Bringing together Three Stooges-style slapstick and Looney Tunes-ish physics, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers offers no in-between or subtlety.
For all their years of public service, the Rescue Rangers remain underappreciated. While Chip and Dale have earned a permanent place on the House of Mouse invite list, the rest of the team's has languished in obscurity since their TV series concluded in the early '90s.
Bringing together Three Stooges-style slapstick and Looney Tunes-ish physics, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers offers no in-between or subtlety. The Rangers -- including inventor Gadget, neon-colored housefly Zipper, and swashbuckler Monterey Jack -- kick, bite, scream, and sob their way through every episode. Such hyperbole is a typical tactic to keep a sugared-up kid in his seat, but adults will also find the show refreshingly earnest. When Dale sheds tears on learning his TV hero is just a wussy thespian, you realize that for the little creatures, every outburst of emotion is sincere.
The first episode, "Catteries Not Included," sets up the rules of the Rangers' world. The animals sneak around the police station looking for crimes to solve, leaving the humans only vaguely aware of their presence. They never speak when humans are in sight, and when Chip and Dale communicate through microphones and speakers, humans hear it as high-pitched squealing and indecipherable chattering. When a girl walks into the police station looking for her missing cat, the cops ignore her, but the Rangers offer to help. The plot evolves into broader crisis: a mad scientist is rounding up cats to fuel his giant static electricity machine, with which he plans to char the city. The Rangers foil the scheme, save the police some work, and reunite all the cats with their grateful owners.
In "Adventures in Squirrelsitting," Chip and Dale infiltrate a nightclub in drag. Chip grumbles his way through while Dale takes an almost perverse pleasure in this assignment. The episode showcases the series' unexpected and impulsive wit, climaxing in a stylish song and dance number worthy of Disney's theatrical releases.
Soon afterwards, however. all the rules of this universe, so carefully set up, are swatted away. The animals start to talk in the presence of humans. The humans become increasingly dumb and incompetent, so even though they start to recognize the major crimes, the Rangers must save the day. In one episode, a mad scientist attaches covers a bus with rubber, attaches a booster, and demands gold from the mayor. The police, never gun-shy in other episodes, bow to the demands almost immediately. Once again, people stand around scratching their hands without any common sense while the Rangers dispatch themselves.
Some episodes begin with the Rescue Rangers in random places around the globe, like London or Egypt, without exposition, conveniently on the eve of major crimes being committed. The show also dives into nonsense science fiction and fantasy involving ghosts and werewolves. No less than three episodes involve space travel: one has the Rangers visiting a space shuttle via a bucket filled with TNT; the others have extraterrestrials visiting Earth. At the show's beginning, every invention and crime was based on some nugget of logic (like that static electricity machine in the first episode), but when the impossible alien clones, ghosts, and demons start appearing, the required suspension of disbelief is more than it can bear.
Past the first disc, while the episodes are still children's fare, only two live up to the promise of the initial batch. These focus on Gadget. "The Case of the Cola Cult" revolves around her departure from the group after one of her contraptions is sabotaged and she takes responsibility for its near-fatal malfunction. She finds false hope in a cult of likewise disenfranchised mice who drink soda and watch commercials all night. It's a mournful piece, with the zombified cult comprising the most adult, fearsome threat of this set.
"Does Pavlov Ring a Bell?" introduces a lab rat named Sparky who's obviously more compatible with Gadget than her two goofy partners. The catch is that the he's been brainwashed to rob banks whenever he hears a bell. Considering the spread of creepy fan fiction and obsessive fans (the show has the most loyal and adamant community for a Disney afternoon cartoon), it's admirable that episodes bringing in new characters to stretch the Chip-Dale-Gadget triangle are endearing and tactful, rather than laughably awkward.
As the show deteriorates, Gadget emerges as the nucleus of Rescue Rangers: she commands the affection of Chip and Dale, and Monterey Jack offers her guidance. She bridges the gap between the human and animal realms created by the difference in sizes and their childish antics. She creates for herself and her fellow rodents that endearingly human feature, emotional baggage.