Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn’t the reboot I was expecting. Chip ‘n’ Dale are a classic Disney chipmunk duo who have been around since 1943. I’ve seen many of their shorts, but I never really watched the Disney Afternoon show Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Like most 80’s cartoons, the show was formulaic, but fun. Although intended to be an Alvin and the Chipmunks style CGI reboot of the Rescue Rangers, the movie ended up going a very different route. The usually raunchy creative team behind The Lonely Island decided to make Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers the closest thing to a Who Framed Roger Rabbit sequel we’re ever gonna get. The opening is like a mockumentary with Chip ‘n Dale as actors who starred in Rescue Rangers before it got cancelled. Leading to Chip becoming a boring insurance agent and Dale trying to shed his comic relief image. I didn’t quite understand John Mulaney and Andy Samberg voicing Chip ‘n Dale, but their original squeaky voices are used as a joke.
The movie is very meta with a live-action world populated by more than just traditionally animated characters. Now there’s computer animation, claymation, puppetry, motion capture, and so many other unexpected forms of animation. When they grow apart, Dale receives “CGI surgery” and Chip stays the same. It’s bizarre seeing two different animation styles at the same time, but it gets weirder. Like Roger Rabbit, the movie includes more than just Disney characters in the background. Warner Bros, Nickelodeon, My Little Pony, and even DreamWorks characters are shown respect. Though it does feel wrong to see South Park and Beavis and Butt-Head characters acknowledged in a kids movie. Though not at the same level as Roger Rabbit, the movie does have a bit of an edge. The most hilariously unexpected inclusion is Ugly Sonic. Which is literally the ugly original version of Sonic trying desperately to make a comeback. Of course other non-animated facets of pop culture are acknowledged.
Chip ‘n Dale are brought back together when their old friend Monterey Jack has trouble with his cheese addiction. Tress MacNeille returns to voice Gadget, but Monty has Eric Bana as a convincing soundalike. Turns out Gadget ended up with Zipper and they’re left out of most of the movie. Instead Kiki Layne plays a human police officer named Steckler who helps the duo in investigating Monty’s disappearance. J. K. Simmons voices the claymation Captain Putty who doubts their abilities. After a trip to the Uncanny Valley, a Swedish Chef inspired muppet takes Chip ‘n Dale to meet the villain of the movie. It feels wrong, but the villain is actually a very bitter grown up Peter Pan voiced by Will Arnett named Sweet Pete. He intends to kidnapped animated characters, alter their appearance, and place them in low rent bootleg movies. Sweet Pete is joined by a Coca-Cola polar bear and Seth Rogen as a motion capture dwarf with lifeless eyes. Though the climax does bring back series antagonist Fat Cat in a very unusual way. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers could’ve been another IP crazy mess, but it does have heart thanks to the duo mending their friendship.
Chip ‘n’ Dale work together
Sing 2 is bigger and more high energy than the original. It’s definitely the best Illumination sequel not associated with the Minions, but I’d say both movies are about equal. Both Sing and Sing 2 ironically ended up with the same Rotten Tomatoes score of 71%. Although I got tired of seeing the same trailer over and over again, Sing 2 exceeded all my expectations. The computer animation is dazzling and it makes proper use of all its previously introduced characters. The main cast including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, and Nick Kroll all return except for Seth MacFarlane. Either because of his already tight schedule or the fact that Mike was never a team player. In the sequel, the theater is thriving and Buster Moon continues to put on elaborate shows with his committed theater troupe. Meena, Johnny, Rosita, and Gunter put on a colorful performance of Alice in Wonderland to the tune of “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Ash isn’t around since she has her own solo career, but she returns to help out when a dog talent scout named Suki Lane tells them they aren’t good enough. Eddie doesn’t return either, but Nana is still around to inspire Buster. They travel to the Las Vegas inspired Redshore City where they audition in front of high powered media mogul Jimmy Crystal. Bobby Cannavale voices the big bad wolf who isn’t above killing Buster to get what he wants. Buster promises an even more elaborate sci-fi show called Out of this World. The idea was actually Gunter’s who plays a robot in the show. Rosita has all the confidence she needs, but her biggest challenge is a fear of heights that costs her the lead role. Her role is temporarily given to Crystal’s spoiled daughter Porsha voiced by Halsey. She can sing well, but she can’t act (the character, not the singer).
