“Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” is one of the biggest surprises of the year. And keeping that surprise going, the Disney+ original film is now an Emmy nominee (for Outstanding Television Movie).
The movie, a whip-smart, metatextual comedy, imagines Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) as stars of a popular 1980s TV series (“Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers”) that, over the years, grew estranged. Now, with a rash of mysterious crimes that share a connection with the series, the two have to team up once again to take down the bad guys and save the day – for real this time. Along the way, they bump into other animated icons (Ugly Sonic, the original version of the “Sonic the Hedgehog” character, is a supporting character) and uncover a vast conspiracy, hidden underneath Hollywood’s sunny veneer.
As imagined by screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” takes aim squarely at the live-action reboots and re-imaginings that have become a staple of popular culture (particularly at Disney), with astoundingly weird results. TheWrap spoke to Gregor and Mand about their Emmy-nominated feature, what it was like clearing all of those characters and what they have in mind for the future of the franchise. But, as we know, sometimes, some crimes go slipping through the cracks.
Where did this come from? Was there an open call for insane ‘Rescue Rangers’ takes? And you said, “Yeah, we’re insane”?
Dan Gregor: We’ve been working with Disney on a couple different things and they asked us one day if we wanted to come up with any takes for ‘Rescue Rangers.’ Honestly, our first reaction was like, “Eh, no. Why?” But they were insistent and they said, “Well, really just come in with anything.”
For us, we really started asking ourselves, “Okay, why would we do this? Why should this movie exist? Why do we do all these reboots in the first place?” We started to ask a lot more about the larger culture of this endless stream of reboots and toxic nostalgia and what we are all getting out of constantly reliving our past. We started having real clarity on it when we started putting those conversations and questions into the mouths of the characters. Once the characters, Chip and Dale, started asking those same questions, it all started to make a lot of sense to us that we should look at perhaps kind of ‘Roger Rabbit’-esque Hollywood story about two former actors having these conversations. That was the jumping-off point for us, that infused the whole world and the ethos underneath all of it.
Doug Mand: We pitched them this idea and we’re like, “You told us to come in with anything.” They liked it and our producers at Mandeville, Todd Lieberman and Alex Stone, liked it too. We were like, “Okay, we’ll write it. If you’re cool with this idea, we’ll write it.” The whole way through, we were like, “Are you sure?” They, to their credit, were into the idea and got behind it.
Was there ever a version where it was actually set in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s during the production of the show?
Doug Mand: Not our version. The way we approached it was just like Dan said, was always “Let’s look at this.” As long as we came from the question of why do this, we put that in their mouths and it immediately became kind of clear to us that we wanted to tell a story that took place after the height of their fame and tell a story about a friendship gone wrong –
Dan Gregor: Where the idea of a reboot that asks why is… The original title of this movie was “The Rescue Rangers Reboot that No One Asked For” and so it was really important for us that it had to exist in today’s culture. It had to exist in a culture where there are too many reboots, where there is an endless stream of old properties and re-hashing, and re-imaginings and prequels, sequels, all that stuff. It necessarily needed to be today.
Can you talk about the evolution of the script?
Doug Mand: Well, to give you a sense of time, we started writing this movie seven years ago. However, I would say that we’ve done our share of writing films for studios and it was a mostly really great experience. They liked the movie, they bought the concept and there were notes along the way that were maybe about making it a little more accessible for a wider audience, but we didn’t really ever push into changing the core idea of this movie, but it just died. The movie died, it didn’t get made, there was no Disney+ at the time. Sometimes you hand movies in and they don’t get a great response. This movie got a really good response, the first couple drafts, but there were only so many slots for this to come out. Between Marvel, Pixar, Disney –
Dan Gregor: Star Wars.
