Here’s the stand-out moment for many people who fondly recall 1988’s sometimes dazzling blend of live-action and animation, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
It’s the long-awaited teaming up of Warner Brothers’ wise-quacking anti-hero Daffy Duck with Disney’s sputtering, exasperated and always put-upon Donald Duck.
But it’s not just the startling sight of seeing them both on the screen at the same time that made it work. It’s the idea of them being a nightclub act, furiously pounding through a dueling pianos routine. It’s the funny lines they exchange, in growing exasperation with each other.
“I’ve worked with a lot of withe-quackerth, but you are dethpicable! Thith ith the latht time I work with thomeone with a th-peech impediment!”
That’s a key lesson ignored in Disney’s Chip’n’Dale version of an animation-in-a-live-action-setting comedy, an extension of their beloved-by-90s-kids “Rescue Rangers” TV show. You can round up “the old gang,” make one of the chipmunks — Chip — “tradigital” animated, the way we remember them from TV. You can make the other an “upgrade.” Dale’s “had the CGI (plush, textured 3D) surgery done.”
You can give “Chip’n’Dale: Rescue Rangers” a Roger Rabbitish quest/plot. Somebody’s kidnapping cartoon characters and forcing them to work in pirated versions of their films.
And you can throw The Simpsons and Flounder, Batman and Baloo the Bear and even Roger Rabbit himself into the mix, with either mentions, appearances and jokes about scores of other animated characters.
But if you don’t come up with gags and funny lines for them to say and amusing situations to stick them in, that’s all you’ve got — a “stunt.”
Cast comics Andy Samberg as Dale and John Mulaney as Chip, our lead chipmunks and leaders of the Rescue Rangers, but failing to give Mulvaney a single line that might merit so much as a grin is the epitome of missing the point.
Seth Rogen as a Viking king with a hilariously over-used laugh? Ok. But Aussie-accented Eric Bana, as kidnapped “Ranger” Monterrey Jack is wasted in a role that’s largely absent, as his character’s being held hostage.
Animated or live action, you can’t do better than hiring Will Arnett as your villain. He barely registers.
And on and on it goes.
Yes, the cop the chipmunks team up with (Kiki Layne) is a plucky young woman. But female cartoon inclusion comes up SERIOUSLY under-represented in the film, which had a male director and male writers and it apparently never occurred to them that little girls loved that TV show, too.
Still, the “Rescue Rangers” is technically impressive enough to be worth a look. And if you’re of a certain age, it might give you a bit of the warm fuzzies.
Me? These two just remind me of how much funnier the Warner Brothers gay gophers Mac and Tosh were and still are, lo these many decades later.
Rating: PG for mild action and rude/suggestive humor
Cast: The voices of Andy Samberg, John Mulaney, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, Dennis Haysbert, Will Arnett and Eric Bana, with Kiki Layne
Credits: Directed by Akiva Schaffer, scripted by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand. A Walt Disney/Disney+ release.
Running time: 1:37