Rosita’s husband Norman and 25 piglets are very supportive and the moment she leaps is very inspirational. Meena is in an awkward romantic scene with an egotistical yak voiced by Eric André. She ends up developing an adorable crush on a local ice cream vendor voiced by Pharrell Williams. Johnny deals with his own bully when he’s tasked with learning to dance for the show. Klaus Kickenklober is a pompous monkey who hates Johnny for no reason. So the latter befriends a street dancing lynx named Nooshy voiced by Letitia Wright. Ash is arguably the lead this time around since she has the most important job. Tracking down the reclusive star attraction Clay Calloway. Miss Crawley does it at first, but she’s still given plenty of funny scenes. Calloway is an aging lion voiced by Bono himself. Calloway has an emotional arc that ends with a satisfying performance of Bono’s signature song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Sing 2 unites multiple generations through the awesome power of song.
Buster Moon and his theater troupe
Preceded by: Sing
Sing was a guaranteed success. Kids love talking animals and everyone loves music. Proving that Illumination prefers to play it safe. Sing came out the same year as The Secret Life of Pets, when the studio was experimenting with Non-Minion movies. Even though they basically followed up bipedal animals with anthropomorphic animals. Despite a ridiculously simple title and premise, Sing ended up trying a lot harder than it needed to. The computer animation used on the animals is just as good as The Secret Life of Pets with the addition of colorful outfits. Although it came out the same year as Zootopia, the animal world isn’t that much different from our own. There’s arguably more attention given to the singing competition. Singing competitions are a dime a dozen these days, but it feels fresh thanks to the committed cast.
Matthew McConaughey voices passionate theater owning koala Buster Moon. He’s loved the theater ever since he was a little joey. Jennifer Saunders voices the once famous sheep singer Nana Noodleman who used to be a star attraction. John C. Reilly voices Buster’s rich kid best friend and Nana’s grandson Eddie who can’t help when the theater has financial trouble. Sing is another “save the theater” movie with the bank trying to foreclose the property. The singing competition brings out several aspiring animals with big dreams. The director Garth Jennings voices Buster’s klutzy iguana assistant Miss Crawly who accidentally advertises the prize money as $100,000. The audition is a fun musical number with a variety of fun songs and a diverse group of animals. Reese Witherspoon voices pig housewife Rosita with 25 piglets who loves singing well known pop songs. Although she has a workaholic husband named Norman appropriately voiced by Nick Offerman, Rosita is partnered with fellow pig Gunter. Nick Kroll voices the enthusiastic German dancer who gives Rosita the confidence she needs. Their closing song ends up being a high energy take on “Shake it Off.”
Taron Egerton voices British gorilla Johnny who works for his father’s gang, but dreams of being a singer. Despite his father’s disapproval, Johnny wins his admiration after learning the piano and performing “I’m Still Standing.” His closing song is ironic since Egerton later played Elton John. Scarlett Johansson voices teenage punk rocker porcupine Ash who breaks up with her boyfriend for a solo career. Although I don’t buy Johansson as a teenager, Ash’s original songs are a refreshing change of pace. Her closing song is called “Set it All Free.” Despite being a kid’s movie, Seth MacFarlane found time to voice Frank Sinatra-esque crooner mouse Mike. Although Mike is a jerk throughout, he desperately needs the money to pay off angry bears. Yet he’ll still risk his life to sing “My Way.” The lead singer is arguably Tori Kelly as young elephant Meena. Despite having terrible stage fright, Meena literally brings down the house performing “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” Even after the theater floods, the performances are enough to keep it open. Sing puts on a great show.
