Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Nearly 80 years ago, the Walt Disney Company created the characters of Chip and Dale. They were animated chipmunks that often appeared in short films alongside characters like Mickey Mouse, Pluto and Donald Duck. They were featured in 23 animated shorts from 1943 to 1956. Three of those short films were nominated for Academy Awards. The characters were endeared to Generation X when they were made the focus of a TV series called Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (1989). The titular characters started a detective agency with other tiny talking animals. The series ran for three seasons. It was nominated for an Emmy Award, but it left an indelible mark for a lot of people who watched. The theme song is still stuck in a lot of people’s minds. That song was even remade here and performed by pop star Post Malone.
This film, directed by Akiva Schaffer, twists the idea of that 1989 series. Here, the titular characters are instead actors and the 1989 series existed as a thing in which they were merely performers. What Schaffer’s film also does is the equivalent to Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) where the animated characters in question interact with live-action actors. In fact, all the animated characters interact with live-action people. As such, and with Chip and Dale being themselves actors, this film is a spoof of Hollywood, specifically Hollywood animation. Unlike that 1988, Oscar-winning classic, this film utilizes and integrates a variety of animation styles. 2-D animation is present, but so is 3-D animation as CGI. There’s also claymation, puppetry and motion-capture. The inclusion of all these animation styles in one narrative is clever and cool to see, but I’m not sure that these different styles are implemented in ways that really show off the uniqueness of those styles.
John Mulaney (Big Mouth and Saturday Night Live) voices Chip, the chipmunk who was an actor in this late 80’s, early 90’s show, but, after the show ended, he went on to become an insurance salesman. He seems to live alone, except with his dog. He feels bad about the fact that his best friend and co-star basically ditched him to be in another show. Chip hasn’t really spoken to his co-star in decades. Chip is presented as 2-D animation, which looks like the traditional, hand-drawn style.
Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Saturday Night Live) voices Dale, the chipmunk who was the aforementioned co-star to Chip in that late 80’s, early 90’s show. He got a deal to get his own show, separate from Chip. This caused a rift between the two and they went their separate ways. Unlike Chip who became a bit depressed, Dale remained upbeat and positive. Dale is presented in 3-D animation, which looks like the kind of animation made popular by Pixar.
The two are brought together when one of their friends and co-stars from their 90’s show disappears in an apparent kidnapping. The two have to solve the mystery of what happened to their friend and who’s behind it. The mystery of which isn’t that mysterious or even that intriguing. It does provide a framework for the two characters to bounce around from place to place, suspect to suspect, encountering all kinds of characters, presented in all kinds of animation styles.
The film then becomes basically one cameo after another of animated characters that people should recognize from various properties going all the way back to the early days of Disney animation. If one is familiar with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it’s as if here there is no Toon Town, but instead animated characters live in the real world, along side humans. Yet, besides their presence in the live-action world, this film doesn’t do much with them. The nostalgia of seeing these characters is apparently meant to be enough. The only exception is the character of Sweet Pete, voiced by Will Arnett (BoJack Horseman and Arrested Development).
Sweet Pete is meant to be a middle-aged version of Peter Pan. That character is meant to be an expression of what can happen to child stars who literally can’t grow up or rather can’t grow out of roles that made them famous as children. It’s a nice inversion or subversion of the famous character and great application to a real-world issue or experience. I thought it was clever, even though it raises questions. One of which is why did Peter Pan age but all the other animated characters didn’t?
There’s also this idea within the film about “mockbusters.” Mockbusters are films that are cheap imitations of blockbuster films, often meant to trick people into thinking they’re the blockbusters they’re imitating. The way that the mockbusters are implemented here are meant to be a metaphor about human trafficking. I’m not sure the metaphor connects in a way that makes total sense. Unless one is a die-hard fan of the 1989 series, this film doesn’t really do much to make us care about the so-called human trafficking and the kidnapping that kicks off the narrative. The nostalgia isn’t enough to carry it, but it’s something to enjoy. Most people watching this might be carried by the humor and comedic styles of Mulaney and Samberg. If one enjoys Mulaney’s stand-up specials or Samberg’s performance in most things including Brooklyn Nine-Nine, then this film might be entertaining.
I don’t think Mulaney and Samberg are enough to carry. Who Framed Roger Rabbit had the Looney Tunes-style hijinks and set-pieces that made it funny and engaging. Disney cartoons also had hijinks and crazy, physical comedy that was akin to what Looney Tunes did. This film doesn’t have those hijinks and animated lunacy, so by comparison, this film feels very lackadaisical. I dare say even boring. The jokes and one-liners are OK, but there’s not that much energy to it otherwise. A film can have too much energy, such as The Lego Movie (2014), but better that than being boring. A film involving animated characters, specifically talking animals, that balances that energy better is something like Zootopia (2016).
Rated PG for mild action and rude/suggestive humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.
Available on Disney +.