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Review: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

A self-aware reboot that’s refreshingly light.

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It was before the first line of dialogue in Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers that I found myself saying,

“This could’ve done well in theaters.”

The point practically goes without saying now. We’re at least a few years out from major studios putting anything but their safest bets in theaters. This summer, Disney’s putting a Predator movie straight to Hulu.

Still, all the pieces are here. Chip ‘n Dale is right in the nostalgia sweet spot, franchise family movies are still raking in cash, and John Mulaney’s the biggest name in comedy (for now). As a spiritual successor to Roger Rabbit, this film could’ve become a phenomenon with a big-screen push behind it.

And yet, as I review it, I find myself kind of appreciating it as a streaming movie. I would’ve loved it on the big screen—it’s the funniest movie of 2022 so far—but the fact that it’s not an ~event picture~ is part of what makes its charms shine through.

The film is wise to avoid connecting itself too heavily to Roger Rabbit. There are hints, but the distance allows it to develop its own sense of worldbuilding. It also covers for the, er, less impressive integration of “2D” animation. 

While it was clowned on in the trailers, I think it comes off okay in the final product. This film is really an homage to the broad spectrum of animation, including the many new developments since ‘88. One memorable sequence sends up the uncanny mo-cap of ‘00s Zemeckis movies. J.K. Simmons plays Detective Putty, a character produced in Gumby-style claymation.

In the 30 years after Rescue Rangers gets canceled, Chip and Dale haven’t spoken. Chip (Mulaney) is a dejected insurance salesman who lives alone with his dog. Dale (Andy Samberg) is working the convention circuit, coasting off nostalgia and trying to get a Rescue Rangers reboot off the ground.

They reunite by chance at the home of castmate Monterey Jack (Eric Bana), now drowning in debt from his cheese addiction. It’s only after Jack goes missing that Chip and Dale are forced to come together, working alongside rookie cop Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne) to solve the case.

At a brisk 97 minutes, it manages to feel both breezy and dense. It’s never overwhelming, but looking back on it, it never fails to squeeze out a good gag. Part of this is the solid script by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend alums Dan Gregor and Doug Mand. 

The less obvious brilliance, though, comes from Lonely Island director Akiva Schaffer. There’s not a single shot in this film that isn’t grounded in live-action reality, and yet only one major player is a live-action character. It’s incredibly rare to see a live action-animation hybrid with as much visual life as Chip ‘n Dale has.

What’s not to like? A few things, actually. Many have called the portrayal of an older, bedraggled Peter Pan distasteful given the tragic story of actor Bobby Driscoll. I think the intent was to show an irreverence for Disney, which is part of what gives this film a unique identity, but it’s easy to see how it could come off as the inverse.

The real head-scratcher for me is the portrayal of Gadget (Tress MacNeille). Possibly the most beloved character from Rescue Rangers, she becomes a third-act MacGuffin here. I see the appeal of making her a “reveal,” but when the gag of her character is that she’s exactly like she is on the show, it feels more half-baked than anything else.

There’s a good chance that the idea was to save Gadget for whatever the next chapter of this franchise is. That’s the thing: Chip ‘n Dale is a parody of reboots, but it also is a reboot. They have every intention of revisiting it if it proves successful, and it seems like it has.

It’s the same issue with the Bobby Driscoll controversy. This film is a mockery of Disney corporate interests, but it’s also playing directly into them. The final shot of this movie hints at other Disney Afternoon characters stepping into this world. I would love to see that specific character get their own film in this vein, but isn’t a parody-of-franchises franchise sort of self-defeating?

I guess it would be a good thing if Disney started to move in this creative, irreverent direction. But if the end result is just another win for Disney, who’s really won?

But that’s just food for thought. For now, Chip ‘n Dale is a great time. There’s a lot of strong gags in it, and a pretty solid story underneath. While it plays at nostalgia, it succeeds because it never lets nostalgia take the place of humor, plot, or character. B+
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is now available on Disney+.

Harper Goldman (she/her) is a writer and Sarah Lawrence alum based in Philadelphia. She hosts the weekly podcast Pulp Friction and also works as a musician, comedian, and playwright.

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Vince McMahon Stepped Down From WWE. Or Did He?

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The news rang out around the world on Friday. 

