Rescue Rangers: A Look Back
I honestly believe that you can not, despite your best efforts, bring up Ducktales without mentioning Chip N Dale and vice-versa. It's an inevitable guarantee, like ordering french fries along with a hamburger. Both were Disney hits at the same time and both offering a solid hour of entertainment for an entire generation. Having covered Ducktales at length, I have to get into Rescue Rangers via obligations and the unwritten rule - plus the fact that, honestly, I think I liked Rescue Rangers a tad bit more.
It was as much as staple as Ninja Turtles and Batman at the time, and there really was nothing quite like coming home after school and anticipating it, or setting the VCR to record it in case I was late getting home. Seeing as how I was the only person in my house that was really good at programming the VCR, at only the age of nine or ten mind you, whatever I said went and I could fit 12 Episodes on one tape easily if I slowed the speed down. That's how my Rescue Ranger video collection began and eventually disappeared when DVD became the true form of media (and youtube channels).The team of Chip, Dale, Gadget, Monty and Zipper were so charming I'd watch my taped repeats after watching the television repeats episode after episode and never get tired.
The series maybe wasn't as resonate as Ducktales, but easily better than the likes of Disney's later efforts like Bonkers or Goof Troop. What was great about Rescue Rangers, and this goes for Talespin as well, was its pure originality. Ducktales had the luxury of being based on material before with Scrooge and his Nephews going on adventures. This was something completely unique and off the wall: Chip and Dale, two (admittedly) second tier Disney characters opening their own detective agency to solve crimes in and around the world of animals (and occasionally humans). Who the hell thought this up and why has it stuck with me for so long?...let's find out.
A Brief History of Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers
-The history of Rescue Rangers is rather simple and straightforward, in comparison to Ducktales especially. Tad Stones, a longtime Disney employee/screenwriter/creator came up with the idea of Rescue Rangers in the mid 1980s. The original concept had nothing to do with Chip and Dale but a team of animals led by a mouse named Kit Colby. Early concepts also had Gadget and Monteray Jack-type character designed also. Unlike Ducktales, there was little to go on in terms of past Disney Intellectual Property.
-Michael Eisner suggested the recognizable duo after the initial pitch. This was when Eisner was actually a smart person, revitalizing Disney, and before he began hiring friends, only to let them go a little over a year later with $100 million in their pocket.
-Clothing was added to each. Chip was clothed after Indiana Jones (the original Rescue Rangers character Kit Colby, who was dropped, also had this look) and Dale after Magnum PI. Their personalities remained the same from the original Disney shorts, only more talkative. Chip was the brains, Dale was the enthusiasm.
-Mark Mueller was assigned to write the now-famous theme song. He also wrote the theme song for Ducktales.
-Originally premiering small to test the waters on cable, the show was eventually moved to the Disney Afternoon alongside another syndicated show, Ducktales. More shows were added, but Ducktales and Rescue Rangers remained mainstays throughout.
-Each episode was self-contained, other than the first pilot episodes. There were no "to be continues" and all dealt with a case to be solved within the 22 minute runtime.
-Only 65 syndicated Episodes of the show was created, and the initial run was for only one year. Repeats and the Disney Afternoon popularity are to thank for its legacy.
Why only seven? Honestly, Rescue Rangers is so straightforward, that coming up with ten was pretty difficult and I didn't want to stretch it and start grasping at straws. Seven reasons why not just I loved Rescue Rangers, but I think a few of you out there probably did as well.
7: Gadget = Cute
Yeah, I know she's a mouse, but hear me out. I was eight or nine when first Rescue Rangers first came on and there were only three females that existed in my world: Jessica Rabbit (obviously), Princess Leia and Gadget (Ariel from the Little Mermaid hadn't been exposed to us yet). I think what made her unique, other than the fact that she really was one of few strong female characters for children's programming at the time, is her personality. She's clumsy, but really, really smart and the Rescue Rangers would be nothing without her. No tools. No transportation. No quick thinking out of situations. Even if her inventions only worked half the time, she's the brains of everything. The only time I can really recall her as shown as "weak" was the Coo-Coo Cola episode where she somehow gets drawn into a cult because she felt she couldn't do anything right. What can I say?...I like chicks with brains.
6: Everybody Likes Adorable Rodents
Walt had it right from the very beginning. With animals, you don't have to worry about race or socio-economic demographics. Animals are animals, and the cuter they are, the more lovable they can be. Chip and Dale are chipmunks. They're furry, have cute faces and squeak a lot. Gadget and Monterary are mice. When animated, these rodents are often brought out to be adorable and whimsical. Because of this, cross-promotions began in a flurry. Toys. Games. Happy Meals (and they were in awesome little vehicles). Rescue Rangers were a marketing powerhouse up there with Mario and Ninja Turtles. Had the show lasted longer, it would have been even that much more successful.
