This past weekend, Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) announced that it was bringing back the dynamic duo of Chip and Dale for a big-screen adventure. Utilizing a CGI/live-action hybrid model like the one used in Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and Sony's (NYSE:SNE) "Smurfs" films, the movie is said to be inspired by the animated "Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers" but is "an origin story of sorts."
As a longtime fan of "Rescue Rangers" and the Disney Afternoon in general, I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, it's great to see Disney taking an interest in these characters again after they've been on the sidelines for so long. On the other hand, recent live-action hybrids have been a bit lacking and I'd hate to see Chip and Dale saddled with a subpar story to rush the film into theaters.
Could it work?
Of all of the animated properties that Disney has, Chip and Dale (and by extension, "Rescue Rangers") is the best candidate for a live-action hybrid film. While the Chip and Dale characters were featured in a number of shorts with other Disney mainstays such as Donald Duck, "Rescue Rangers" took place in a very human world. This could be what is meant by being "inspired by Rescue Rangers," which might also mean that other Rangers such as Gadget and Monterey Jack won't appear in the film.
Still, an origin story telling how Chip and Dale came to be the duo we know and love could work while set in the human world. It would also give the filmmakers the option of expanding into "Rescue Rangers" proper in a sequel if the rest of the cast isn't in the first film since the chipmunks wouldn't need to make a jump from Donald's backyard to a human city.
Would it be worth watching?
This is the bigger question to ask. The production company that Disney is using for the project, Mandeville Films/TV, is the same company that produced The Muppets and the upcoming Muppets Most Wanted. This seems a decent fit for the project, especially given the acclaim that The Muppets received on release. While there are obvious differences between a Muppets movie and "Chip 'n Dale," there are a few similarities between the projects that might bode well.
The Muppets was directed by James Bobin of "Flight of the Conchords" and was his feature film debut. Robert Rugan, the director selected to helm the "Chip 'n Dale" film, has only one other feature to his name but has received multiple awards for his commercial work as well as his Alice's Misadventures in Wonderland feature. Rugan is writing the film himself, while The Muppets was co-written by star Jason Segal and his Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller. Given the success of The Muppets, it's likely that the Mandeville production team will be able to guide Rugan into creating a similar enjoyable experience with the animated chipmunks.
Will it be a hit?
For Disney, this is what it all comes down to. If the "Chip 'n Dale" film does well, sequels will certainly follow. If it flops, fans may lose their only chance of seeing the continued adventures of the Rescue Rangers on the big screen.
Fortunately for the fans, CGI/live-action hybrids have traditionally done well. The Smurfs earned $563.7 million worldwide on a $110 million budget despite being panned by critics, and its sequel earned $347.5 million. Alvin and the Chipmunks earned $361.3 million worldwide on a budget of only $60 million, and its sequels posted strong worldwide results as well. New installments for both franchises are currently planned for release next year.
Bring on the chipmunks
Films such as Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs have performed well, but fan and critical reactions have been less encouraging. Given the praise that The Muppets received regarding character development and the fact that Robert Rugan's pitch impressed Disney enough to pick up the project, there's hope that the "Chip 'n Dale" film might be closer in quality to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? than Garfield. While it remains to be seen if the Rescue Rangers will play any part in the film, the film appears that it will borrow the series' setting and that could set it up for some very interesting sequels.