Although the feature film “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” was released on Disney+ and not in theaters, director Akiva Schaffer knows the importance of seeing a movie with an audience, as proven by the film’s tastemakers screening at the D23 conference and its L.A. world premiere.
“At home, it’s so easy to have a look at your phone,” he tells Variety. “You can miss half the things because they’re visual in the movie, but then again, as somebody who’s put out those movies and had nobody in the theaters, that’s not any good either.”
He’s referencing the poor box-office performance of his last feature, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” (2016), which he directed and starred in along with the other two members of musical trio the Lonely Island: Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone. Since then, the film has garnered a cult following.
“When people would say ‘Popstar’ has two funny jokes, I’d be like, if you were in a theater, you’d be hearing all the laughs and you’d have to acknowledge hearing the laughter,” Schaffer says. “You’d at least have to phrase it differently and say, ‘The audience was laughing all over but I only found two jokes funny.”
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Schaffer has been sharpening his directing skills for some time now, with comedies outings such as “Hot Rod” (2007) and “The Watch” (2012). For his fourth feature, “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” he offers a nostalgic bridge for both adults and kids to engage with the Disney+ streaming feature.
Oscar-nominated producer Todd Lieberman (“The Fighter”) was a fan of Schaffer’s last film, and the two had a general meeting to discuss the possibility of working together on future projects. Fast forward a year later, Schaffer’s agent sent him the script for the re-imagining of the classic cartoon that ran from 1989 to 1990. Schaffer, a father of two, was initially hesitant, having watched live-action-animation hybrids like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “The Smurfs” that “aim at toddlers, and they don’t aim anywhere else,” he says.
“First, I was flattered that I was getting sent Disney IP at all, because I had never been sent something of value, and felt worthwhile,” Schaffer says. “Secondly, as parents, you know when you get to see a Disney animation movie or a Pixar movie, you know this one will be for me as well.”
When he opened the script, the title page read: “Chip ‘n Dale :Rescue Rangers — the reboot nobody asked for.”
Schaffer was hooked.
Writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand were wondering if the world wanted a reboot of the crime-fighting detective chipmunks in 2022, but it ultimately helped them to frame the film. “Once we put that question into the characters’ mouths, things really opened up,” Gregor and Mand tell Variety. “Chip and Dale’s awareness of their own public standing allowed us to write a movie for any level of fan.”
Doing a live-action hybrid presented unique challenges, but Schaffer was up for it. “I was excited because I was going to get to learn how to make this kind of movie. But also, it made me feel more confident knowing it was Disney because at least I knew that if I had a question, there’d be somebody that could answer.”
If the feature is nominated for an Emmy for outstanding television movie in July, it would be the first animated film to be nominated in the category (Netflix’s “The House” is also an animated film submitted in that category). Schaffer, who is submitted for outstanding director in a limited series or anthology series or TV movie, has always had an aesthetic for pushing the envelope with his comedic material. He’s helmed nearly all of the Lonely Island’s music videos and “SNL” shorts, including “Lazy Sunday,” “Jack Sparrow” and his Emmy-winning “Dick in a Box” (shared with Justin Timberlake, Jorma Taccone, Katreese Barnes, Asa Taccone and Andy Samberg).
But “Chip ‘n Dale” isn’t the only television item of Schaffer’s in the running for an Emmy nomination. He’s also a producer on Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson” (with Samberg, who is also contending for a voice-over performance with Disney co-star John Mulaney), which is vying for outstanding short form comedy or drama series.
Although “Chip ‘n Dale” is family-friendly, that didn’t stop Schaffer from creating some R-rated scenes just for fun. “There are definitely scenes where they’ll say ‘fuck’ out of nowhere,” he says. “I couldn’t resist cutting that in once, just knowing that it’s so shocking, and just for fun. I showed my executive at the studio or producers, even knowing it would never get past that first animation stage — but I have a few of those.”
In terms of future directorial efforts, Schaffer says he’s been sent various types of stories, one of which is a heartwarming “Penny Marshall style” tale that people wouldn’t expect. But is a sequel to “Popstar” a possibility?
“I would say, never say never. There’s no reason not to, but I can’t lie and say we’ve been cooking something up,” he says. “But there’s no reason it couldn’t exist.”
“Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” is now streaming on Disney+.