The new Disney+ movie, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, continues a time-honored tradition whenever animation and live-action meet. As far back as 1940, when Porky Pig “quit” his gig with Warner Bros. to try to get a job at another studio in the Looney Tunes short You Ought to Be in Pictures, cartoon characters have frequently been portrayed as regular old actors who are simply playing roles. They just happen to be cartoons. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? perfected this in the ‘80s, and Chip ‘n Dale brings the trope to the modern era, as Chip and Dale are portrayed as has-been actors following the cancelation of their ‘90s cartoon series.
However, while the movie has tons of fun playing with the differences between beloved cartoon characters and who they “really” are, one of Chip ‘n Dale’s best jokes bluntly — and hilariously — subverts the movie’s meta premise. Spoilers ahead.
The beginning of Chip ‘n Dale sets up that the titular duo met as kids in school and made their way to Hollywood together, where they eventually got their big break. Along with Monterey Jack, Gadget Hackwrench, and Zipper, they star in the real Chip ‘n Dale TV series from the early ‘90s. While there are clear similarities between the cartoon “actors” and the characters they play, it’s clear that they are different. The show is canceled after Dale (Andy Samberg) makes a go at a solo career, his friendship with Chip (John Mulaney) suffers, and the cast of Rescue Rangers largely go their separate ways. For what it’s worth, this plot is kinda of like the Lonely Island/Andy Samberg film Popstar. Dale is basically Connor 4 Real.
When Monterey Jack is in trouble with some shady debtors over some stinky cheese, Chip and Dale begrudgingly reunite to try to help their old friend — and, in the process, they don’t just rekindle their friendship, but they actually do some real-life rescue ranging. The narrative thrust of the movie is watching the actors Chip and Dale become closer to the characters we knew from the old show.
But the Gadget is straight-up the same character from the show, and the movie makes a killer self-aware joke about it. It’s great and subtle but wonderful.
Towards the end of the film, when Chip and their live-action ally in the police, Ellie Steckler (Kiki Layne), has been kidnapped, Dale turns to his old co-stars for help. After the show, Gadget married Zipper, who despite only being able to buzz unintelligibly on the show, speaks with a deep, clear, and professional voice (Dennis Haysbert) in the real world. Gadget, on the other hand, is not at all different from her character on the show aside from her relationship with Zipper. While Chip and Dale just played Rescue Rangers on TV, Gadget actually is a technical wizard who knows how to fly her inventions. (She is also, notably, the only member of the Rescue Rangers who is fully voiced by her original voiceover artists from the ‘90s show, as Tress Macneille reprises the role.)
“I’m amazed this thing actually flies! And you know how to fly it!” Dale says during the scene.
“Yeah, I guess my character from the old show and my character in real life are basically exactly the same,” Gadget replies.
“Yeah, I guess so!” Dale says.
In some critical circles, this is colloquially known as lampshade hanging. Basically, it’s when a movie or show deliberately calls attention to a potential plot hole, improbability, or some other possibly “weak” or “lazy” writing. In this case, it would have been a little weird in the fiction of the movie if Gadget actually just was her Rescue Rangers character while everybody else is a mere actor. But, because the movie calls itself out, it’s actually a great little joke.
Most of Chip ‘n Dale’s humor comes from the premise that cartoons are actors. Ugly Sonic, the funniest and most unexpected joke in the movie, definitely does this, as the infamous scrapped design for the 2021 Sonic the Hedgehog movie appears as a Z-list actor haunting the fan convention circuit who does not act or sound like Sonic, the character, at all. But, with Gadget, Chip ‘n Dale has its cake and eats it too, essentially bringing back a beloved character from the show with no significant changes or subversions from her ‘90s iteration while still managing to make a meta-joke.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is now streaming on Disney+