Saturday, May 21, 2022

Movie Review: Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Well, this is inexplicably better than it has any right to be. It's not great or anything, but for what's ultimately a comedy about talking CG cartoons, it's pretty solid. This appears to be set in the same world as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". This isn't outright stated, but it's heavily implied, and not just because Roger gets a cameo and you can spot a vial of dip in one scene. This is a world where cartoons live and work alongside flesh-and-blood humans. Only it's not the 1940s anymore: it's present day.

A cynical way of viewing this would be to dismiss it as a barrage of Easter eggs, and that wouldn't be unfair. The humor is largely built around endless strings of references and gags, many of which don't carry any significance beyond a moment's recognition. But then the movie is largely about nostalgia and modern production. Does that justify leaning so heavily on reference humor?

Maybe. We all gave The LEGO Movie a pass eight years ago.

I'm not saying this is as good as The LEGO Movie, but that's probably your best point of comparison in terms of what this movie is trying to do and how it's utilizing its IP. There's nothing in this that delivers an emotional arc on par with what The LEGO Movie pulled off, but that's an unfair bar to set, anyway.

What most impressed me wasn't the story or characters, but rather the way world is layered. There's a moment when at least five different mediums appear and interact at once. Yes, I know some are cheats (they're clearly using CG to mimic other forms of animation), but it's still a fascinating effect, like a living collage. There's something whimsical about this that transcends the parade of recognizable characters and jokes about corporate mascots.

Not that the jokes and references are bad, mind you. This is engaging and funny, though perhaps not quite as funny as you want it to be. More than that, the quantity of references is still impressive. I was genuinely shocked what the producers of this got permission to use. This isn't remotely limited to Disney: they got permission to use numerous iconic characters across multiple studios (though there seemed to be a relative lack of Warner Bros IP, I noticed). 

Where the movie slips up a bit is around its human character. Something's off about how she interacts with the world. Tonally, she comes off as less layered than the animated characters. She almost feels like a human character out of a movie in this genre (CG/live-action hybrid) from twenty years ago, despite the fact everything else has evolved. It's an odd disconnect, like she's being directed as if she's in a kid's movie, while the rest of the film is a modern comedy. My guess is they filmed her without other cast members on set, possibly prior to recording their vocal performances.

Alternatively, I suppose it could have been intentional. Maybe it was yet another meta-joke about its own genre - if so, it didn't quite connect.

This wasn't perfect, but it was more than good enough. Honestly, I'm a little surprised it got dropped on Disney+, rather than going to theaters, both because it really was a pleasant surprise and because its target audience is less likely to stumble across it on a platform designed first and foremost for young kids. I'm not saying some kids won't enjoy this, but - like Roger Rabbit before it - the humor and references are aimed at their parents.

Being in the cohort that grew up with Disney Afternoon and most of the other things in this movie, I can certainly be counted among those being catered to, and I certainly had fun with this one. My guess is if you have any idea who these characters are, you'll enjoy it, too.