Donnerstag, 26. Mai 2022

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers

For a while, you could be forgiven for thinking that Akiva Schaffer's cheerily self-deprecating Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, the latest offering emerging from the seemingly unstoppable Disney assembly line of sequels, remakes, and reboots, marks a step in the right direction in the often depressingly uniform landscape of intellectual-property filmmaking – if only because this one actually displays an awareness that it is the product of an industry suffering from a prolonged spell of autocannibalism.

Set, Who Framed Roger Rabbit-like, in a Hollywood peopled both by human beings and all manners of animated characters – from sock puppets to mid-2000s motion capture models – it stars Chip and Dale, the squeaky-voiced animated chipmunks who made their Disney debut in the 1940s, as comic foils first to Pluto, then Donald Duck, and who went on to star in the cartoon series Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which ran for three seasons from 1989 to 1990.

The Chip and Dale we find in Schaffer's movie may not be so squeaky-voiced anymore – now they're exchanging witty 2020s comedy banter in the voices of John Mulaney (Chip) and Andy Samberg (Dale) respectively – and one of them (Dale) looks decidedly more three-dimensional than viewers might remember him, but they are very much their Rescue Rangers selves. In fact, in this world, Rescue Rangers was a TV smash hit too; that is, until Dale started toying with the idea of launching a solo career, which led to the cancellation of their beloved double act.

30 years on, sensible, strait-laced Chip is a successful but desperately lonely insurance salesman, while the more impulsive and erratic Dale, following his "CGI surgery," tries to tap into what little Rescue Rangers nostalgia is left in the world by appearing at pop-culture conventions, cultivating his social media accounts, and telling everyone who will listen (and even those who won't) that the big Chip 'n Dale reboot is just around the corner. And indeed, when Monty (voiced by Eric Bana), a former member of the Rescue Rangers squad, is the latest victim of a string of cartoon-character disappearances, the two estranged friends have no choice but to work together again and launch an investigation into the dark underbelly of Tinseltown.

Much of that smacks of Roger Rabbit Reloaded, and even when accounting for this looming influence, there is a lot of narrative box-checking here, with screenwriters Doug Mand and Dan Gregor (the duo behind Dolittle) going through the family-friendly mystery motions of a Rescue Rangers – which may be thematically fitting, but which does start to feel somewhat generic after a while.

Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It also doesn't help that the actors tasked with making the goings-on come alive are only fitfully engaging: while Samberg does well to instil in Dale the impudent charm of Jake Peralta, his role on the sitcom Brooklyn 99, Mulaney, so good as manic Spider-Ham in 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, audibly struggles to make his straight man Chip sound anything other than wooden and bored. Similar issues plague the movie's only major live-action performance, KiKi Layne's turn as rookie LAPD officer Ellie, whose conversations with her various animated interlocutors ring unfailingly hollow.

Yet, in spite of these flaws in structure and presentation, the decision to go the self-reflexive route in this reboot is ultimately not an unwelcome one. For one, Disney's recent output, from the infernal live-action remakes of established animated classics to the frankly perverse number of Star Wars spin-off series, can attest to there being far worse ways of going about such an exercise in brand management.

For another, even Disney couldn't keep on releasing movies whose primary purpose appears to be to remind audiences of what they used to like (or, in some cases, vaguely be aware of) back in the day without at some point addressing the innumerable elephants in the room – most notably the fact that this recycling-based artistic and economic model has not just become the norm in mainstream entertainment but has put the takeover-happy mega conglomerate well on its way towards total cultural domination.

Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In fact, on paper, Rescue Rangers even made some shrewd decisions in its selection of those helming the project: director Akiva Schaffer and star Andy Samberg are long-term creative collaborators, whose self-explanatorily titled 2016 musical mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Stopping has been hailed as one of the past decade's outstanding satirical comedies.

So why is there such a thick miasma of smarm hanging over everything? Maybe it's because the old truism still holds, well, true: in the end, capitalism will subsume and appropriate even the most damning critiques of itself. Or put another way: you're a fool if you think Disney doesn’t know how to turn a fierce indictment of its artistic ethos, which, ultimately, is little more than a business practice, into a profit.

Sure, Dale is portrayed as a naïve bandwagoneer for turning himself into a furry 3-D monstrosity: the movie even features the human-toothed early model for the current theatrical iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog – a model that was swiftly redesigned after a viral uproar – who serves as a cautionary tale for the aesthetic dangers of turning two-dimensional cartoon characters into "realistic" CGI.

Yes, Chip scoffs at Hollywood's overreliance on derivative, increasingly absurd redeployments of familiar characters and franchises: Fast & Furious but with babies! Meryl Streep in a series adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire! Batman vs. E.T.! "See?" the movie seems to be saying at every turn. "We've read the same tweets you have! Isn't it all so hollow and cynical?"

Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

To say that this attempt at ingratiation falls completely flat would indeed be unfair: the current state of the American film industry is ripe for satirising, and Mand and Gregor do manage to wring a decent number of laughs out of it, helped by the imaginative integration of different styles of animated characters into the live-action environment.

There's even a fairly clever villain in place: voiced by Will Arnett with his trademark dirtbag panache, a now middle-aged Peter Pan, having never forgiven Hollywood for condemning him to obscurity after adulthood inevitably caught up with him, exacts his revenge by producing cheap knock-offs of beloved classics. Qualms about Disney, a company infamous for its laughably narrow definition of "fair use," wagging its finger at what it perceives as copyright infringers notwithstanding, this is the source of many a solid sight gag – and it leads up to an intriguingly symbolic final showdown that sees Chip and Dale face off with a veritable Frankenstein's monster of disaparate shreds of IP.

But for all its effort, Rescue Rangers can never shake the fundamental dishonesty at work here: Disney wants to eat its cake and have it, too – which is to say, poke fun at a world it has helped create and has no intention, and certainly no incentive, to change. There's an air of The Office's David Brent to these proceedings – the overeager comedy stylings of someone who doesn't realise, or rather doesn't want to admit, that the joke is on them, and that the joke was not made with benign intent in the first place. It would be sad if it wasn't so calculated.

Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Moreover, even in its would-be satire, Rescue Rangers can't help but feel a little too self-congratulatory in places, such as when Chip sits down to watch Batman vs. E.T. after a long day at work and ends up crying at the climax. And of course, Dale eventually gets his long-awaited reboot – albeit only in the closing credits – and of course, it's a hit, and of course, the only ones who dislike it are "the critics."

This, then, is where the movie ends up in its assessment of Hollywood as it exists today – in a place of contented resignation. Reboots are the unchallengeable law of the land, their derivative status ancillary to whether they are good or bad: some will be terrible, as there have always been terrible movies; and some will strike a nerve, as movies always have. In any case, the debate will be settled at the box office, or the various streaming platforms' secret viewing logs – which is easy for Disney to say, as it continues to conquer the market.

Obviously, these sinister rumblings do not negate the undeniable pleasures that can be found in the effortlessly, if not to say edgelessly entertaining Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. But given the movie's pronounced provocative gestures, it is not a little dispiriting to see it ultimately raise the same sobering questions as so many reboots before it: where will it all end?


Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is available on Disney+

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