Helming a reboot is no easy task – but it was loads of fun for director Akiva Schaffer. Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fresh take on the ‘90s animated series that combines multiple animation styles, cameos from your favorite Saturday morning cartoons, and a heartwarming tale of friendship into one big family-friendly adventure.
Taking place some 30 years after the end of the Rescue Rangers cartoon, Chip and Dale are two retired Hollywood actors and ex-best friends who don’t keep in touch. When one of their former co-stars goes missing, the two must reunite and become detectives once again in order to save the life of their friend and solve the mystery of the missing toons.
Total Film sat down with Schaffer – best known as part of the Lonely Island and for helming Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Watch, and Hot Rod – to talk about the film, including the challenges of directing live-action animation, Hollywood’s reboot fever, and paying homage to animation styles both 2D and CGI. Plus, we have a brand new exclusive image of Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers! Check out our conversation below, edited for length and clarity.
Total Film: I know that the idea was always to do an Alvin and the Chipmunks live-action style film before you signed on as director. What made you decide to go above and beyond and combine multiple animation styles? Or was that always the plan?
Akiva Schaffer: That was part of what attracted me to it. The writers, Doug Mann and Dan Gregor, had already cracked that part of it. It was already planned that Chip was going to be 2D and Dale was going to be 3D throughout the whole movie and that it was kind of the Roger Rabbit world of toons living among us where some are movie stars and some are just, like, the cow teacher at their school. That was already all in there. And that was a big part of what made me sign up to do it. It was kind of the limitless possibilities of that idea.
And this is your first-ever animated movie, correct?
Yes, yes. That was also part of it: I wanted to learn not just how animated movies are made, but how the kind of modern ones – like Doctor Strange – are half-animated movies with animated characters and CG environments. All the modern tools of filmmaking for those kinds of movies are all the same tools we used for this. So I was excited to learn all that stuff.
You’ve got a few movies under your belt as a director – so this isn’t your first rodeo. But with this being your first ever foray into live-action animation, were there challenges?
There were challenges, but I would not say it was any more difficult [than a regular film]. The challenge is that it’s like making a live-action movie and an animated movie at the same time on top of themselves. But I will say with the shoot, with having very few actors on set – because you’re mainly filming empty frames with background actors – it was actually a very chill, relaxed set compared to a normal live-action shoot. You didn’t have to worry about getting someone into a good mood or how many takes you were going to need to do. It’s very quiet – when you yell action, nobody even starts talking. It’s just a steady cam guy following a puppet on the ground, like a little remote-control car.
It changes as you’re making it, it’s growing as you add actors and the improv and as you realize what’s working and what’s not. I mean, part of the joy is that, similar to any animated movie, you can shape it as you build it, as it goes, whether that’s before we film, when we’re doing storyboards and animations and previs and all that stuff. You’re rewriting it constantly and then filming it. But once again, it’s not like a normal movie, the actors aren’t saying what they’re going to say – it’s plates and stuff for the most part.
So then you get it into postvis and you’re adding the actors back in. I did a whole version of the movie where it was my voice for every character. And I had done it all into my iPhone because we were editing in Premiere. My editor was at his house. I’m at my house. We’re both editing at the same time and I would just do lines. And if it didn’t work, we would just change the line immediately.
The movie is very meta. Was that part of what made you want to sign on or was that also your idea?
All of the seeds, all of all those ideas, all the meta stuff, all the making fun of reboots [were in the script]. When I first got handed the script, it was a 2016 version of it – I got it in 2019, it was a 2016 version. And it said, “The Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers reboot that nobody asked for.” I think that was the whole title. So just from reading that, you knew it was going to be making fun of itself.
I loved the scene with the parody reboot billboards.
Like a few other things that have come out, it’s having its cake and eating it too, you know? It’s always a fine line because we’re making fun of reboots, but we are a reboot. So I’m hoping it’s all being taken with joy. It’s not a coincidence that, at the end of the scene where Chip is walking down the street, he sees the billboard and goes, “All right. Yeah. That one looks pretty good.” And then when he’s at home watching it and he doesn’t want to admit it, but he loves it. So I’m not actually at all cynical about that stuff. I didn’t want it to seem sour or negative or like being in a glasshouse, throwing stones.
It definitely doesn’t come across as negative. If anything, it just adds another layer to the film’s self-awareness.
