“Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers,” which debuts on the Disney Channel Saturday at 9:30 a.m., is the least impressive animated series Disney has offered since it entered the television cartoon market in 1985.
Like the successful “Ducktails,” “Rescue Rangers” elevates minor characters from old theatrical cartoons to central roles. But the “Ducktails” writers had Carl Barks’ imaginative comic book stories to draw on for material; although Chip and Dale appeared in 23 shorts, they were rarely more than foils for Donald Duck’s temper. The mischievous chipmunks never exhibited much personality.
The creators of the new series have added little to the characters aside from a few changes in wardrobe. Chip now wears an Indiana Jones hat and leather jacket, while Dale is tricked out in a “Magnum, P.I.” Hawaiian shirt. They’re joined by Monterey Jack, a burly mouse with a “G’day mate” Australian accent; Zipper, a nondescript bug, and the spunky Gadget, who looks a bit like Pearl Pureheart on “Mighty Mouse.”
The premiere episode, “Pirates Under the Sea,” fails to explain who the Rescue Rangers are and what they’re supposed to do. Are they adventurers? Detectives? Thieves? No one seems to know, including writer Mark Edens and directors John Kimball and Bob Zamboni.
“Rescue Rangers” boasts the rich production values that have marked other Disney programs, but the adventures aren’t exciting and the attempts at humor aren’t funny. Given the weakness of this material and its poor execution, it seems unlikely that this show will duplicate the success of “Ducktails” when it moves to syndication this fall, even with the Disney name attached to it.