Shaking off some goodness from the old entertainment block


At Disney+ Tic and Tac: Rescue Rangerswe learn that our titular rodents have been best friends since 1982.

Ah, but celebrities are notorious for lying about their age.

Chip ‘n Dale’s first screen appearance was actually at 1943, in the short film “Private Pluto”. The chipmunks wanted to store their nuts in a military cannon, and Pluto, a military guard dog, didn’t have it.

That makes the world’s most famous chipmunks (sorry, Alvin) nearly 80 years old. And their very longevity tells us a lot about entertainment and, more importantly, about those of us who consume it.

“Private Pluto” was one of Disney’s wartime propaganda films, cartoons designed to spur patriotism and encourage Americans during World War II. The short film was released during heavy fighting in Tunisia, as US General George Patton and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery exchanged blows with Nazi Germany. The start of Operation Mincemeat (recently dramatized by Netflix) was just weeks away. Back home, everything from tires to sugar was rationed: a pound of bacon cost only 30 cents, but you also had to turn in seven ration points to get it home.

It’s amazing to think how different our world was in 1943. The only screens most people had were on their screen doors. Telephones (one per family, please) were firmly attached to the wall and often had their own dedicated table. Unless you were lucky enough to have a state-of-the-art fridge, most people kept their food cool with actual coolers, blocks of ice delivered daily by the ice man. Most houses were heated with coal.

Today’s 12-year-olds would find the world almost unrecognizable from today’s. Except for… Chip ‘n Dale?

Oh, Mickey Mouse was there. Donald Duck, of course. Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. And though most children have never watched carried away by the wind or casablanca, they might recognize Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart. Louis Armstrong was already working hard to redefine jazz. Frank Sinatra was singing and his fans were swooning. These names (if not their work) are still familiar to most of us today.

Yes, 1943 might seem completely unknown to us…if not for entertainment.

Entertainment – from movies and music to books and TV shows – has always acted like a time machine. Flip an old movie (from the 1930s or 1980s or, hey, even 2005), and you’re transported not just to another place, but to another era. Even movies made today can take you back to when your grandmother or great-grandmother or great-great-great-great-grandmother was a young girl. You don’t need to look any further than the next Downton Abbey: A New Era feel this period-piece pull.

But if entertainment can be a time machine, entertainment’s cartoon characters are its frequent travelers – changing with the generations, but remaining oddly intact.

Bogart and Gable, Armstrong and Sinatra are all gone now. Most of the people who lost a quarter to see “Private Pluto” (along with the movie’s main feature, of course) are also gone by now. But the cartoon stars themselves are still there, changing with age but still recognizable. Dale may have had “CGI surgery” (as he tells us in the Disney+ movie), but any 90-year-old Disney fan who remembers his childhood chipmunk would still recognize him.

While entertainment can be a time machine, cartoon characters serve as a bridge through time, connecting generations to each other via wacky works of fiction. It’s pretty amazing and, I think, pretty cool.

Branch can rightly criticize various entertainment products. But when the fun is on, it can serve as a shared connection point for families, sometimes across generations.

Disney knows this better than anyone. He is counting on nostalgic parents to switch to the new Rescue Rangers movie because of their love of the TV series (even the two are very, very different). And when today’s 7-year-olds have kids of their own, Disney will surely release a new Chip ‘n Dale movie, show, game, or hologram, counting on a fresh wave of nostalgia for the 2022 movie. We can be critical of some of the new directions Disney is taking, but give the Mouse House credit: they know the power of the old. Its theme parks are built on characters that have survived their original fans and, in one way or another, are still relevant. Peter Pan and Pinocchio are as familiar to octogenarians pushed into wheelchairs as they are to eight-year-olds racing ahead.

I remember Cinderellagrandma might say. Me tooreplies her granddaughter.

You could argue that these legacy cartoon characters can serve as something of a Trojan horse, opening the door to new content issues. Certainly the new Rescue Rangers the film is not as innocent as the original TV show. And it also has different issues than the old shorts.

Yet these intergenerational connection points – these bridges – are rare. And in a time when we sometimes seem to have so little in common with people older or younger than us, we should use those bridges when we can. After all, the root of the word familiar is family. And sometimes a familiar face, even an animated one, is what we can use to bring a family a little closer together.


Comments are closed.