As a general rule, movie reboots proceed from a basic assumption about interest and familiarity — that audiences adore some bygone franchise, and will be eager to see it resuscitated.
The charming conceit of the director Akiva Schaffer’s “Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” an ironic reboot of the short-lived cartoon series for children that aired on the Disney Channel from 1989 to 1990, is that hardly anybody remembers the original “Rescue Rangers,” and that few who do remember it fondly.
A wry take on the material that combines animation and live-action comedy, the movie has some of the hip flair and anarchic meta-humor of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” as well as an irreverent, self-referential attitude that’s rather appealing.
In the universe of this “Rescue Rangers,” cartoons live among humans. Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg), decades removed from the fleeting success of their Disney Channel series, are washed up and disconsolate, desperate for another shot at fame. After their former co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) is abducted, they find themselves embroiled in a real-life caper — one that involves not only a helpful human detective (Kiki Layne), but also a variety of familiar cartoon faces, including a middle-aged Peter Pan (Will Arnett) and Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson), the janky-looking version of Sonic the Hedgehog who was hastily redesigned after online backlash in 2019.
These kinds of cross-universe cameos have been done before, notably in the 2012 animated movie “Wreck-It Ralph” and last year’s “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” But this odd “Rescue Rangers” menagerie is surprising and eclectic, with some niche nods and deep-cut references, which is fitting given the conspicuous insignificance of the material and its heroes.
If there’s going to be a movie about nobodies like Chip and Dale, it only seems right that it should include such wide-ranging animated allusions as “South Park,” “Rugrats” and “The Polar Express.”
Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Watch on Disney+.