As the race for limited series has become more competitive over the last decade, the art of the TV movie has seen an inversely proportional decline in popularity and visibility. The two formats have competed in separate categories at the Emmys since 2014 (the most recent separation), but Best TV Movie has been relegated to the Creative Arts ceremony the past two years, and it’s likely been even longer since it has been truly relevant. But the Disney+ film “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” has the power to change that.
A hybrid live-action/CG animated film based on the late 1980s cartoon about the adorable anthropomorphic chipmunks first created by The Walt Disney Company in the early 1940s, the movie features comedians John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the voices of Chip and Dale, respectively. Best friends since childhood, the two go on to become co-stars on the late ‘80s TV show “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” but they eventually go their separate ways after the latter decides he’s finished playing second fiddle and is ready to strike out on his own. Years later when their one-time co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) is kidnapped by Sweet Pete (Will Arnett), a cynical, middle-aged Peter Pan with a robust bootlegging business, Chip — now a successful insurance salesman — and Dale — a former actor on the convention circuit — reunite to save him and stop Pete’s nefarious enterprise in the process.
Admittedly, the synopsis doesn’t scream Emmy bait, but the simplicity belies its ingenuity. In many ways, “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is the spiritual successor to the classic movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988). The variety of animation styles on display throughout its blissfully short 97 minutes — including the questionable-in-hindsight motion-capture animation of the mid-2000s — contributes high levels of creativity and originality. Between its razor-sharp satirization of Hollywood and its obsession with reboot culture and the sight gags on every billboard (“Lego Misérables”), around every corner (“Waze: The Movie”) and sometimes even under characters’ feet (Chun Li’s star on the Walk of Fame), the film is as smart as it is funny. And yet, one does not need to understand the deep-cut cultural references or catch even half the Easter eggs hidden within to enjoy the film.
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A total crowd-pleaser, “Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” is one of the best and funniest films of the year. While Emmy voters don’t traditionally favor comedies in the race for Best TV Movie (or limited series, for that matter), the most recent nominees have been so disjointed, and the category so weak as a result, that it’s sometimes difficult to determine what will and what won’t end up catching voters’ eyes.
Last year, the Netflix musical “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” triumphed over HBO’s historical drama “Oslo,” Lifetime’s biopic “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia,” and Prime Video’s romantic drama “Sylvie’s Love” and the road-trip film “Uncle Frank.” Meanwhile, in 2020, HBO’s “Bad Education” successfully beat out Netflix’s hyped Jesse Pinkman-centered film “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.” And this was despite the fact its parent show had been awarded Best Drama Series twice and star Aaron Paul had been named Best Drama Supporting Actor three times prior. Before that, “Black Mirror” won three in a row on the back of the British show’s popularity.
You can likely chalk up a lot of the recent Emmy outcomes to a general sense of apathy with regards to the Best TV Movie category, which results in viewers often voting for familiar names or populist choices. But there is now a very real contender in the form of “Rescue Rangers,” and it has the power to make the category relevant again. While “Chip ‘n Dale” is aimed at adults, it is enjoyable for all, which is a sign of a well-made film, one that has the ability to stand up to repeat viewings. Although this is not traditionally something that matters in the race for Best TV Movie (who out there is rewatching “Game Change” or “The Normal Heart” on a regular basis?), in this case it probably should factor into the conversation. It’s rare for a movie to be both objectively well made and be a hit with the masses. So in a category that can be frequently forgettable, a film as memorable as this one deserves a chance to shine.
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