Doug Mand: Star Wars. This was probably not going to be a four-quadrant, big release. But then Disney+ happened and to Mandeville’s credit, they didn’t ever give up on the film, and they gave it to Akiva Schafer three years ago and Akiva read the script that said: “The Rescue Rangers Reboot That Nobody Wanted.” He saw that title. He was like, “I want to read that.” He read it, he loved it. Disney+ was happening and so then the gears started turning again and we revisited it and we were able to look at it again with fresh eyes and with Akiva’s eyes, who’s such a talented writer, as well as director, that he had some thoughts that really cleared up some of the issues that we were having or didn’t realize.
But the truth of the matter is, as far as studio films go, this hasn’t really changed all that much. You could read the original and be like, “Yeah, this is the movie.” There’s certain things that have changed, but really this is the essence of the movie. And I think it got better, Akiva just made it better. And our producers made it better, which is not always the case.
What were those accessibility questions?
Dan Gregor: Without getting too specific, Doug and I… The movie is an homage to ‘Roger Rabbit,’ but it’s also an homage to “L.A. Confidential.” And Doug and I are really in love with the larger noir genre. What does greedy, failed actor, Los Angeles look like? And to be totally frank, we probably wrote stuff that was way too in the weeds about it being a noir and was like, “Well, yeah, that’s never going to be a Disney movie” I think the balance that we found is something we’re really. It’s inspired by those things and it’s all in the DNA of it, but hopefully, it’s also fun and poppy in a way that is a little more accessible.
Can you talk about writing in characters from other studios? I’m so fascinated by this.
Doug Mand: You and us both, Drew. The bottom line is that we cannot believe this movie got made. We just cannot believe it. You watch it and I watch it and just like, Holy shit, how did this happen? You want to write the best piece of material, especially that first draft. That part wasn’t really a challenge, it was just Dan and I talking to each other and being like, “What’s make going to make us laugh? What characters, what pieces of IP tell the best version of this story?” With the thought and the actual conversation constantly happening of us going, “I mean, they’re never going to make this movie, so why not?” And then they did. When Akiva came on, he so understood what we were going for, that it was important to him that this role was populated and that it was a send-up to ‘Roger Rabbit.’
‘Roger Rabbit,’ one of the great joys of watching that movie was seeing Warner characters with Disney characters, and we wanted to create that feeling of like, Oh my God, I can’t believe why I’m watching these characters share the screen with each other. And Disney was on board with that, so it became a question of every one of those characters you see in there was just an individual negotiation that happened. And that is to the credit of Disney’s legal team. They probably have been cursing our names for the amount of work that was created, but they did an amazing job and Akiva calling in favors and everyone really getting on board and being like, “Let’s just make this happen.” There are things that didn’t go in, but more things were said yes to than we could have ever imagined.
Dan Gregor: But it was really movie magic at the time to… A generation of people experiencing those characters as separate universes to see them together for the first time. Even now it leaves a mark, and so it was really important for us to feel that, and it was really important for us that this movie not feel like a Disney+ advertisement. It was really, really important that this not just be Disney characters. Because otherwise, you don’t want it to feel like you’re just parading out all of the other things you can go purchase in the in-app studio store, that would defeat the purpose of commenting on the commercialism.
Have you thought about the further adventures of Chip and Dale?
Dan Gregor: Oh, we have some ideas. We are very excited about the larger world. We definitely have one idea that we’re really, really excited about that we will pitch to Disney as soon as they tell us they want it.
Would this idea involve a certain crime-fighting duck that we see at the very end the movie?
Doug Mand: Possibly. There’s a couple ideas that we’re like… So this is not just some cash grab ideas. We think that there’s more to say in this world and stuff that we couldn’t quite get into this movie that is pretty rich, we think.
Dan Gregor: All characters that we went through many iterations where they were more present in this movie but as the story had to find its specificity and speed into a 90-minute movie that some of those storylines of had to go to the wayside. We definitely think there’s a lot more of those characters that we’d love to get to explore and push.
The Disney Afternoon Cinematic Universe, that’s my pitch to you.
Dan Gregor: Believe me, we’re in.
Doug Mand: We’re right there with you.
“Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” is on Disney+ right now.