Buster Moon reopens his theater
Followed by: Sing 2
The Secret Life Pets 2 was the first non-Minion sequel from Illumination. In the time between the first movie, Despicable Me already reached its third installment. Despicable Me 2 felt like a natural progression for the franchise, but The Secret Life of Pets 2 is more like three short films loosely tied together. It’s basically the first movie all over again. Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Dana Carvey, and Ellie Kemper all return for the sequel except for the main star. I never cared for Louis C.K. in the first place, so I didn’t care that he was recast due to controversy. Patton Oswalt is a more lively replacement for Max anyway. The pets and their antics continue to be for children, but it’s still mostly amusing.
This time Max feels threatened by Katie’s son when she finds love with Chuck voiced by fellow comedian Pete Holmes. Max quickly becomes overprotective of Liam and he gets so stressed that he wears a dog cone. That seems to be the plot until the unfocused movie splits in three. One plot sees Max and Duke leave New York for a farm where Max learns to be brave. He’s taught by a gruff voiced Harrison Ford as sheepdog Rooster. Leaving the big city for a farm is pretty cliché, so you get what you expect. Another plot sees Gidget look after her crush Max’s favorite toy Busy Bee. The apartment is the only place we see Chloe, Buddy, Mel, Norman, Pops, and the rest of the pets. Gidget pretending to be a cat to enter a crazy cat lady’s apartment and rescue Busy Bee is cute, but it could’ve easily been a short film.
The final plot sees the now domesticated Snowball fantasize about being a superhero. Since Superhero movies are at an all time high, it feels a little played out to do something like this. I continue to tolerate Kevin Hart, but Tiffany Haddish is the same in everything she does. Even voicing a concerned Shih Tzu named Daisy who enlists Captain Snowball’s help to rescue a white tiger from a circus. Hu doesn’t speak, but it’s your basic animal rescue plot. Nick Kroll is the standard evil European circus owner Sergei who gets help from a psychotic monkey and villainous black wolves. The movie’s plots couldn’t be more disconnected, but they do manage to make everything relevant in the end. Ending with a more cringy scene where Snowball raps the “Panda” song. The Secret Life of Pets 2 is just a bunch of stuff that happens.
Duke and Max protect Liam
Preceded by: The Secret Life of Pets
The Secret Life of Pets asks the question, what do pets do when their owners are away? It’s no secret that Illumination gives way more attention to the Despicable Me & Minions franchise. The Secret Life of Pets was their way of branching out, yet maintaining the marketable cuteness that they’re known for. Though you better believe they found a way to sneak Minions into it. Obviously this concept has been done before, but The Secret Life of Pets is a passable kids movie. Although I never had a pet, I am a fan of dog and cat videos on YouTube. The opening is basically a bunch of relatable antics that pets get into when their owners leave for work. The story may be average, but the computer animation, especially for New York, is pleasing to look at. Animals are well rendered with cartoony features. I couldn’t really relate to the cast, since they’re all part of stuff I don’t normally watch.
Comedian Louis C.K. is your standard loyal Jack Russell Terrier Max. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper is Max’s standard dog owner Katie. Fellow comedian Jenny Slate is an adorable Pomeranian named Gidget with a standard crush on Max. Their standard group of apartment pets include Lake Bell as lazy tabby cat Chloe, Hannibal Buress as relaxed wiener dog Buddy, Bobby Moynihan as hyper pug Mel, the director as dimwitted guinea pig Norman, and nonverbal parakeet Sweet Pea. Their material isn’t always the best, so most of them are forgettable. Most of the jokes rely on potty humor and Looney Tunes style slapstick. The Secret Life of Pets is basically Toy Story with pets. Max is the favorite until the giant Newfoundland mutt Duke enters his life. I don’t watch Modern Family, so Eric Stonestreet didn’t do much for me. Like a less clever Woody & Buzz relationship, Max & Duke are at odds with each other before ending up lost.
