This entertaining reboot is as much Hollywood satire as it is a kid’s movie
Was anybody really expecting this to be any good? There have been a number of live-action/animation hybrids over the years, and very few of them have been watchable. Tom & Jerry: the Movie, Yogi Bear, and Woody Woodpecker are among the worst but we could have added other examples here.
When news emerged that Chip and Dale were getting their own movie, my heart sank faster than a lead balloon. It’s not that the characters don’t have entertainment value – the original Rescue Rangers animated show from the 1980s was decent enough – but it seemed like just another effort from a cash-grabbing movie studio to make money from people’s nostalgia.
Thankfully, this is much better than expected as it’s not the lame revival movie that it could have been. Instead, it’s a sharp and witty reboot that pokes fun at the tradition of bringing old cartoon characters back to life (there are several digs at the dire Alvin & the Chipmunks movies), and it features a vast array of cameos from movies and cartoons past.
You will already know that ‘Ugly Sonic’ makes an appearance if you have been following the movie online but there are a whole host of other familiar faces too, including He-Man, ET, Roger Rabbit, Scrooge McDuck, Baloo, and many many more. The majority of them aren’t that integral to the plot but as Alvin & the Chipmunks: Rescue Rangers is as much a satire as it is a kid’s movie, their inclusion does make sense when you recognise the jabs that director Akiva Schaffer is taking at Hollywood.
If you were a child of the 80s and 90s and/or a Disney fan you will undoubtedly get a lot of joy from seeing your favourite TV and movie characters brought back to life. You might be a little appalled at the way some of them have been treated – Peter Pan is now all-grown-up, unshaven, and a bit of a washout – but the skewed characterisations are part of the movie’s charm.
As the movie is less of a nostalgia-fest and more of a gentle mockery at Hollywood’s expense, you need to be ready for this when tuning in. If you’re expecting something closer in spirit to the original animated cartoons, you are going to be disappointed. This isn’t to say the movie is disrespectful of its characters – they are all treated with some degree of affection – but in the same way that you have changed and grown up since watching them on screen, so have they.
In terms of plot, it is rather thin but it’s still engaging enough. After showing us how Chip and Dale originally met, the movie fast-forwards into the future where they are the stars of their own TV show, Chip’ n Dale: Rescue Rangers. It then moves forward in time to a period where the animated rodents have fallen out with one another after the demise of their showbiz careers. But when their old co-star Monterey Jack is kidnapped, the diminutive pair join forces once more to track him down and rescue him from a fate that every animated character must surely dread (there will be no spoilers here).
The kids will enjoy the simple plot even if they don’t understand all the jokes. Adults, on the other hand, will appreciate the satirical swipes at failed animation techniques, bootlegged knock-offs of classic movies, and various Hollywood traditions and cliches. Barely anything is off limits and it’s to the writer’s credit that they have dared to rip Hollywood apart and bite the hands that feed them.
To be honest, the movie isn’t laugh out loud funny. Considering the comedic talents of director Schaffer and star Andy Samberg (who voices Dale), you might be expecting more hilarity. That isn’t to say the movie doesn’t raise a smile – you will probably have a grin on your face throughout – but the gags, as amusing as they are, aren’t enough to coax more than just a gentle chuckle. Kids will likely laugh more than their grown-up parents due to the occasional moments of slapstick, but as many of the jokes will fly over their heads, even they might sit in amused silence for a while.
Still, while this doesn’t scale the comedic heights of Schaffer’s work on Saturday Night Live or the antics of his comedy group The Lonely Island (which included Samberg), the movie is still an entertaining watch. It’s the rare animated/live-action movie that both looks good and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
If you were bummed out at seeing what Hollywood did with Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry after their failed revivals, you will be pleasantly surprised at this one. Chip and Dale have been given the movie they deserve and so have the people who grew up watching them. It’s a self-aware comedy that is cleverer than most and while it doesn’t always tickle the funny bone, it is still far better than the likes of those aforementioned efforts that patronised both their characters and their audiences.
Verdict - 7/10