion King and Monsters and Aliens as well as Oscar winner J.K. Simmons leaning into his authoritative type as the deputy police chief in charge of the investigation who just happens to be made of putty.
Besides the entertaining and humorous screenplay, what really stands out in Rescue Rangers is the seamless work done by the film’s animation team to blend live actors like Kiki Layne with both hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.
Dale has a distinctive 3-D texture to his animation that accentuates his rounded chipmunk physique that contrasts nicely with 2-D hand-drawn Chip and his more flattened texture. Animators also get several fun opportunities to tease less successful renderings of famous characters in the various “bootleg” versions of iconic characters like Flounder from The Little Mermaid and the reoccurring gag about the initial design for Sonic The Hedgehog dubbed “Ugly Sonic” is a terrific, yet playful jab.
It’s stunning that this fun blend of animation and live-action would skip a theatrical release and head straight to the Disney+ streaming service given the lack of competition in the early part of the year for children’s movies, but Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is well worth the 90-minute ride for young and old audiences alike.