Vince McMahon, father and face of the modern WWE, is voluntarily stepping down from his CEO position. The news came amid allegations of misconduct, affairs, and hush money.

And then, the strangest thing happened. Moments later, WWE announced that McMahon would make an appearance during Smackdown. Many speculated that McMahon would take the opportunity to admit remorse, address the new path, or prepare a last goodbye for fans.

Instead, he did this.

“It is a privilege, as always, to stand before you here tonight, the WWE Universe. Especially a privilege to stand here in this ring in Minnesota.

I’m here simply to remind you of the four words we just saw in what we call the WWE signature. Those four words are then, now, forever, and the most important word is together.

Welcome to SmackDown!”

“Bizarre spectacle” is a phrase that could appear under the dictionary definition for World Wrestling Entertainment.. But even fans were left scratching their heads by this appearance, with one caught on camera appearing to ask “That’s it?”

What really happened to Vince McMahon

Image credit: CNN

If you didn’t read past headlines about stepping down amid misconduct allegations, you might be stunned that McMahon would appear on TV at all. The truth, as is often the case, is a bit more complicated.

Per The Wall Street Journal, an inquiry began in April concerning a secret payout of $3 million that a WWE paralegal received in January. McMahon allegedly had an affair with the employee. The investigation opened up other, older NDAs relating to sexual misconduct by McMahon and talent relations chair John Laurinaitis.

The misconception at hand comes from WWE’s announcement. While it’s true that McMahon is stepping down from his chief position while the investigation continues, that’s not the whole picture.

McMahon is maintaining creative control of the WWE. For an entertainment company, the creative aspect is a pretty massive slice of the pie. As evidenced by Friday’s appearance—and another appearance on Monday—he’s not stepping down from the public eye either.

Image credit: WWE

McMahon’s WWE character, “Mr. McMahon,” it seems, is not under the same scrutiny as his actor. There are no signs that his exaggerated persona will cease making appearances on SmackDown and at other WWE events.

In a way, it’s a delicate PR chess move. The headline, “Vince McMahon Steps Down Amidst Investigation,” reads like a victory. The sticky truth, that he’s not really exiting at all, will have little impact on the general public.

Wrestling fans, on the other hand, are seeing both sides play out, and it’s leaving some confused. It’s an interesting twist on “kayfabe,” the suspension of disbelief at the root of the WWE community. In reality, Vince has stepped down, but in kayfabe, Mr. McMahon hasn’t gone anywhere.

This bizarre in-and-out response might reflect the inherent flaws in wrestling’s mesh of fantasy and reality. In pursuit of kayfabe, what happens if McMahon is fully ousted? Will an attachment to his fictional persona keep justice from being served? At this point, it’s hard to say.

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Failure to Launch: Why Is Pixar’s Lightyear a Box Office Dud?

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The summer movie season is in full swing, and we’re slowly but surely crawling back to business as usual. Non-Marvel movies are hitting, turnout is up across the board, and leggy originals like Everything Everywhere All at Once point to strong signs of life.

There are still huge problems, but we can at least start to fall back on the conventional wisdom. Franchise films still soar, occasional crowd-pleasing originals break through, and Pixar’s tentpole release cruises to an easy billion.

Or so we thought.

Just before the pandemic, Pixar crossed a billion with Toy Story 4, one year after crushing it with Incredibles 2. Now, after a string of Disney+ releases, they’ve taken another big swing with the Toy Story spinoff Lightyear

Just a week ago, bullish projections had Lightyear nearing a nine-figure opening weekend and cruising to $500m from there. Instead, the family-friendly tentpole opened second, failing to surpass a plummeting Jurassic World Dominion.

Why did Lightyear flop?

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve seen the headline: Lightyear bombs. Disappointing on its face, but the ramifications go far beyond the potential for a Woody’s Roundup spinoff film.

The past couple Pixar films (Soul, Luca, Turning Red) released exclusively on Disney+. Many maligned the shafting of these exciting animated films. It’s especially upsetting for Turning Red, which could’ve easily been one of 2022’s runaway box office hits.

Lightyear is the test. A new direction for Pixar’s biggest franchise. The most means-tested Pixar film gets the theatrical boost, and if it does well, the other movies follow. For this reason, it is a big deal that Lightyear flopped. So, what happened?