That’s good. That’s kind of the intention. And I feel like that’s how everyone feels about [reboots]. Everyone’s like, “Oh another reboot”, but then they’re like, “Ooh, but you know what? Uh, Maverick looks pretty damn good. I’m pretty excited.” You’re like, “Oh they’re going to do another Top Gun, eye roll.” And then you see the trailer and you’re like, “Nope, I’m going to be first in line for that thing.” Hopefully it’s kind of a universal thing right now.
I personally was hoping that MC Skat Kat was going to have a little bit more of a cameo.
[Laughs] Anybody who knows and loves MC Skat is a friend of mine. I was so excited when [filming that scene]. I was like, alright it’s 1990, these guys are hot in town, they’re having a rap party. Who’s the coolest person to be at your party in 1990? I was like, MC Skat Kat, DJing your party. That’s like, elite. That’s really special.
The moment I saw that in the trailer, I was like, this movie was made for me.
As a huge Roger Rabbit fan, I was excited not just to have Roger [in the film] but to be able to get the original artists who did Roger Rabit to draw Roger Rabbit and to get Charles Fleischer who did the original voice to do the voice and to get to be in the room for all of it. But the most exciting thing was to get Roger Rabbit to do the Roger Rabbit dance. That’s never been done! I mean, that’s just to be able to build it. [To say] “Draw me Roger rabbit doing the Roger Rabbit!” and have it presented to you… That’s godlike. That’s the journey.
And then in complete contrast to that, you included the cats from the 2019 Cats.
Some of the various people in our VFX team, including our VFX supervisor, worked on Cats… for better or worse. So I don’t know if it was, um, kind of cathartic to them or traumatic for them to have to create some cats for the movie. We’d have to ask them. [Laughs]
There are also jabs at the early 2000s CGI and the weird-looking video game characters of that era – it explored almost every single type of animation out there.
Part of the excitement of the movie was getting to do stop-motion and puppet and Pixar-style and Flounder and then early Zemeckis mocap.
I will say, [Zemeckis’ 2007 film version of] Beowulf – me, [Lonely Island collaborator] Andy [Samberg], and Jorma [Taccone] are such big Beowulf fans that we saw it the saw it in the theater and it was like a week before it was leaving theaters. It was in 3D and it was on the huge screen and we were like… what did we just watch? This was one of the most amazing things, but it’s also insane. The character comes out of the eye of a serpent and yells his own name, “Beowulf!” We were desperate to see it again, but it wasn’t in theaters.
So we did a screening, we got a [Digital Cinema Package] and we got the Sherry Lansing Theater, which is on the Paramount lot. It’s like a 100-seat, private theater. Then we got [our friends] Phil and Chris who had just done Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and they had access to 3D glasses so they went and got a hundred pairs of 3D glasses. We sent emails to all our friends – this before we all had kids – and then I got a bartender to come and do an open bar.
And we did our private screening of Beowulf! For a hundred friends, for no reason, just because we were like, “You have to have this experience with us.” Everyone did shots of Jägermeister, I think, which is not what we normally drink, but it was part of the joke. I guess a lot of people came, I don’t want to name-drop, but even Jake Gyllenhaal was there. He hated it. We don’t know. He came to the screening. I don’t know how he felt afterwards.
It was a great night. It’s one of my fondest evenings. So I just wanted to say that to let you know that we’re not just making fun of it in Chip ‘n Dale. We did it with love.
Speaking of Andy and Jorma – is The Lonely Island mostly focused on the filmmaking/producing side of things right now or can we anticipate a return to music… or an Awesometown reboot?[Laughs] An Awesometown reboot! I don’t think we’re getting an Awesometown reboot. The other stuff is all up for grabs. You know, we don’t have anything in the hopper. I wish I could tell you we had made a bunch of songs that I was sitting on. That is not the case, but you know, we still are on an Andy, Jorma, and Akiva text chain every day chatting. So hopefully we’ll think of something. It’s hard with the pandemic. I won’t lie, it slowed down our ability to do that stuff right now.
I do have my [Awesometown shirt] somewhere in a box. I also have one that’s orange and says “Seth” that Seth Meyers bought all three of us one year to be like “Hey! I want to be in the group!”
Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is available on Disney Plus from May 20, 2022. For more, check out the best movies on Disney Plus right now.