They’re cornered by deranged alley cats including Steve Coogan as the hairless Ozone. Then they’re rescued by a sewer dwelling group of human hating animals who call themselves the Flushed Pets. Although he’s an adorable white bunny, the group’s villainous leader Snowball is voiced by Kevin Hart. Despite his constant riffing, Hart is funny in the unlikely role. Meanwhile, the apartment pets led by a lovesick Gidget try to rescue their friends. She enlists help from hungry hawk Tiberius voiced by Albert Brooks and paralyzed Basset Hound Pops voiced by Dana Carvey doing his old man impression. Max and Duke don’t connect until they find a sausage factory followed by a very out of nowhere dancing hot dog dream sequence. The scene would be weird enough on its own, but this was the same year as Sausage Party. When they fail to find Duke’s original owner, a series of car chases lead to Snowball becoming good and helping the pets get home. The “Lovely Day” pet reunion is probably the most heartwarming part of the movie. The Secret Life of Pets should please pet owners.
Duke and Max in Snowball’s Flushed Pets lair
Followed by: The Secret Life of Pets 2
Yellow Submarine is a groovy mix of trippy visuals and songs by The Beatles. The late 60’s were far more psychedelic and experimental. The Beatles were apprehensive about making a third film after Help!, but they still needed to honor their three picture contract that began with A Hard Day’s Night. An animated production was a fair compromise since Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr didn’t need to physically appear until a quick live-action cameo. The Fab Four are all voiced by soundalikes, but you can’t really tell the difference.
Yellow Submarine sparked my curiosity the most since it was the closest thing to adult animation at the time. It has a cult following and even a LEGO set. The only real comparison is Fantasia, both for its abstract visuals and strong emphasis on music. Yellow Submarine takes place in the magical music loving world Pepperland where the villainous Blue Meanies attack. Old Fred takes the titular Yellow Submarine to Liverpool where he recruits the Beatles to save them. The band experience the Sea of Time, the Sea of Science, the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Nothing, and the Sea of Holes until they reach the Sea of Green.
Yellow Submarine is a weird nonsensical adventure, but it gets weirder when they make friends with intellectual creature Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D. voiced by Dick Emery. When they reach Pepperland, the Beatles fight the Blue Meanies with the power of music. The soundtrack includes way more hit songs like the titular “Yellow Submarine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “All You Need is Love.” Yellow Submarine is a one of a kind experience.
The Beatles in their Yellow Submarine
Minions: The Rise of Gru is the real prequel to Despicable Me. Minions was cute, but it was a stretch to give the title characters their own movie. They needed a good villain to follow and Scarlet Overkill wasn’t it. The Rise of Gru is proof that a young Gru should’ve been around from the start. Child Gru was previously seen in flashbacks, but this time Steve Carell voices him throughout the entire movie. Which also means the return of Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother, Russell Brand as a young Dr. Nefario, and other surprise appearances that bring the franchise full circle. Gru is an aspiring supervillain who gradually learns to accept help from the Minions. Kevin, Stuart, and Bob are still the main trio of Minions, but they’re also joined by chunky braces wearing Minion Otto.
Pierre Coffin continues to voice the Minions, but he doesn’t direct this time around. The Rise of Gru now takes place in the 1970’s with even more jokes that will go over kids heads. It’s basically an homage of cheesy Kung Fu flicks, spy films, and 70’s music. Gru aspires to join the supervillain team the Vicious 6. Taraji P. Henson voices the afro-sporting leader Belle Bottoms, Jean-Claude Van Damme voices the lobster claw wearing Jean Clawed, Lucy Lawless voices the evil nun Nunchuck, Dolph Lundgren voices the rollerblading Svengeance, and Danny Trejo voices the metal handed Stronghold. It’s an impressive cast, but they’re all pretty one note villains. The missing sixth member is Alan Arkin as Wild Knuckles, the original leader who gets betrayed and ends up kidnapping Gru.
