To The Rescue Part One
The premiere episode of the Rangers (though technically it didn’t air first) opens with a high-angle shot of a cityscape—this could be any city, though the use of American English by the characters would indicate that we’re dealing with a representation of a large American city. Some have speculated that it’s New York, some San Francisco, others an amalgam of several cities. In fact, the Ranger Bible indicates that it's a mix.
Chip and Dale are atop one of the tall buildings, about to fly off via a paper airplane dubbed the “Furball XL9”. This is an obvious reference to the 1962 “Supermarianation” series Fireball XL5. The building they are on top of may or may not be the chipmunks’ home—there is a skylight on the roof which would theoretically allow access for the chipmunks to the roof. It’s certainly arguable that they were not living at the treehouse at this point, since certainly they could’ve tested their airplane from one of the tree branches much more easily. Further, the treehouse didn’t appear in the opening five-part series.
Here we also have the establishment of the dominant role of Chip among the duo. He’s presented as the “straight” guy, the thinker, the planner. Chip is clearly a type “A” personality—extraverted, likes to be in control. Dale’s the “fearless sidekick”, the one who’s in it for the fun. Dale tends to lose himself in the moment. He’s sort of a type “A/B” mix—appearing extraverted but also a follower.
As the chipmunks crash through several buildings, ending up on a building’s ledge via Ironic Convenience, Chip directs Dale’s attention to a police chase happening in the streets below. “Hey, it’s Plato!” Chip says, immediately establishing a known relationship, and suggesting that the chipmunks may observe police action quite often.
The scene shifts to Detective Donald Drake (a wink at Donald Duck’s name, as his canine companion Plato is probably a wink at Pluto). The human detective and his canine companion are old allies, and Drake is a veteran lawman on the local police force, about to retire in one month. Plato is a veteran as well, attested by the white eyebrows showing his age.
Chip and Dale make their way to the police car, asking Plato what’s happening, and learn that the crook the police are chasing stole the Clutchcoin Ruby necklace. It’s notable that there were several Mrs. Clutchcoins in the series, including ones in “Gorilla My Dreams” and “The Carpetsnaggers”. They chase the criminal to a lumber warehouse
Here we meet Officers Kirby and Muldoon for the first time, a nod to the classic 60’s TV series “Car 54, Where Are You?” This could lend credence in a way to “Rescue Rangers” being located in New York, since “Car 54” was located there—however, there is by no means any consensus on the Rangers’ hometown. The good guys chase the crook, a bumbling human lackey by the name of Percy, into the warehouse.
From the shadows, above the officers and crook, we get our first glimpse of the master villain, Aldrin Klordane. He hints at some upcoming calamity he’s planned for Drake, indicating that he and Drake are old foes. Indeed, we never fully learn how many years Drake and Klordane have been adversaries, but we can reasonably say that they’ve known of each other for years.
Chip and Dale end up distracting Percy long enough for Plato to use his “crime bite” on him. Percy gets away, but the necklace is recovered. After the police leave, Klordane and Percy meet, wherein Klordane reveals he expected Percy to lose the necklace as part of a bigger plan. Is it just me, or does Klordane remind you of Bozo the Clown in a business suit? Another thing to note—this scene features the first appearance of Fat Cat, though at this point he simply appears to fill the role of an obedient cat.
Back at police headquarters, Drake and Plato are receiving congratulations all around. It’s evident that the other officers like the eccentric old duo. While Drake turns the ruby over to his captain, Plato gives Chip and Dale pointers on how to be “police munks”. Meanwhile, unseen, Klordane gives Fat Cat some papers to plant in Detective Drake’s coat; Fat Cat also manages to steal the ruby, leaving the gold necklace it was encased in within Drake’s coat.
Herein we learn that Klordane and Fat Cat were presumed dead from drowning a year ago. We don’t learn the details of the incident, but it’s evident that Klordane is a master criminal as he easily fooled the police force. Fat Cat takes time to taunt Plato into chasing him around the police station. A bit of levity here demonstrates the show’s way of handling violence—police sergeant Spinelli orders a SWAT team to “stop those animals!” which they gladly prepare to do by aiming their guns at them. “Alive!” Spinelli adds, which makes the SWAT team members go, “Awww!”
The chase of Fat Cat ends up at Drake’s office, where the cops discover the planted gold necklace and a bunch of receipts for gambling debts. The officers have no choice but to arrest Drake, while Fat Cat delivers the ruby back to Klordane. This leads to Chip and Dale taking on the case to stop Klordane and clear Drake’s name. We also learn that the chipmunks have studied all of Drake and Plato’s cases (though I suspect Chip was paying more attention to the details of them).
With a tip from Plato, the chipmunks track Klordane and Fat Cat to the Happy Tom Cat Food Factory. Notably, it’s only in this opening episode that the factory appears operational—one must assume the factory was a front, disguising the fact it was a criminal hangout. Once Klordane was no longer there, it’s likely the factory shut down.
Chip and Dale listen in as Klordane describes an “arctic trip” to meet “the professor”, wherein he has bigger plans for the ruby than merely selling it. Fat Cat grabs the ruby and sticks it in his mouth before Klordane puts its case in a safe, shifting the focus to the nefarious feline. Fat Cat knocks on a file drawer, and out pops three of those loveable bunglers known collectively (at least to me) as the Goon Squad—Mole, Wart and Mepps.
Fat Cat reveals plans of his own, and that he too is a criminal boss of the animal element. Mole makes mention of a meeting between Fat Cat and “the twins” at midnight, then Chip and Dale follow the crooks upstairs to Fat Cat’s casino. While they spy at the goings-on, a tough-looking bird and rat try to knock them out from behind and miss, allowing the chipmunks to use the tough guys’ clothes for a disguise and slip inside.
The casino itself is quite spacious, with animal versions of roulette, slot machines, craps tables, and a stage for entertainment.
Dale’s sense of fun momentarily distracts him here as he plays one of the slot machines and ends up with a bunch of acorns stuffed in his sweater. Notably, Dale uses a coin of some sort to operate the machine, suggesting that the animal culture does have a monetary system—this would seem to be further supported by the coin being small enough for Dale to handle and carry around.
The focus returns to Fat Cat, with the crooks admiring “his” ruby. This leads into Fat Cat’s musical solo, “I Want the Best of Ev’rything”. This kind of introductory song was a standard at the time for the Disney Afternoon, with TaleSpin doing the same thing. Some of the Rangerphiles have stated their dislike for this musical sequence, but it does offer Dale a chance to shine as a pure partying chipmunk—he and Fat Cat dancing it up is a real classic moment :-)
At the song’s end, Fat Cat and the lot figure out that Chip and Dale are infiltrators and chase them in a wild run around the casino, eventually catching them. The crime kitty has them taken out to the edge of the building’s roof, where he utters the immortal lines, “What you cross Fat Cat, you go…sp-lat!” Whereupon Mepps drops our diminutive duo and they fall toward the ground far, far, below….
Evaluation: I give this episode a 3/5 on the Acorn Scale. It accomplished a great deal in a 30-minute time span, but I felt it could've been better. For instance, we could've seen a little bit more on Chip and Dale's everyday pre-Ranger life. Where exactly did they live at that time? Where was Snout? Guess he hadn't joined the Goon Squad yet. We could've had a little more story and character development if they'd left out Fat Cat's song and dance, but I have to admit I liked it. And this one's for Tanka--they misspelled "Champagne" on Fat Cat's champagne bottle ;-)