Have you ever wondered what happened to Chip and Dale, the classic Disney animated chipmunks who starred in their own beloved television series in the early ’90s? Well, brace yourself, it’s pretty depressing.

Thirty years after their glory days, the ever-practical Chip (John Mulaney) is working as an insurance salesman, while Dale (Andy Samberg) is desperately attempting a show business comeback, appearing at animated character fan conventions with his fellow has-beens. The good news is that they both still look pretty good, although Dale has disturbingly changed his appearance with some “CGI surgery” that makes him stand very much apart from his still hand-drawn counterpart.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

The Bottom Line

So much better than it needed to be.

Release date: Friday, May 20

Cast: Andy Samberg, John Mulaney, Kiki Layne, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Flula Borg, Dennis Haysbert, Keegan-Michael Key, Tress MacNeille, Tim Robinson, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Screenwriters: Dan Gregor, Doug Mand

Rated PG,
1 hour 37 minutes

That’s the audacious premise of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, whose marketing materials take pains to inform us, “It’s not a reboot. It’s a comeback.” Either way, this hilariously meta reboot — excuse me, comeback — is everything the recent Space Jam sequel desperately attempted but failed to be. Premiering exclusively on Disney+, it’s the funniest movie of the year so far, either animated or live-action. Or in this case both, since it ingeniously melds the two forms in the cleverest manner since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Speaking of Roger Rabbit, he’s one of many classic animated characters who make amusing cameo appearances in the film, as well as some well-known actors. That’s the only cameo that will be revealed here, since Disney asked reviewers not to spoil any surprises. Suffice it to say that animation fans will have a ball spotting the cameos, which are delivered in fast and furious fashion throughout the film. Speaking of Fast and Furious, well, never mind.

Resembling a brightly lit, modern-day film noir, the film is set in a Los Angeles populated by both human and cartoon characters (in other words, the real thing). Chip and Dale, once as close as two chipmunk brothers can be, are now estranged. But they reunite to help their old Rescue Rangers cohort Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), who tells them that many of his fellow animated friends are mysteriously disappearing at the hands of a criminal organization led by Sweet Pete (Will Arnett). Sweet Pete has good reasons for having gone over to the dark side, being the victim of botched CGI surgery that has made him resemble a middle-aged, overweight Peter Pan.

The police ultimately become involved in the investigation, although the irascible Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons) isn’t much help. Far more valuable is the very human policewoman Ellie (Kiki Layne), who professes to be a rabid fan of the Rescue Rangers. She’s even a good sport, as she graciously accepts a cold beer from them that isn’t more than an inch tall.

That Captain Putty is rendered in Claymation and the other animated characters in a variety of other styles is one of the slyest touches in Dan Gregor and Doug Mand’s endlessly clever screenplay. The funniest bits involve a dwarf Viking (Seth Rogen) done in the motion capture style pioneered to infamous effect by the likes of Robert Zemeckis. “He’s got those Polar Express eyes,” Dale observes with horror.

Rabid Chip ‘n Dale fans may or may not embrace the wholesale changes made to the beloved characters, although they’ll certainly appreciate the appearances of such familiar figures as Monterey Jack, Zipper (Dennis Haysbert) and Gadget (Tress MacNeille), even if most of the voices are different. Thankfully, many of the voice talents are experienced comic performers, rather than merely big-name stars recruited to grace a theater marquee.

Non-purists, however will find the film a hoot from beginning to end, thanks to the constant profusion of uproarious gags of both the visual and verbal variety that well reflect director Akiva Schaffer’s (Hot Rod, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) comedic chops. Animation fans will inevitably be the most appreciative of the many in-jokes, although anyone who hated the movie version of Cats will also burst out laughing at one point.

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