Unlike Ducktales, which had broader stories but little in terms of character development, Rescue Rangers brings it down to a smaller level (yes, pun intended...but I'm holding back, I promise). They really focus on the characters themselves rather than the adventure at hand (or, rather, mystery to be solved). This was a great contrast to Ducktales and allowed for a terrific one-two punch for the Disney Afternoon. Ducktales would take the charactesr, which we really knew little about outside of Scrooge, and thrust them into globe-trotting or time traveling scenarios for treasure. Rescue Rangers had a different formula, usually concentrating on one of the main cast and some personal problem they have to get over while they try and solve the case (should there be one, sometimes it was just all about the characters the entire time). While the overall cast probably isn't as strong as a Ducktales or even Talespin, the central, core group of heroes are absolutely fantastic thanks to the sense of camaraderie and focused direction for all of them as one.
4: Simple Stories
What made all the Disney Afternoon shows great wasn't the animation itself, or even the concepts, but the smart writing. You've probably noticed something about this article in comparison to my past ones: it's pretty short. Well, that's because there's not a ton to really talk about when it comes to Rescue Rangers. It's all pretty straightforward and simple, as were the episodes themselves. They kept things moving and to-the-point, never did a two-parter and kept everything, from personalities to the cases themselves, relatively easy to follow. This doesn't mean it was a "simplistic" show as much as it means it told its stories very, very well and didn't waste our time in the 22 minutes given to each one. Focused. That's what they were. And they always managed to give you a sense of completion as well. That's good storytelling, folks.
3: Little Heroes, Big World
If you're going to make a show about pint-sized heroes, you must exploit the hell out of the potential of seeing the world from that perspective could bring. Luckily, the brains over at Disney were running full-on and we have one of most unique worlds and atmospheres for any children's programming. Things are familiar, to ease us in, but upon further inspection we see how different it is. A chair is maybe a spool with some matches, a couch a balloon, a flying blimp a coke-bottle with flyswatter wings. Gadget would also whip up new inventions, using a hairdryer as a motor or a pencil and twine for a crane. On top of this, due to their size they have to move in and around the world of humans (and larger animals) which makes for unique views on our own world as well and poses all new obstacles we would never dream of. When I think of Rescue Rangers, I think of all these things: their flying ship, their homebase, their clothes that are probably from toy dolls and action figures. If that's the case, that means there's a Magnum PI Action Figure I must buy now.
2: Chip and Dale Themselves
I've already made mention of the characters as a whole, but Chip and Dale need to be focused on specifically. Their original incarnations had them relatively the same in personality (although Rescue Rangers would differentiate them far more with voices) but they weren't exactly "heroes." They were mischief makers, troublesome rodents for Donald to swat at and make his life a living hell. Now they are made better, smarter, more distinct and, thus, their personalities not only become more relatable for children (everyone had one they liked over the other) but also made for a dynamic clash on screen as well. They're obviously good friends, but they bicker and fight like brothers if anything. This is prevalent through almost every episode, usually as only a background plot, and they re-realize their friendship by the end. With Chip the stern, by-the-book leader and Dale the impulsive fan of Hawaiian shirts, I would say these two, full realized heroes were the two best that the Disney Afternoon ever had to offer.
1: Perfect Pilot Episodes
It's pretty much always going to be this way for animated series - the pilots are often the best. Often, the most time and effort is put into the very first few episodes because it's those that they put out and want to sell their product with. The story is usually better, you have a cool "introduction" to characters and world and it's usually in multiple parts making for a pretty epic scope. This is absolutely true with Rescue Rangers with its five-part "To the Rescue" pilot. Out of all the Disney show pilots, yes including Ducktales, Rescue Rangers had something that was truly special. It was a journey, or quest, and meeting the team as they went along to take on the evil Klordane and his pet Fat Cat. There are great nuances throughout, the love triangle, Fat Cat himself is only a sub-plot in comparison to the larger villain Klordane, and other subplots such as Donald Drake and Plato, or Professor Nimnul. Nimnul and Fat Cat would become the Rangers' more popular villains for the rest of the series.
I have to say, I was a"Chip" guy from the very beginning. The entire cast was lovable, but there was something about Chip that really drew me in. He always played it straight, even against impossible odds or goofy Dale, and there's no question he was probably my second favorite animated character from the 1980s (behind Peter Venkman and above Raphael). While it isn't really stated directly, Chip was the leader of that group. It's his personality as a whole, and I'd be lying if I said his Indiana Jones inspired fedora wasn't an influence on me.
Rescue Rangers was incredibly short-lived, but I think its endearing nature comes from the characters, mine being Chip (and to a lesser extent Zipper). This is said for all great animated series where you have a team, usually animals, and each are distinct and personable, well-developed and every kid can attach themselves to one they really like (or have a crush on..ahem). Not many, though, were like Rescue Rangers. Many were about fighting and battling the forces of evil, but Rescue Rangers scaled it all back and was about helping people or animals in need. Maybe that desire of help is what really appealed to me, and Chip was just the vehicle for that. Kids can sometimes have it rough, but at night I'd look at the edge of my bed and expect to see Monterey Jack waving to me and offering the help of the Rangers.
Ah, and we're getting a little personal here, but I'll end with that Rescue Rangers being focused on helping people, rather than just fighting the bad guys, was really what made it refreshing and unique. It's only a small change to the team-formula many cartoons tend to have, but for me, it was a big change thanks to some pint-sized heroes.