It’s up to the Minions to save their mini boss and recover an ancient Chinese artifact called the Zodiac Stone. Otto goes after the stone on a tricycle and the trio get into more hilarious antics. Including flying a plane and learning Kung Fu from a master who could only be voiced by Michelle Yeoh. The climax is one of the more creative in the franchise since the Vicious 6 are transformed into vicious animals and the Minions are transformed into adorable animals. The Rise of Gru was supposed to come out back in 2020, but it was postponed due to the Pandemic. In that time I got tired of seeing the same trailers and LEGO sets over and over again. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the prequel/sequel, but Minions: The Rise of Gru is the best installment since Despicable Me 2.
Gru and the Minions at the theater
Preceded by: Minions
Despicable Me 3 kept the franchise going despite Minion dominance. Minions was a billion dollar success, but Illumination tried to expand with The Secret Life of Pets and Sing in the same year. Despicable Me 3 came afterwards with all the same excessive marketing. I know because I must’ve seen the trailer a hundred times. Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig return as Gru and Lucy who are now happily married agents working for the Anti-Villain League. The latest villain is Balthazar Bratt, a former child star from the cancelled TV show Evil Bratt with the unlikely voice of South Park co-creator Trey Parker. Bratt is a throwback supervillain with a high-top, mullet, and shoulder pads since 80’s nostalgia is still a thing. The movie is filled with 80’s songs like “Bad.” Bratt uses expanding bubble gum and other 80’s toys to steal a priceless diamond.
When Gru and Lucy fail to bring Bratt in, they’re both fired from the AVL by the new director voiced by Jenny Slate. Steve Coogan briefly voices the former director, but he also voices a butler who tells Gru about his long lost twin brother Dru. Gru’s mother made 2 seperate non-speaking cameos before Julie Andrews finally had a reason to return. Although it’s convenient storytelling, The Simpsons did the exact same thing. Carrell also voices Dru who lives in the fictional country Freedonia, is a wealthy pig farmer, and has long luxurious hair. Russell Brand doesn’t return, so Dr. Nefario is stuck frozen in carbonite. This time it’s the Minions who want to quit due to Gru’s lack of villainy. After Minions, I was surprised by how much they downplayed their role in the movie. Mel is the lead Minion who takes most of the Minions to a singing competition and prison where they realize they miss Gru. Two Minions stay with Gru and his family who all have major subplots.
Lucy is mostly concerned with being a better stepmom to the girls. Miranda Cosgrove returns to voice Margo after finishing college. Margo learns to accept Lucy after she stops an accidental marriage proposal. Dana Gaier returns as Edith who mostly tags along with Agnes. Agnes is recast since Elsie Fisher was busy making Eighth Grade. Her replacement is a little distracting since she spends a lot of time searching for a unicorn. Meanwhile, Gru learns that Dru wants to be a supervillain and he uses it as an excuse to steal back Bratt’s diamond. They use fancy stealth suits to infiltrate his lair where they discover his evil plan to make Hollywood float into space. The climax sort of rehashes the original, but this time it’s Lucy who saves the girls. Gru and Dru learn to work together and the Minions return to help defeat Bratt. Despicable Me 3 isn’t very original, but it is a serviceable return.
Gru bonds with his brother Dru
Preceded by: Despicable Me 2 & Followed by: Despicable Me 4
Minions put the scene stealing characters from Despicable Me front in center. Right from the start I knew it was an obvious marketing gimmick. Illumination literally waited 2 years to release the spin-off just to exploit its merchandising opportunities. I guess it worked since Minions merchandise was everywhere and the movie ended up becoming the third animated film to gross over a billion dollars. My brother and I saw Minions in theaters surrounded by the target audience. Although the computer animation is a vast improvement, Minions is the first movie that feels like a corrupt product. Despite speaking Minionese, which is basically gibberish the entire movie, Minions manages to keep the story going. The first half is like a nature documentary narrated by Geoffrey Rush. Minions begin life as yellow single-celled organisms who are basically immortal and live only to serve the most despicable villain at the time.
