Nostalgia is a fickle thing in the entertainment world nowadays. People enjoy looking back on the things they loved during their childhood, and taking a chance to revisit some of those things decades later can sometimes be fun. That's rarely what actually happens, though. Film and TV studios have gone all-in on rebooting and reimagining old properties in order to try and get the attention of audiences, oftentimes completely ignoring story and character development in the process. It's at the point where "nostalgia" has become something of a negative word with many critics and fans, as the efforts to mine joy out of the past takes precedence over simply making something good. On the surface, one might think that the Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers movie on Disney+ is just another cog in the eternal nostalgia content machine. Fortunately, that's not the case at all.
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers doesn't rely on nostalgia, so much as uses it in order to tell a story about what that word means and why it can be a powerful thing. It's all in the film's tagline: "It's not a reboot. It's a comeback." Rescue Rangers utilizes all of the wonderful and ugly things associated with nostalgia and packs them into a delightfully dark and hilarious film that you'll have a hard time only watching once.
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers takes some big cues from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, bringing animated characters into the real world and blending those two cultures together. The story picks up in the present day, years after the Rescue Rangers animated series went off the air. It's revealed that the series ended because Dale wanted to try his hand at a solo career, essentially breaking the team up for good, and Chip hasn't spoken to him for decades. Dale has since undergone "CGI surgery" to look more realistic (like Disney's recent "live-action" reboots) and rebrand his image. But no amount of convention booths or messages for his agent can get something going, at least not while he's a solo act.
The two former friends reunite thanks to Monterrey Jack, one of the beloved Rescue Rangers, who calls them both for help when he's running behind on payments to some shady figures, thanks to his devastating cheese addiction. When Jack is kidnapped, potentially to be "bootlegged" into an unlicensed spin-off property, Chip and Dale reunite to try to save their friend.
There are a ton of jokes and Easter eggs packed into Rescue Rangers — just about every frame is another blast from the past or gag about the state of the entertainment industry. It won't spoil much to mention an early appearance from Roger Rabbit or an ongoing reference to a movie called "Batman vs. E.T." Instead of just throwing these hints and jokes at the wall to try to get audiences to latch onto something, Rescue Rangers uses them all to service its meta-narrative about reboot culture as a whole.
While Chip and Dale may not seem like the characters you'd expect to take a deep dive into the frustrating state of the movie business and the irritations of nostalgia-baiting, things make a lot more sense when you look at some of the creative minds working on the film. This is a Lonely Island movie through and through. Akiva Schaffer, one member of the satirical trio, directs Rescue Rangers with the same tenacity as his last feature-length project, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Both take hilarious and often damning looks at the ridiculousness of our entertainment landscape, and both feature the immensely talented Andy Samberg in the lead role.
Samberg stars as Dale while Saturday Night Live alum and fan-favorite standup comedian John Mulaney plays Chip. The two are every bit as fantastic in the roles as we all expected when the film was first announced. Their comedic timing is as impeccable as ever, but it's their individual abilities to deliver on the duo's most touching and important moments that really bring the performances home.
Despite being a thorough and relentless examination of reboots in modern Hollywood, Rescue Rangers is still a rather widely relatable and appealing film. Yes, if you spend a lot of time critiquing current film trends or have spent any amount of years as a part of the Hollywood system, there are a lot of things in this movie that will resonate with you. The true feat of Rescue Rangers is its ability to be that kind of film while also just telling a sweet, albeit sometimes dark story about two beloved Disney characters trying to put aside their differences and learn to love one another again. It's an adventure rooted in friendship, the kind that has always been at the heart of Chip 'n Dale stories.
When it comes to nostalgia, films and TV shows usually go one of two ways: they're either designed just to make fans of the original material feel good, or they're intent on making a statement about the culture that created this reboot craze in the first place. Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is the unique movie that has its cheese and eats it, too, excelling in both regards to deliver a satirical thriller that's every bit sweet as it is scathing. This is the rare case where nostalgia can truly be a beautiful thing.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers arrives on Disney+ on May 20th.