Chip and Dale are smart candidates for a reboot—they’re a recognizable cartoon Disney duo, even if one doesn’t know their series, or have a nostalgia for them in the slightest. Plus, there’s no massive fanbase that I can think of who would be insulted by it. All the better fit for a bromance, in which John Mulaney and Andy Samberg can voice Chip and Dale, respectively, as two estranged friends who reunite after their showbiz careers fizzle out when the actual show “Rescue Rangers” went off the air. This is a live-action reboot of sorts, complete with Chip being a ‘90s hand-drawn version who now sells insurance, while Samberg’s Dale has become a self-designated hotshot after getting “CGI surgery.”
This movie is directed by Akiva Schaffer, and stars Andy Samberg voicing as Dale, so technically that makes it a Lonely Island movie (their third member, Jorma Taccone, does bit voice parts). That inherently raises the pedigree for it, especially with how they have previously parodied pop music and success in the past. But we’re not so lucky this time, as this movie doesn’t have enough of a distinct comic personality, despite some inspired additions to a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” or “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” premise.
One such inspired idea is how this movie casually includes different eras and recognizable styles on animation, recognizing that we’ve all become historians in the industry, whether we realize it or not. For example, Seth Rogen plays a smushed-down viking character with “Polar Express” eyes, a wildly funny idea that low-key makes this movie about the ups and downs of animation—across all companies, not just Disney. And the movie also uses voice talents like that of Tress MacNeille, Jim Cummings, Jeff Bennett, and more, keeping the characters authentic, the talent recognized. But the funniest character is voiced by Tim Robinson of “I Think You Should Leave,” and it’s so surprising and sharp you wish there more jokes from wherever it originated.
The film’s savviness with its world-building makes all the more apparent how tame its plotting is, which puts Chip and Dale into a rote investigation story. At the least the premise is funny: former enchanted sweetheart Sweet Pete (Will Arnett) has been kidnapping characters and changing their physical features, “bootlegging” them for knock-offs. (“Lady and Tramp” has been remade as “Spaghetti Dogs.”) With the help of a policewoman and superfan named Ellie (KiKi Layne), Chip ‘n Dale investigate the kidnapping of their companion Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). They follow clues that lead them to shady characters like cheesemonger Bjornson (Keegan-Michael Key), and the Coca-Cola bear (voiced by Da’Vone McDonald).
But the execution of all this, the best way to keep us engaged wth story, is lacking (even when cinematographer Larry Fong gives the progressively kooky events a couple explosive action sequences). When there’s a joke bout a third-act twist being cliche, it’s more like trying to cover the tracks. It doesn’t help that the jokes not related to current properties just aren’t funny or memorable.
The Henson company tried something similar to this a few years ago with vats of bodily fluids in the godawful “The Happytime Murders.” This movie isn’t that bad, which is a plus. It’s also better than the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films, but it’s still stuck in that usual spot animated movie spot of trying to make something “for kids,” with some irreverent references and deep cuts for the adults. Take away the cameos—in the recording booth, and animated on-screen—and you get something that’s a little too close to the same old junk.