At some point “references” and “Easter eggs” took over franchise movies. They’re expected. The first question out of many a fan’s lips is what are the easter eggs? For some it’s the bar by which a franchise movie is successful or not. How often can this new movie remind you of something old? This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Easter eggs and sly references are fun in small doses, and we certainly cover them on Den of Geek with great joy.
But big studios have begun to use references and Easter eggs as a crutch. An easy way to boost viewers’ serotonin, no matter what’s actually happening on screen or in the story. Just give people the thing they know and they will clap (and hopefully share it on social media). Think of Space Jam: A New Legacy, which shoved in as many references to WB properties as it could no matter if it made sense or not. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers similarly trades what could have been an engaging film for this easy serotonin, and it’s a shame.
The film takes place in a universe where the ‘80s animated series Rescue Rangers was a “real” show shot by actors in Hollywood. The leads of the show, Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) were inseparable until Dale got an offer to star in his own pilot. Thirty years later, Dale is relegated to the nostalgia convention circuit and Chip has put acting behind him. They’re forced to reunite when a former co-star disappears and they must solve this real-life case.
With such a large focus on a mystery and the merging of live-action and animation, you’ll no doubt recall the plot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? This is the movie Rescue Rangers wants to be, an engrossing mystery for people of all ages that plays with the idea of cartoons being actors. Instead of a live-action person teaming up with a toon though, here we have “traditionally animated” Chip and newly CGI’d Dale. It’s a clever idea and the movie plays with many different mediums of animation, more so than even Roger Rabbit did.
The problem is that Rescue Rangers doesn’t think this is enough so it instead shoves as many references to as many Hollywood IPs as it can throughout. It’s fun at first to spot who’s in attendance in the convention scenes, but after a while it’s obvious the film sees these references as its main attraction. That’s not to say some of them aren’t the source of great gags but most are simply of the “I saw the thing. I clapped” variety. It’s Space Jam: A New Legacy but with more than just one corporation’s intellectual property (IP).
Roger Rabbit was far more restrained in this area, making its moments of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny parachuting, or Daffy Duck and Donald Duck dueling onstage, more meaningful in their brevity. They added to the world; they weren’t the whole point of it.
When Rescue Rangers lets up on the references there’s a fun buddy comedy to be had. Mulaney and Samberg are a great double act, and the moments of heartfelt emotion between them land well. Chip and Dale’s story of reconciling their friendship isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the two leads bring a fun humor and energy to the proceedings.
The referenceless (or at least reference light) bits of the film also crackle with ingenious visual gags and witty takes on animation. It made me long for a version of this film with most (if not all) of the IP taken out. Rescue Rangers has enough good ideas that it could have stood on its own, a Roger Rabbit for a new generation, but it has no chance for an identity of its own under the weight of all the references. It wouldn’t surprise me if this were an original script that was overhauled by Disney into a form that could take advantage of IP.
Rescue Rangers is not a bad movie if you want to play an hour and a half version of “spot the thing you know.” If so there’s more than enough of that to keep you entertained. Original Rescue Rangers fans especially should also be pleased with the way the film cleverly plays with the TV show. Outside of that the film doesn’t have much to offer. It gives you more Easter eggs and references than any viewer could have imagined but it also proves they alone don’t make a great movie.
Rescue Rangers will be released on Disney+ Friday, May 20.