2 out of 5
Directed by: Akiva Schaffer
There are two stars here: one for the efforts of the animators, whose combination of CG characters and hand-drawn characters and live action actors blended together seamlessly throughout sets that also made use of all three layers, and one for the high level beats of this story – the setting, the pitch, the major notes of the plotline…
The rest of it? Perhaps there’s an invisible star allotted for how unbelievably unfunny, and unmotivated the rest is / feels, which really becomes the only reason to watch it: marveling at how a lot of talented actors and those two-star concepts go wholly to waste. Not one smile was cracked during the course of this movie.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is of the school of “modern day” reboots: taking a franchise and following on it as though real time has passed between the Then of the 90s cartoon and Now, when Chip and Dale have gone their separate ways post the show’s closure, seemingly no longer friends, with Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) an insurance agent, and Dale (Andy Samberg) working his fading star power on the convention circuit, having gotten “CGI surgery” to go 3D-modeled; sort of plastic surgery for cartoon characters. This is a funny idea, and follows on the film’s fun approach to just toss humans and cartoons together without any needed explanation; this is pure kids-show zaniness, given the polish of a feature film. Our chipmunk leads have chipmunk-sized homes and cars and accessories, and this is similarly just shown like it’s the norm: the movie – very appreciably – doesn’t waste time on jokes about this setup, or the size disparities. But what it does waste time on are jokes that have no clear audience – references to incredibly dated material that is perhaps a play to adults, mixed with the most mundane of kid-level jokes. This kicks off from the opening sequence (Dale walking us through how he and Chip met, their rise to fame, and eventual split when Dale tries to go solo) and is pervasive throughout, and, as mentioned regarding that invisible star, is only entertaining in how puzzling it is: playing to both old and young audiences is the way to go with an older property like this, but Rescue Rangers’ writers aren’t really great at either one, just assuming that bringing up some topic from the 90s is comedy, or that saying something in a silly voice turns it into a clever pun. For the former, they stress the references way too much – this would’ve just confused me as a kid – and for the latter, the stuff being said often feels so forced (and is so milquetoast) that it’s painful as an adult, and I struggle to imagine the kid who would be consistently amused.
Part of this is informed by the actors, who are all – Samberg included, despite having more “pep” in his performance – really tuned out on what the tone is. I’m inclined to blame the director, Akiva Schaffer, allowing the timing in scenes to be very loose, as though worried that because the visuals are crowded with these different layers, it’s better to not have the dialogue / comedy beats be too rapid fire, lest they overwhelm, and also perhaps encouraging performances that are rather purposefully hammy, and unengaged. It’s like it’s all presented with a forgiveness-seeking shrug: we don’t have faith in our idea or the appeal of our characters, so we’re going to play it safe.
Which is a shame, because, again, the mash-up is cool, and the backdoor approach into the Rescue Rangers property is pretty smart. The plot (about kidnapped cartoon characters, repurposed for bootleg films) is really clever as well, even if it seems like they wanted to go much darker with it and held waaaay back, further informing the generally un-engaged vibe.
I really can’t believe how much talent and possibility went to waste here. I’d say it could’ve been worse, but worse may’ve elicited more of a feeling; instead, I just stared at the screen, bummed out by every uninspired joke and its half-hearted delivery.