In 2020, Disney added a warning in front of several of its films, including Dumbo, Peter Pan, and more, cautioning viewers about the racist portrayals found within. It read, “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people and cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and they are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” It’s the sort of thing you might not expect, but wouldn’t be surprised to see, in front of movies from the 1940s and ‘50s. But what about an episode of Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers… from 1990?
Because that warning is the first thing you see if you try to watch the third-season episode “Puffed Rangers” on Disney+. And the warning is warranted. It’s absolutely crazy this cartoon was made barely more than 30 years ago. In fact, the episode is so problematic that it was redubbed and re-edited after it originally aired in 1990, and that’s the only version currently available for viewing, and it still has the warning in front of it. And it should!
Welcome to Worst Episode Ever, Gizmodo’s ultra-sporadic look back at the lowest points of the cartoons of yesteryear. Usually, in this column, I like to reexamine the dumbest installments of classic animated series, like G.I. Joe playing an intramural football game against the terrorist organisation Cobra, or Captain Planet fighting Hitler. I rarely tread into truly problematic episodes, because they’re usually just a bummer — but I have to make an exception here, because this shockingly racist episode of Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers should not be lost to the mists of time.
“Puffed Rangers” — presumably a pun, but one that I’ve yet to parse — begins when Dale learns, to his absolute fury, that there’s no toy car inside the box of his favourite cereal, Puffy Wuffies (seemingly a Rice Krispies analogue). Stretching the idea of “rescuing” to its absolute limit, Ranger mechanic and cult goddess Gadget suggests the group save other little boys and girls from the disappointment of also failing to receive their toys, and thus they head to Chow Imports, the shipping factory where the cereal is brought in from overseas.
Things fall apart immediately when Dale spies a car he calls a “Dyundi Gesundheit” outside the building. Inside is an executive who looks like this:
Tommy Chow, as he’s called in this new version, avows he’s the “American nephew” of Hong Kong executive Chow Li in unaccented American English, but you can practically see the horrifically stereotypically “Engrish” dub that originally accompanied the character emanating off him. He also does what TV Tropes refers to as the “Noblewoman’s Laugh,” a high-pitched giggle where the character covers their mouths with the back of their hands. It’s a trademark visual trope in anime among female villains, but was also used by effeminate male characters, so… great, just great stuff.
Chow Li’s devious plan, as it’s revealed, is to “molecularly dehydrate” (i.e., shrink) down his generically Asian vehicles and put them into boxes of Puffy Wuffies in order to avoid paying import fees. When the cereal arrives in America, Tommy simply takes the faux prizes out of the cereal boxes and douses the cars with water, at which point they return to normal (read: comically small, a common stereotype back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s). This seems to all be going swimmingly when Tommy receives a package sent from his Uncle Chow Li containing — wait for it — a fortune cookie, as Uncle Chow “always sends his messages this way.” The fortune reads, “You will take a long ocean voyage,” which Tommy interprets as a message to head to Hong Kong, and the Rescue Rangers follow by sealing themselves up inside the aforementioned package after marking it “RETURN TO SENVET.”
In Hong Kong, the mailman, wearing the uniform of a U.S. postal worker with the addition of a rice hat, karate kicks the Rangers’ package through the mail slot of Chow Li’s door when it doesn’t fit. Uncle Chow is “comically” short with large front teeth, a long, long-held stereotype of Asian people — too short to reach the lever on his own shrink ray, sigh — and looks like this:
Chow speaks in heavily but not egregiously accented English, which I suspect is also part of the redub, but cannot say for certain. He also reveals a secondary step to his nefarious plan, where he has augmented his molecular dehydrator to also enlarge compact Asian cars to become the giant, gas-guzzling, air-polluting, impossible-to-park, expensive road behemoths that are “everything Americans look for in automobiles.” It’s a stereotype of its own, although one that’s weirdly prescient for 1990.
But please don’t give “Puffed Rangers” credit for anything, because after the Rescue Rangers are forcibly removed from the factory, they’re forced to sneak back to it at night. The building is located on Cat Street (which I was shocked to learn is a real street in Hong Kong but still manages to be problematic; please see “Assorted Musings” below) which, as one would expect in a Chip n’ Dale cartoon, is literally full of cats. Cats who are also wearing rice hats. Cats who, upon seeing delicious rodents enter their territory, ring a gong to alert their fellow felines dinner has been served.
Eventually, Chow’s pet, Genghis Cat, captures Chip, Dale, and Gadget, sticking them in a bowl of rice and pouring soy sauce on them using the bottle you’ve seen in virtually every Chinese restaurant in America, and picking them up with chopsticks. Monty arrives in the nick of time, eventually the Rescue Rangers are embiggened with the ray, and they shrink down the car Uncle Chow and Tommy are in so it gets chased away by Genghis Cat. All’s well that ends well, except for the cats of Cat Street, because human-sized Monty returns to the alley to beat the living shit out of them, including swinging one by its tail into the gong. Repeatedly.
So this is all very horrifying, but again, let me remind you this is the second version of the episode that exists. Obviously, a lot of the racism of the episode was so baked in that it couldn’t have been edited out without cutting down the runtime to about eight or so minutes, but… wouldn’t that probably have been fine? To just not re-air “Puffed Rangers” on the 1990s Disney Afternoon cartoon block, or later on Disney XD?
I will give Disney credit for owning up to this shitshow by making it available on Disney+ with its warning as opposed to shoving it in the vault alongside its other racist horrors. But I also think that credit should be mitigated by the fact that this episode of Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is a mere 32 years old. So if you knew racism was bad in 1990, congratulations! You’re a better person than either Chip or Dale.
- I was very surprised to discover there actually is a Cat Street in Hong Kong, a notorious place where stolen goods are fenced. The “cats,” apparently, refer to the buyers of those stolen goods.
- Please note the single, exceedingly long fingernail on the pink of Uncle Chow’s left hand (above). My quickly exhausted internet research indicated this was (and maybe still is?) a not uncommon sign of a high-status individual, as it indicates they don’t do manual labour. You could give the animators the benefit of the doubt and assume this was meant to be authentic in some form and not racist, but… I probably wouldn’t?
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