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Remembering the Rescue Rangers: A Brief History of ‘Chip ‘n Dale’

There’s no case too big, no case too small. When you need help just call, Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers! For those of you who may not have grown up in the ‘90s, the major TV networks, such as Fox, UPN (now The CW), or Disney Channel used to play cartoons after school in syndication to give kids a nice breather between school and homework.

One such block of television, comprised of legendary Disney animated hits like Talespin, Goof Troop, Darkwing Duck, or DuckTales, was called “The Disney Afternoon.” And one of its biggest hits, arguably, was a program called Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers. With a new movie adaptation coming to Disney+ this week, let’s explore the history behind this show, and what made it a phenomenon in its own time.

The purpose of “The Disney Afternoon” was to reimagine some of Disney’s classic characters in contemporary ways that would be relevant to kids of the 90s. So The Jungle Book‘s Baloo the Bear became a smuggling cargo pilot with a bear cub side kick named Kit Cloudkicker that could air surf. Uncle Scrooge became an Indiana Jones-esque treasure hunter who would go on adventures with Donald Duck’s mischievous nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. And nutty critters, Chip ‘n Dale, who tormented Pluto the dog over acorns in the park would go on to become a duo of crime fighting detectives.

Chip ‘n Dale first appeared in the 1943 Disney cartoon “Private Pluto.” The propaganda cartoon basically had the two chipmunks storing acorns in a cannon, while Pluto tries to drive them out. They remained unnamed in their first appearance, and wouldn’t receive the official monikers of Chip and Dale until their third appearance in 1947. The short, entitled “Chip ‘n Dale” featured them doing battle with Donald Duck over a tree they live in, which Donald wants to cut down for firewood.

From there sparked a huge rise in popularity, as the rivalry between Chip ‘n Dale, and Donald persisted for years up to the 1956. Between 1947 and 1956, the zany chipmunks appeared in over 20 other shorts until “Chips Ahoy” — their final appearance in, what many film historians call, the golden age of American animation. At this point, however, they had become as iconic for the Disney brand as the regular Mickey and Friends characters.

Between their final theatrical short and the late 80s, the characters made periodic appearances in Disney properties like “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and all around Disney Parks. But they resurged in popularity when in 1989, the success of DuckTales and the creation of “The Disney Afternoon” gave way to their own TV show. And thus Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers was born!

The premise of the show was that Chip and Dale would create a detective agency, and a team called the “Rescue Rangers.” They would be joined by a genius mouse mechanic and inventor named Gadget Hackwrench, a burley strongman mouse with a cheese obsession named Monterey Jack, and a stealthy blue housefly that could get anywhere named Zipper. Together, the Rescue Rangers would go on missions to help the helpless and defend the defenseless against a rogues gallery that included the nefarious villains Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul.

For their first reboot, new looks were cultivated for the duo. Chip was fitted with brown leather jacket and fedora to emulate Indiana Jones, and Dale was given a red Hawaiian shirt to emulate Magnum P.I. They were also given new voices in the form of legendary voice actors Tress MacNeille (Chip) and Corey Burton (Dale).

Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers ran from 1989 to 1990 for three seasons and 65 episodes. It was a huge hit, and became a staple in the childhoods of many Gen Zers. Since then, creator Tad Stones has gone on to work on Bob’s Burgers, and Corey Burton and Tress MacNeille have gone on to voice some of the most legendary characters of all time, from Animaniac‘s Dot Warner to The Book of Boba Fett‘s Cad Bane.

But more than that, the nostalgic legacy and legend of the Rescue Rangers has persisted into the 2010s-2020s, with cameo appearances in the 2017 DuckTales cartoon, and now their own film, hitting Disney+ this Friday. Directed by The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer, and featuring the voices of John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, the film takes a very Who Framed Roger Rabbit meta-approach to the original series, bringing the two Disney icons back together to solve a case surrounding the kidnappings of various classic cartoon characters.

Will they crack the case as easily as they crack nuts? Only one way to find out!

Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers hits Disney+ this Friday, May 20!

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