They accidentally kill a T-Rex, a caveman, a Pharaoh, Count Dracula, and Napoleon before becoming discouraged and living in an arctic cave. It’s a good thing they did become discouraged, or else they would’ve ended up following Hitler. Minions follows three Minions who were previously introduced. Kevin is the tall leader, Stuart is the one-eyed guitar player, and Bob is the cute one with a teddy bear. They travel all the way to New York where they gain their trademark overalls. Although Minions isn’t above childish humor, there are a ton of innuendos that will go over kids heads. Minions is set in the 1960’s with jokes only Baby Boomers will understand. Since Minions voice actor Pierre Coffin isn’t a big name, the rest of the cast has star power. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney are part of the unassuming suburban Nelson family who pick up the Minions and turn out to be criminals. The Minions have their usual short films Cro Minion and Competition, but Binky Nelson Unpacified is dedicated to their baby.
Together they head to Villain-Con in Orlando where we see many creative supervillains (and one familiar face). Without Gru, Scarlet Overkill stands in as his less endearing replacement. Not that Sandra Bullock doesn’t give it her all as the world’s first supervillainess. She’s joined by her laidback inventor husband Herb appropriately voiced by John Hamm. Scarlet recruits the Minions, then betrays them when she gets what she wants. We head to England where the Minions steal the Royal crown for Scarlet. Jennifer Saunders voices the Queen who’s forced to abdicate the throne to King Bob! When Scarlet seizes the throne, it’s up to the Minions to stop her. Through a series of crazy shenanigans, Kevin grows to enormous height and battles a rocket powered Scarlet. The rest of the Minions join them and the three primary Minions are honored by the Queen. Although it feels like a natural conclusion, young Gru suddenly appears voiced by Steve Carell in a split second cameo. Minions gave the audience what they wanted.
The Minions explore
Followed by: Minions: The Rise of Gru
Despicable Me 2 is the only Illumination film nominated for Best Animated Feature. Let alone receive an additional Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams was an upbeat and inescapable song back in 2013. Despicable Me 2 is a minor improvement over the original, but I do think the song helped its popularity. The computer animation is more polished, there’s still plenty of heart, and the childish humor is just as creative. My brother went to see Despicable Me 2, but I was still a little apprehensive. Hop wasn’t the best follow up to the original and the less said about The Lorax the better. Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, and the rest of the minor cast return to voice their respective characters. Carell and Cosgrove were both done with their shows at the time.
Gru is now an ex-villain who’s perfectly happy being a father to his three girls Margo, Edith, and Agnes. The Minions are also happy making jelly in their former laboratory, but Dr. Nefario decides to part ways with a fart gun salute. The threat this time is a mysterious villain who steals a dangerous mutagen called PX-41 that turns living things into aggressive purple monsters. The Minions were once comedic interludes, but they got so popular that they were given an entire sublot along with 3 short films called Puppy, Panic in the Mailroom, and Training Wheels. Minions are captured, taken to a relaxing resort, and ingested with PX-41. Not to mention the other Minions who join Gru along the way. As a former villain, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down the villain behind everything. Steve Coogan voices the hilariously named Silas Ramsbottom who sends his top agent to collect Gru.
Kristen Wiig had a small role in the first movie, but now she’s upgraded to main character as Agent Lucy Wilde. Since Gru is constantly pestered by his neighbor to find a woman, I knew Lucy had to be his love interest. Their relationship is cute, quirky, and a little weird when Lucy drugs Gru’s vapid date voiced by Kristen Schaal. Together they work undercover in the mall to locate their villain. Ken Jeong voices a wig shop owner and potential suspect, but the real culprit is over-the-top Mexican stereotype El Macho. Benjamin Bratt voices the unassuming restaurant owner with an evil chicken, but the role was originally meant for Al Pacino. Pacino actually recorded all of his lines before being replaced. Margo has her own romantic subplot when she develops her first crush on El Macho’s son. Edith is mostly busy playing ninja, but Agnes really wants a mom. Gru rescues Lucy in an even crazier climax that ends with a wedding and more Minionese pop song. Despicable Me 2 should be enough to make fans happy.
Gru bakes with Lucy Wilde
Preceded by: Despicable Me & Followed by: Despicable Me 3