If you frequent Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen the “get woke go broke” narrative. A gay kiss, which was removed from the film and added back after Disney’s March “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, has gotten the film banned in several countries. Domestic concern trolls like Ben Shapiro, enamored by Saudi Arabia’s officially-sanctioned bigotry, ratcheted up scare pieces on the film in the past week.

In today’s new heights of parental hysteria, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few thousand families stayed home due to right-wing fearmongering. Still, history doesn’t really support the notion that this would have a substantial impact on box office. Multiverse of Madness made big bank with equally-major LGBTQ+ characters. If anything, it could be said that these films’ lack of a Chinese release upsets their box office returns, but that doesn’t explain a poor opening weekend.

Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2

Still others have pointed to the shafting of Tim Allen, replaced in the role of Buzz by Chris Evans. Allen’s performance in the Toy Story movies is iconic and truly fantastic. Still, I question the notion that $30 million went missing from beleaguered Tim Allen fans.

The other explanation? Marketing. Lightyear got off on the wrong foot with an unclear premise. Evans’ ill-fated explanation tweet only made matters worse. Is this about a real Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story universe?

One could argue that even today, Disney hasn’t totally gotten their story straight. The movie itself explains that this is the movie that the Buzz Lightyear toy comes from. An ‘80s sci-fi movie that Andy saw. In theaters. In 1995. That’s styled like a 2022 blockbuster. You can see how people got lost.

On the other hand, we might just be asking the wrong question.

Did Lightyear flop?

Of course, it’s too early to say definitively if Lightyear is a flop. That’s not what I’m arguing here.

We’re dealing with a case of Hollywood math, the same system by which Suicide Squad’s $750m profit is considered a dismal failure. Disney had the wrong idea about this movie as soon as they pushed it for a tentpole opening.

Lightyear’s $50m opening puts it in league with Coco and Cars 3, solidly ahead of true Pixar flops like The Good Dinosaur and Onward. It’s the highest opening for an animated film since Frozen II. With a COVID handicap still in play, that’s impressive.

Pixar’s mistake was to angle for a major franchise opening. They applied a post-pandemic framework to the nine-figure openings of Toy Story 4 and Finding Dory. They thought, reasonably enough, that parents would pay big money to turn out for a new, fresh installment in the beloved Toy Story franchise.

Herein lies the real problem. Lightyear is not, in any meaningful sense, a Toy Story movie. It has name recognition, which Hollywood has come to treat as a golden rule over the past two decades. But it follows a completely different character, played by a completely different actor, in a completely different world.

Like I said earlier, Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear is truly great. But the character is only a toy with an inflated ego, being constantly hit in the face by reality like Sideshow Bob stepping on infinite rakes. So much as wondering about “the real Buzz Lightyear” misses the point of the character.

Lightyear may marginally be a victim of conservative backlash, or poor promotion, or even COVID woes. But fundamentally, it’s a victim of its own premise.

What happens now?

Pixar’s next film, Elemental, is already slated for a theatrical release next summer. Barring a huge COVID flare-up or other societal collapse, they probably won’t go back on that. Down the line, other Pixar flicks in development may be looking at streaming releases if Disney has their way.

If anything, The Bad Guys’ recent success proves feature animation is doing fine. In a few weeks, the new Minions movie will likely confirm that. November’s Strange World will tell us if Disney’s animation department has any sort of long-term problem.

I can’t really recommend that you see Lightyear—in fairness, I haven’t seen it myself. If you want variety at the movies, the answer isn’t to support whatever Disney puts out. Live a little and see something out of your comfort zone. If Lightyear’s fate is already sealed, at least it won’t be at the expense of film as a whole.

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Review: Jurassic World Dominion

Is it the worst movie of 2022?

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The Jurassic World trilogy makes little effort to hide the fact that it follows the blueprint of the Star Wars sequels. 

Sure, Jurassic World preceded The Force Awakens by a few months, but the bones are all there. Start with a reintroduction that rehashes the original story, go left with a new director on the sequel, then bring it all home with a big legacy finale.

There’s just three problems:

  1. While I appreciate Jurassic World’s cynical subtext, it’s no The Force Awakens.
  2. Interesting foray into small-scale horror aside, Fallen Kingdom doesn’t come close to The Last Jedi as a piece of cinema.
  3. As irreparably bad as The Rise of Skywalker is, it’s no Jurassic World Dominion.

