Directing a reboot is no easy feat – but it was a lot of fun for director Akiva Schaffer. Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a remake of the ’90s animated series that combines multiple animation styles, cameos from your favorite Saturday morning cartoons, and a heartwarming tale of friendship into one grand family 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 more to save their friend’s life and solve the mystery of the missing cartoons.
Total Film sat down with Schaffer – best known as part of The Lonely Island and for directing Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Watch and Hot Rod – to talk about the film, including the challenges of directing live-action animation, the reboot. of Hollywood fever, and paying homage to 2D and CGI animation styles. Plus, we have an exclusive new image from Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers! Check out our conversation below, edited for length and clarity.
Total Film: I know the idea was always to do a live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks movie before you signed on as director. What made you decide to go the extra mile and combine various animation styles? Or was that always the plan?
Akiva Schaffer: That was part of what attracted me. The writers, Doug Mann and Dan Gregor, had already figured that part out. It was already planned that Chip would be 2D and Dale would be 3D throughout the movie and that it was sort of Roger Rabbit’s cartoon world living among us, where some are movie stars and some are just, like, the cow teacher in your school. That was all there. And that was a big part of what made me sign on to do it. It was kind of the limitless possibilities of that idea.
And this is your first animated film, correct?
Yes yes. That was also part of it: I wanted to learn not only how animated movies are made, but how modern movies – like Doctor Strange – are half-animated movies with animated characters and CG environments. All modern filmmaking tools for these types of movies are the same tools we use for this. So I was excited to learn all these things.
You have a few movies under your belt as a director – so this isn’t your first rodeo. But this being your first foray into live-action animation, were there any challenges?
There were challenges but I wouldn’t say it was harder [than a regular film]. The challenge is that it’s like making a live action film and an animated film at the same time on top of themselves. But I will say that with the filming, with few actors on set – because you’re shooting mostly empty frames with actors in the background – it was actually a very relaxed and relaxed set compared to a normal live action shoot. You didn’t have to worry about putting someone in a good mood or how many takes you had to do. It’s very quiet – when you yell action, no one starts talking. It’s just a camera steady guy following a puppet on the ground, like a little remote-controlled car.
It changes as you do it, it grows as you add actors and improvisation 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, whether it’s before shooting, when we’re storyboarding and animations and previews and all that stuff. You’re constantly rewriting and then filming. But then again, it’s not like a normal movie, the actors aren’t saying what they’re going to say – it’s dishes and stuff for the most part.
Then you put it in postvis and add the actors back. I did an entire version of the movie where it was my voice for each character. And I had done everything on my iPhone because we were editing in Premiere. My editor was at his house. I’m at home. We’re both editing at the same time and I’m just doing the lines. And if it didn’t work, we’d change the line right away.
The film is very meta. Was that part of what made you want to sign or was it also your idea?
All the seeds, all these ideas, all the meta-things, all the reboot jokes [were in the script]. When I first got the script, it was a 2016 version – I got it in 2019, it was a 2016 version. And it said, “The Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers reboot that no one asked for.” I think that was the full title. So just reading this, you knew you were going to make fun of yourself.
I loved the scene with the parody reboot billboards.
Like some other things that came out, it’s having your cake and eating it too, you know? It’s always a fine line because we’re making fun of reboots, but they are a reboot. So I hope everything is being taken with joy. It’s no coincidence that at the end of the scene where Chip is walking down the street, he sees the billboard and says, “Okay. Yeah. That one looks really good.” And then when he’s at home watching and he doesn’t want to admit it, but he loves it. So I’m not really cynical about these things. I didn’t want it to feel sour or negative or like being in a greenhouse, throwing rocks.
It definitely doesn’t look negative. If anything, this just adds another layer to the film’s self-awareness.
That’s nice. That’s the intention. And I feel like that’s how everybody feels about [reboots]. Everyone’s like, “Oh, another reboot,” but then they’re like, “Ooh, but you know what? Uh, Maverick looks really good. I’m really excited.” You’re like, “Oh, they’re going to make another Top Gun, roll your eyes.” And then you see the trailer and you think, “No, I’m going to be first in line for this thing.” I hope it’s a universal thing now.
I personally expected MC Skat Kat to have a little more cameo.
[Laughs] Anyone who knows and loves MC Skat is my friend. I was so excited when [filming that scene]. I was like, okay, it’s 1990, these guys are hot in town, they’re having a rap party. Who is the coolest person to be at your party in 1990? I was like, MC Skat Kat, playing your party. That’s right, elite. This is really special.
The moment I saw it in the trailer, I thought: This movie was made for me.
As a huge Roger Rabbit fan, I was excited not only to have Roger [in the film] but getting the original artists who did Roger Rabit to draw Roger Rabbit and Charles Fleischer who did the original voice to do the voice and to be in the room for all of this. But the most exciting thing was having Roger Rabbit do the Roger Rabbit dance. This was never done! I mean, this is just so I can build it. [To say] “Draw me the Roger Rabbit doing the Roger Rabbit!” and to have presented it to you… This is divine. That’s the journey.
And then, in complete contrast to that, you included the cats from 2019. Cats.
Some of the many people on our VFX team, including our VFX supervisor, worked on Cats… for better or for worse. So I don’t know if it was kind of cathartic for them or traumatic for them having to raise some cats for the movie. We would have to ask them. [Laughs]
There are also jabs to the CGI of the early 2000s and the weird looking video game characters from that era – he explored almost every type of animation out there.
Part of the excitement of the film was getting to do stop-motion and puppets and Pixar and Flounder style and then the first Zemeckis mocaps.
I will say, [Zemeckis’ 2007 film version of] Beowulf – I, [Lonely Island collaborator] Andy [Samberg]and Jorma [Taccone] are such big fans of Beowulf that we saw it in the cinema and it was like a week before it came out of theaters. It was in 3D and it was on the huge screen and we were like… what did we just watch? That was one of the most amazing things, but it’s also insane. The character comes out of a serpent’s eye and screams its 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 have the Sherry Lansing Theater, which is on the Paramount lot. It’s like a 100-seat private theater. so we got [our friends] Phil and Chris, who had just made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and they had access to 3D glasses, so they went and bought a hundred pairs of 3D glasses. We emailed all our friends – this was before we all had kids – and then I called a bartender to come over and do an open bar.
And we did our private Beowulf exhibition! To a hundred friends, for no reason, just because we were like, “You have to have this experience with us.” Everyone had shots of Jägermeister, I think, which is not what we normally drink, but it was part of the joke. I think a lot of people came, I don’t want to name names, but even Jake Gyllenhaal was there. He hated it. We do not know. He came to the exhibition. I don’t know how he felt afterwards.
It was a great night. It’s one of my most cherished nights. So I just wanted to say this 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 – The Lonely Island is primarily focused on the cinematic/producer side of things right now or can we anticipate a return to music… or an Awesometown reboot?
[Laughs] A reboot of Awesometown! I don’t think we’re going to have an Awesometown reboot. The other things are all at stake. You know, we don’t have anything in the hopper. I wish I could tell you that we made a bunch of songs that I was sitting on. That’s not the case, but you know, we’re still in a text chain of Andy, Jorma, and Akiva every day talking. I hope we can think of something. It’s hard with the pandemic. I’m not going to lie, it has diminished our ability to do these things now.
I have mine [Awesometown shirt] somewhere in a box. I also have one that is orange and says “Seth” that Seth Meyers bought the three of us a year to be like “Hey! I want to be in the group!”
Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is available on Disney Plus starting May 20, 2022. For more, check out the best Disney Plus movies now.