It could definitely be said that Dominion takes notes from the sort of roller coaster filmmaking attempted by Rise of Skywalker and fine-tuned by Spider-Man: No Way Home. Story beats come and go, with instant emotional gratification at the forefront. References to the classic movies supersede plot, characters, even action.

But as many head-scratching decisions as there are in Rise of Skywalker, they generally become clear once you apply this framework. Jurassic World Dominion, on the other hand, undermines its very premise almost instantly. This sets up a carnival of disappointment where literal dinosaurs are a light seasoning and metaphorical dinosaurs roam the Earth.

This popular tweet opines that the Jurassic Park franchise has consistently bungled an inherently winning premise. Before seeing the new film, I was ready to argue that “dinosaur chomp chomp human” is actually not much of a movie once the novelty of dinosaurs wears off.

Whether or not you feel the same, it’s hard not to argue that Dominion is wasteful on the dinosaur front. Fallen Kingdom ended with the promise of dinosaurs set loose on human society. This movie’s opening newsreel lets us know that the problem is now 80% under control. The animals wreaking havoc in this film are not lifesize dinosaurs, but squirrel-sized locusts.

Truly, only the mind behind The Book of Henry could bring you a Jurassic Park movie where the primary enemy is locusts. Director Colin Trevorrow teased the new Giganotosaurus character as the dinosaur equivalent of the Joker. As insane as that already sounds, the truth is even more absurd: the Giga appears in all of two scenes before her climactic showdown with the T-rex.

This is the film’s main issue: in a film meant to deliver on the promise of a Jurassic world, the dinosaurs are never more than set dressing. Instead, we follow the anemic adventures of Jurassic World’s new protagonists alongside Jurassic Park’s iconic trio. The latter have somehow all turned into Mr. Bean since we last saw them.

Goldblum gives Goldblum, Dern gives Dern, but you’d swear that Sam Neill hasn’t acted since 1993. The only person who looks less happy to be here is Chris Pratt. He’s gotten so miserably bored of being the biggest star in the world that he’s now exclusively interested in voice work and streaming shows that don’t exist.

It’s almost not worth talking about Bryce Dallas Howard, who’s played a completely different character in each of these movies. The movie gets a bit of juice out of Campbell Scott, who replaces disgraced actor Cameron Thor as the weaselly Dr. Dodgson.

If it seems like there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, you don’t know the half of it. I haven’t even gotten to the cloned child from the previous movie (now a jaded teen played by Isabella Sermon) or the helpful rogue agent of BioSyn (Mamoudou Athie). There’s a sliding scale of importance, but Dominion certainly has no fewer than six protagonists.

There are fleeting moments of joy in this movie, but nothing to write home about. All told, this Jurassic World trilogy has amounted to a multi-billion-dollar wash. Part of it is the lack of a Spielberg at the helm. Part of it is the groundbreaking visual effects of the original, which no follow-up could ever match.

Still, there’s more to it than that. Story, character, dialogue, pacing, every element of this series seems out of whack. On a level, Jurassic World was a cynical commentary on reboot culture. But they always knew they’d have to try to bring it all home with this finale. The premise is flawed, but the ideas are truly rotten.

Will a torrent of bad reviews have an effect on this movie’s numbers? Maybe, maybe not. The last two made a billion each, and our current choked-out film market leaves it with less competition.

One can’t help but wonder if new streaming releases like Fire Island and Hustle could’ve eaten away at Jurassic’s returns with a wide theatrical release. Instead, its only competition are indie releases like Neptune Frost (an Afrofuturist musical that’s much more worth your time).

Jurassic World Dominion is poorly-written, poorly-acted, and even poorly-lit. But above all, it’s poorly-conceived, a perfunctory sequel to a franchise of obligation. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made a billion dollars four years ago, and most of us would be hard-pressed to even remember the title. The two kids who were the main characters of Jurassic World don’t even appear in this one!

Even fans of Jurassic World and its iconic characters like Owen Grady, Claire Dearing, and Maisie Lockwood (100 points if you can remember who that is) will struggle to enjoy Dominion. Worst movie of 2022? Maybe, but definitely the least worth your money. F

Jurassic World Dominion is now playing in theaters.

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